In 2004, Sami al-Saadi and Abdel-Hakeem Belhaj – two Libyan opponents of the Muammar Gaddafi regime – were abducted en route to the United Kingdom, then repatriated to Libya where they were imprisoned and tortured.
But following the 2011 uprising and the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime, the two men – who were released from detention in 2010 – began to investigate the real story behind their abduction, and the role played by the UK government.
Two years later in 2013, Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus gained exclusive access to the men as they returned to Libya in search of answers.
The victims feel that justice has been done. Al-Saadi has received compensation and Belhaj has received the apology that he was asking for. But there is of course always the question: who was ultimately responsible for ordering these renditions and are these people guilty of something? And that is the question, really, that hasn't been fully resolved.
She found that the story of how they came to be imprisoned went beyond Libya, throwing light on the secret relations between Colonel Gaddafi and the West.
Al-Saadi and Belhaj alleged that it was due to MI6, the British intelligence agency, that they were forced onto covert CIA flights and delivered into the hands of Gaddafi’s torturers – a process known as extraordinary rendition.
And the men had proof – information unearthed during the 2011 uprising, after a stash of documents was recovered in former spy chief Moussa Koussa’s offices, which revealed in startling detail the collaboration between British and Libyan intelligence services.
“These documents that have been published show that wrong was done by those claiming that they’re a just institution and have standards that protect human rights,” Belhaj told Ruhfus in 2013.
Six years later, Rewind caught up with Ruhfus and asked how Al Jazeera gained access to the secret documents, and what has happened since.
“Let me just say they [the documents] were passed around,” she said.
“But what was really extraordinary about reading through those documents was not just the detail that came out of them, but also the tone. Because here was an exchange between Sir Mark Allen, the counterterrorism chief in British intelligence, and Moussa Koussa, the Libyan spy chief, and it was really friendly and casual,” she comments.
“You can see this sort of camaraderie in those exchanges, when, really, the world hated Gaddafi just a few brief moments before.”
Ruhfus says after the investigation concluded, there was a “package” of compensation and apology granted to al-Saadi, Belhaj and their families on behalf of the British government.
“The victims feel that justice has been done. Al-Saadi has received compensation and Belhaj has received the apology that he was asking for,” she says.
“But there is of course always the question: who was ultimately responsible for ordering these renditions and are these people guilty of something? And that is the question, really, that hasn’t been fully resolved. And that should have further investigation and examination.”