Recently we published details of how MI6 and MI5 colluded with the Gaddafi regime in rendition and torture programmes (see links at end of article). New documents have now come to light, providing further evidence of this collusion (and details of the torture carried out). Also, a recent court hearing has opened the way for further litigation against HMG (Her Majesty’s Government) by victims. Below we summarise the evidence revealed by these documents and list some of the outstanding cases. We also provide a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding between HMG and the Government of Libya (see Appendix 1), the questions put by MI6 to its Libyan equivalent (Appendix 2) and details of rendition flights to/from Diego Garcia (Appendix 3).
Last Thursday, in a highly significant ruling, the High Court in London disallowed a request by the British Government to halt legal proceedings by twelve Libyans, who allege that MI5 and MI6 organised their deportation to Libya, to be unlawfully detained and interrogated.
A second, equally significant case is still ongoing: this involves Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, who accuse Sir Mark Allen, former MI6 head of counter-terrorism, and Jack Straw, the former British foreign secretary, of overseeing their kidnapping, rendition to Libya and, ultimately, their torture. According to a report by Human Rights Watch the prison in Libya where Belhaj and his family were held routine torture included chaining prisoners to a wall for hours; clubbing; applying electric shock; applying corkscrews to the back; pouring lemon juice in open wounds; breaking fingers and allowing the joints to heal without medical care; suffocating with plastic bags; deprivation of food and water; hanging by the wrists; suspension from a pole inserted between the knees and elbows; cigarette burns; threats of being attacked by dogs; and beating on the soles of the feet. To see Abdel Belhadj and Fatima Bouchar’s successful legal submission in the Court of Appeal against Jack Straw (former UK Foreign Secretary), Sir Mark Allen (former Head of Counter-Terrorism at MI6), MI6, MI5, the (UK) Attorney-General, the (UK) Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the (UK) Home Office, click here. (Here is the original letter of claim made against head of MI6.)
Now new documents from MI6 and MI5 provide evidence sourced from Libyan Government archives that show how British intelligence links with Libyan intelligence were far from peripheral: These documents reveal:
- Libyan intelligence officials were allowed to carry out intelligence-gathering work in Britain
- MI6 were central to the rendition and interrogation of Libyan opposition leaders Sami al-Saadi and Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Bouchar (who were subsequently tortured in Libya)
- Information gained as a result of the interrogation of Saadi and Belhaj was passed on to MI5/MI6, who then used it against members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group living in Britain
- Direct correspondence in relation to specific rendition cases took place between Mark Allen and Moussa Koussa, the infamous head of Libyan intelligence
- MI6 forwarded questions to Libyan interrogators, to be put to Saleh Khalifa (another member of the LIFG) after he had been kidnapped from Mali, as well as others (see image at end of this article).
Other documents, sourced in 2011, included a letter from a senior MI6 official to Moussa Koussa congratulating him on the “safe arrival of Abu ‘Abd Allah Sadiq” and taking credit for Britain’s role in the rendition, which “was the least we could do for you and Libya.”
(Note: further details, including more information about the torture of Belhaj, can be found in two excellent articles by Ian Cobain: click here and here. A press statement by Reprieve can be found here.)
But these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other torture/rendition cases that UK intelligence services have been directly or indirectly involved with and which UndercoverInfo has previously reported on. One by one, these cases are getting exposure, with the possibility of more litigation in the pipeline and more revelations.
For example, Britain may have provided intelligence that led to the detention by the CIA of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna. A 2007 European Parliament report points out that “the telegrams from the UK security service MI5 to an unspecified foreign government…suggest that the abduction of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna was facilitated by partly erroneous information supplied by the UK security service.” The CIA abducted the pair in 2002 while on a business trip in Gambia after MI5 provided information to US that al-Rawi was carrying bomb parts in his luggage (this information turned out to be false). El-Banna and al-Rawi were then detained by the CIA in a ‘black centre’ in Afghanistan and later flown to Guantánamo Bay. Al-Rawi was held in Guantánamo for four years. His release finally came on 30 March 2007. No charges were ever filed against him. He was flown from Guantánamo to Britain, accompanied by high ranking officials from MI6, the Home Office, and UK Special Branch Police Officers on a luxury Lear Jet. On arrival at Luton airport, he was briefly interviewed for just over an hour by British police. They then drove him to his family home. El-Banna was released on 19 December 2007, and also returned to the UK.
British intelligence was also involved in the case of Omar Deghayes, a Libyan national and British resident, who was arrested in April 2002 at his home in Lahore. According to a 2010 UN report he was arrested and abused in Pakistan and later taken by British and US officers, who transported him to Bagram in Afghanistan, where he was tortured. He alleges that MI5 officers interrogated him many times at Bagram, before being transferred to Guantánamo in August 2002. At Guantánamo he alleges he was tortured: by hooding, and forced into stress positions; he also suffered physical abuse that resulted in damage to his right eye, a broken finger, and a broken nose. He was released in December 2007.
Note re legal actions and inquiry…
In July 2010, the British Government announced its intention to launch an inquiry into the involvement of British officials in the mistreatment of detainees abroad, once all related criminal and civil cases had been resolved. The terms of reference were to “examine whether, and if so to what extent, the UK Government and its security and intelligence agencies in the aftermath of 9/11: i. were involved in improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter terrorism operations overseas; and/or ii. were aware of improper treatment, or rendition, of detainees held by other countries in counter terrorism operations in which the UK was involved.” In August 2011, a number of British-based NGOs and lawyers for some of the detainees announced they would not cooperate with the inquiry because “the issue of what material may be disclosed to the public [would] not be determined independently of Government and, further, that there [would] be no meaningful participation of the former and current detainees and other interested third parties.” In January 2012, the British Government decided to abandon this inquiry.
In November 2010, the British Government agreed on a confidential settlement with Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, and Martin Mubanga, each of whom had brought a suit for civil damages against government departments, including MI5 and MI6, for complicity in their ill-treatment and rendition to Guantánamo Bay. The settlement followed a May 2010 Court of Appeal decision prohibiting the government from using secret evidence in its defence in the six cases, and requiring allegations of wrongdoing to be heard in public. In July 2011, the British Supreme Court rejected MI5’s appeal of the Court of Appeal judgment.
Rendition. UK Parliament, Intelligence and Security Committee, July 2007
Scottish Involvement in Extraordinary Rendition. Reprieve, November 2009
2007 Memo between UK and Libyan Governments re deportation (i.e. rendition)
Application and Scope:
A request for assurances under this Memorandum may be made by the sending state in respect of any citizen of the receiving state, any stateless person who was habitually resident in the receiving state, or any third-country national whom the receiving state is prepared to admit.
Such requests will be submitted in writing either by the British Embassy in Tripoli to the General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Co-operation or by the Bureau of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya in London to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The state to which the request is made will acknowledge receipt of the request within 5 working days.
A final response to such a request will be given promptly in writing by the Foreign Secretary in the case of a request made to the United Kingdom, or by the Secretary of The General People’s Committee for Foreign Liaison and International Co-operation in the case of a request made to Libya.
To assist a decision on whether to request assurances under this Memorandum, the receiving state will inform the sending state of any penalties outstanding against a person to be deported, and of any outstanding convictions or criminal charges pending against him and the penalties which could be imposed.
Requests under this Memorandum may include requests to the receiving state for further specific assurances. It will be for the receiving state to decide whether to give such further assurances.
The United Kingdom and the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya will comply with their human rights obligations under international law regarding a person in respect of whom assurances are given under this Memorandum. The assurances set out in the following paragraphs (numbered 1-9) will apply to such a person, together with any further specific assurances provided by the receiving state.
An independent body (“the monitoring body”) will be nominated by both sides to monitor the implementation of the assurances given under this Memorandum, including any specific assurances, by the receiving state. The responsibilities of the monitoring body will include monitoring the return of, and any detention, trial or imprisonment of, the person. The monitoring body will report to both sides.
1. Where, before his deportation, a person has been tried and convicted of an offence in the receiving state in absentia, he will be entitled to a retrial for that offence on his return.
2. In cases where the person may face the death penalty in the receiving state, the receiving state will, if its laws allow, provide a specific assurance that the death penalty will not be carried out. In any case, where there are outstanding charges, or where charges are subsequently brought, against a person in respect of an offence allegedly committed before his deportation, the authorities will utilise all the powers available to them under their system for the administration of justice to ensure that, if the death penalty is imposed, the sentence will not be carried out.
3. If arrested, detained or imprisoned following his deportation, the deported person will be afforded adequate accommodation, nourishment and medical treatment, and will be treated in a humane and proper manner, in accordance with internationally accepted standards.
4. If the deported person is arrested or detained, he will be informed promptly by the authorities of the receiving state of the reasons for his arrest or detention, and of any charge against him. The person will be entitled to consult a lawyer promptly.
5. If the deported person is arrested or detained, he will be brought promptly before a civilian judge or other civilian official authorized by law to exercise judicial power in order to the lawfulness of his detention may be decided.
6. The deported person will have unimpeded access to the monitoring body unless he is arrested, detained or imprisoned. If the person is arrested, detained or imprisoned, he will be entitled to contact promptly a representative of the monitoring body and to meet a representative of the monitoring body within one week of his arrest, detention or imprisonment. Thereafter he will be entitled to regular visits from a representative of the monitoring body in coordination with the competent legal authorities. Such visits would include the opportunity for private interviews with the person and, during any period before trial, will be permitted at least once every three weeks. If the representative of the monitoring body considers a medical examination of the person is necessary, he will be entitled to arrange for one or to ask the authorities of the receiving state to do so.
7. The deported person will be allowed to follow his religious observance following his return, including while under arrest or while detained or imprisoned.
8. If the deported person is charged with an offence he will receive a fair and public hearing without undue delay by a competent, independent and impartial civilian court established by the law. The person will be allowed adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence, and will be permitted to examine or have examined the witnesses against him and to call and have examined witnesses on his behalf. He will be allowed to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing, or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require.
9. Any judgment against the deported person will be pronounced publicly, but the press and public may be excluded from all or parts of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of justice or the protection of the private life of the parties and require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.
Either participant may withdraw from this Memorandum by giving 6 months notice in writing to the diplomatic mission of the other.
Where one or other participant withdraws from the Memorandum any assurances given under it in respect of a person will continue to apply in accordance with its provisions.
Signature: This Memorandum of Understanding represents the understandings reached upon the matters referred to therein between the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Signed in duplicate at Tripoli on 18 October 2005 in the English and Arabic languages, both texts having equal validity.
British Embassy, Tripoli
For the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Abdulati Ibrahim al-Obidi
Acting Secretary for European Affairs
Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation
For the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Questions put by UK intelligence to Libyan intelligence
Use of Diego Garcia:
According to Guardian journalist Ian Cobain, at a NATO meeting in October 2001 the British government agreed to provide logistical support to the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, resulting in CIA flights en route to ‘black centres’ and with stopovers in British airports. In a 2007 European Parliament report it was stated that there was “serious concern about the 170 stopovers made by CIA-operated aircraft at UK airports, which on many occasions came from or were bound for countries linked with extraordinary rendition circuits and the transfer of detainees.” Glasgow’s Prestwick airport was, according to the report, a “crucial staging point”. For a complete list of flights where the UK Government has been alerted to concerns regarding rendition through the UK, its Overseas Territories or the Crown Dependencies, click here.
Not only was Diego Garcia used by the CIA as part of its rendition programme, but also another British Overseas Territory – Turks and Caicos. In February 2008, Foreign Secretary David Miliband admitted that in 2002 two rendition flights, each carrying a detainee, stopped over in Diego Garcia. Reprieve documented 23 suspicious stops between 2001 and 2005 in the Turks and Caicos by aircraft that had been associated with extraordinary renditions – these include aircraft N379P (also known as N8068V), N313P, N85VM, and N829MG.
One of the flights to and from Diego Garcia is believed to have seen the rendition of either Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, a dual Egyptian-Pakistani national who was seized in Jakarta on 9 January 2002 after arriving from Pakistan, put into a coffin, then renditioned via Diego Garcia on Flight N379P and taken to Egypt, where he was made to stand for 92 days and tortured with electric cattle prods.
A second N379P flight is believed to have renditioned either Sheikh Al-Libi (who in September 2002 was taken via Diego Garcia to Egypt, where he was tortured into “admitting” that Al Qaida was in league with Saddam Hussein in the development of weapons of mass destruction) or Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh (who was taken into custody in Pakistan, then via Diego Garcia to Guantanamo Bay).
Manfred Novak, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, said he had received credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003
Another detainee suspected of being renditioned on one of the flights to/from Diego Garcia is Binyam Mohamed, who was renditioned to Morocco, where he was subsequently tortured (a razor blade taken to his genitals).
Top secret documents found in Libya in November 2011 showed Diego Garcia was listed on a CIA rendition flight plan for Libyan Islamist Abdel-Hakim Belhadj and his wife Fatima Boudchar.