Libyan torture victim seeks to overturn British court ruling

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 10:02pm

A former Libyan Islamist commander who says he suffered years of torture by Muammar Gaddafi's henchmen after British and US spies handed him over to Libya will try this week to overturn a ruling blocking legal action against the British government.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj, a rebel leader who helped topple Gaddafi in 2011 and is now leader of the Libyan al-Watan party, says he and his pregnant wife, Fatima, were abducted by US CIA agents in Thailand in 2004 and then illegally transferred to Tripoli with the help of British spies.

Two years ago, he began legal action against former British foreign secretary Jack Straw, Britain's MI5 and MI6 spy agencies, a former intelligence chief and relevant government departments.

But in December, a High Court judge ruled that because of the "act of state doctrine", English courts could not hear the case, as allegations about Belhadj's abduction and rendition involved other countries, most notably the United States.

This week, Belhadj launches an appeal against that decision.

Lawyers and human rights campaigners warn that if he is unsuccessful, it will effectively prevent any litigation against the British government in similar torture or rendition cases.

British ministers have repeatedly denied any knowledge of sending anyone to face torture abroad, and there have also been warnings that exposing secret intelligence material in court cases might damage relations with Washington.

Belhadj says he was originally detained in China, before being transferred to Malaysia and then moved to Thailand.

He was handed over to CIA agents, acting on a tip-off from MI6, and flown via the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Tripoli, because at the time Britain and the United States were keen to build relations with Gaddafi.

He was imprisoned and tortured until his release in 2010. His wife was also mistreated during her four-month incarceration.