What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.
Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »
For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.
That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.
Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
This week, Abdel Hakim Belhadj (aka Belhaj), a Libyan military commander and rebel leader, who is the head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, initiated legal proceedings against the British government and the security forces for their key role in his illegal abduction, rendition and barbaric treatment — and that of his pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar — in March 2004.
Mr. Belhadj, also identified as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, has instructed solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to take legal action, and the legal action charity Reprieve are acting as US counsel and are also providing investigative support.
In 2004, when Mr. Belhadj’s ordeal at the hands of the British, the Americans and the Gaddafi regime began, he was living in Beijing, China, having previously led the resistance to the Gaddafi regime, and having, for a while, lived in Afghanistan. In early 2004, when Fatima Bouchar began to fear they were under surveillance, they decided to try to seek asylum in the UK. At the airport, however, they were detained and deported to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, their previous destination before China.
With Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in hiding, the uprising against his 42-year rule that began on February 15, and that, almost since it began, has been contentiously supported by NATO, has finally succeeded in providing a shadowy glimpse of a new life for the Libyan people. Huge difficulties lie ahead — preventing recriminatory horrors by the rebels, creating a new government and civil society out of nowhere after four decades of iron-fisted control by one man and his family, and ascertaining what the West wants and working out how to prevent it from destroying liberated Libya like the supposedly liberated Iraq of eight years ago.
For now, however, I am delighted that his main compound in Tripoli and his gaudy palaces have been ransacked, and, in particular, that his main prison, Abu Salim, has been liberated. My interest in Libya stems not only from a general revulsion at the barbarity of dictatorships, but also through my friendship with Omar Deghayes, the former Guantánamo prisoner who came to the UK as a child in the 1980s after his father, a lawyer and trade union activist, was murdered by Gaddafi.
Through Omar, I met other Libyans, like the brave filmmaker Mohamed Maklouf, and also learned about the single most outrageous act of Gaddafi’s dictatorship — the massacre of 1,200 prisoners at Abu Salim on June 29, 1996. I wrote a detailed article about the massacre on its 13th anniversary, in 2009, and as the uprising against Gaddafi began in Benghazi, in February, I found it appropriate that the spark for Libya’s revolution was the arrest in Benghazi on February 15 of Fathi Terbil, a lawyer who represents the families of those killed in the Abu Salim massacre, and who lost three family members, including his brother, in the massacre, as I explained in my article, “How the Abu Salim Prison Massacre in 1996 Inspired the Revolution in Libya.” Read the rest of this entry »
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