Gaddafi opponent and head of the Tripoli Military Council Abdel Hakim Belhadj is taking legal action against the UK Government and its security services for their part in the illegal rendition and barbaric treatment of both himself and his pregnant wife in March 2004.
Mr Belhadj, also known as Abu Abd Allah Sadiq, became a symbol of the new Libya as a commander of the anti-Gaddafi forces in the 2011 Libyan civil war. He is taking legal action against the UK Government over their part in his illegal rendition to Libya in 2004, claiming complicity in his torture.
In 2004 Mr Belhadj was living in China, having led a low-level insurgency against the Gaddafi regime during the 1990’s as the leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. He lived in Beijing with his wife Fatima Bouchar. In early 2004, with Ms Bouchar pregnant and fearing they were under surveillance, they decided to seek asylum in the UK. However, on trying to leave the country they were detained and deported to Malaysia, from where they had previously travelled.
The couple were then rendered by US authorities to Libya out of Bangkok. Mr Belhadj was hooded and shackled to the floor of the plane in a stress position, unable to sit or lie during the entire 17-hour flight, which stopped to re-fuel in Diego Garcia, the British Indian Ocean Territory. Neither he nor his wife was aware that the other was on the plane.
In Libya Mr Belhadj was detained for six years in some of the country’s most brutal jails and was interrogated by ‘foreign’ agents, including some from the UK. He was savagely beaten, hung from walls and cut off from human contact and daylight before being sentenced to death during a 15-minute trial about 4 years in to his detention. The beatings and inhumane treatment continued until 2010 when he was eventually released.
Ms Bouchar was imprisoned in Libya for four months. She was released just three weeks before giving birth, by which time her health, and that of her baby, was in a precarious state. She was also subjected to aggressive interrogations during her detention.
These show how the UK alerted the Libyans to the couple's presence in Malaysia in early March. The UK’s role in the rendition is made clear in a letter from Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa Head of the Libyan intelligence agency at the time. In a letter dated 18 March 2004, Sir Mark passes on thanks for helping to sort out Tony Blair’s recent visit to Colonel Gaddafi.
In the letter Mr Allen says:
“Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq [Mr Balhadj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years. I am so glad. I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.”
Mr Allen goes on to say: “Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from Abu ‘Abd Allah through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The intelligence on Abu ‘Abd Allah was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo. But I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful for the help you are giving us.”