Libyan dissident appeals to UK judges over MI6 rendition
Court documents claim Abdel-Hakin Belhaj chained and beaten as he was abducted and jailed in Libya after intelligence tip-offs
The Guardian, Monday 21 July 2014: The high court last year dismissed Abdel-Hakin Belhaj’s claim on the grounds that it related to activities in foreign states
A Libyan dissident is to appeal to three of Britain's most senior judges to reject a high court ruling in favour of the government that he cannot sue MI6 for its role in abducting and secretly flying him to Tripoli, where Muammar Gaddafi's security forces tortured him.
Lawyers for Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Bouchar will also seek to sue the then foreign secretary, Jack Straw, who was responsible for MI6, for his alleged complicity in the family's secret rendition to the Libyan capital in 2004.
Belhaj's lawyers will appeal to the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Lady Justice Sharp to overturn the ruling, which was made on the grounds that any alleged wrongdoing happened outside the UK – in Malaysia and Thailand, where the CIA aircraft transporting the family landed on the way to Tripoli, and in Libya.
It is still unclear whether the plane also landed at Diego Garcia, the British territory in the Indian Ocean where there is a US military base, as the flight plan originally intended.
Court documents served by the law firm Leigh Day and the legal charity Reprieve describe how Belhaj was chained, hooded and beaten, and his pregnant wife punched and bound and their children traumatised, as they were abducted and jailed in Libya following tip-offs by MI6 and the CIA.
Belhaj was a leading member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which opposed Gaddafi, and became leader of the Libyan al-Watan party.
He is suing Straw, MI6, the agency's former head of counter-terrorism Sir Mark Allen, MI5, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the attorney general for damages for unlawful detention, conspiracy to injure, negligence and abuse of public office.
In the high court last year, Mr Justice Simon dismissed Belhaj's claim and British courts were barred from ruling on the case by the so-called foreign "act of state" doctrine.
The judge said, however, that he gave his ruling "with hesitation" on "what appears to be a potentially well-founded claim that the UK authorities were directly implicated in the extraordinary rendition of the claimants".
Amnesty International, Justice (the British affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists), and Redress, the human rights organisation helping torture survivors obtain justice and reparation, have oined the case.
They sayit threatens to impose an absolute bar on litigation against the UK government and its officials in cases overseas where foreign agents are involved, precluding accountability for breaches of human rights.
The role of MI6 and the CIA in Belhaj's rendition was revealed in 2011 after Nato bombing destroyed the headquarters of Gaddafi's intelligence chiefs and scattered documents from their files.
Whitehall sources say that in their dealings with Gaddafi, MI6 was carrying out "ministerially authorised government policy". When the Guardian has asked Straw about the renditions, he has said he cannot comment because of a continuing police investigation into the affair.
The director of Redress, Carla Ferstman, said: "To give the act of state doctrine the power to shut down claims against UK officials, just because there is some connection with acts of foreign officials, is a significant expansion that goes well beyond what the doctrine was intended for."
Andrea Coomber, the director of Justice, said: "The 'they did it too' defence traditionally hasn't worked in the playground. Yet, this case would … enshrine it in common law."
John Dalhuisen of Amnesty International added: "It is time for the UK government to stop hiding behind misguided and expansive legal theories and allow the claimants their day in court."