A commander of the Libyan rebel forces that helped to oust Moammar Gadhafi last year claims British intelligence services played a key role in his capture and alleged CIA rendition back to Libya in 2004, where he says he was tortured. His lawyers say the case reveals the murky links between Western governments and Gadhafi before the 2011 uprising.
Abdul Hakim Belhadj was part of the dissident Libyan Islamic Fighting Group before the uprising last year. The U.S. State Department considered the group a terrorist organization.
Belhadj claims he was arrested with his pregnant wife in 2004 at Kuala Lumpur international airport and taken back to Libya on a CIA rendition flight - along with another Libyan national, Sami al-Saadi - and into the hands of Gadhafi
“They were picked up, Belhadj from Kuala Lumpur, Sami from Hong Kong, and rendered back to Libya to be tortured in a joint operation by the CIA, MI6 and Gadhafi’s spies," explained Cori Crider of the group Reprieve, who is giving him legal advice.
Belhadj was released from prison in 2010 and a year later played a key role in the uprising against Gadhafi. Documents discovered last September in bombed-out government offices in Tripoli appeared to tie Britain to Belhadj’s alleged rendition. He decided to launch the legal action in December.
"We believe there will be a judgment, that will bring to justice those who took part in this shameful action, which is against the principle of justice and democracy," Belhadj said in an interview with VOA.
The rendition allegedly took place just a year after then British Prime Minister Tony Blair marked Gadhafi’s return to the international fold in 2003 with a visit to Libya. Blair has denied any knowledge of the rendition. His foreign secretary at the time - who is accused of approving the rendition - was Jack Straw.
“I’m sorry I can’t say more about this case but with a police investigation pending and this intended civil legal action,” Straw told reporters.
Cori Crider of Reprieve says the case could mark a legal turning point.
“People who made the political deals at the highest level have never really had any accountability in any country so I think we’re starting to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel,” Crider said.
With an ongoing police investigation and separate civil lawsuits, both the British government and former ministers have refused to comment on the allegations.