Filmmaker: Bashar Ghannam

Nearly seven years after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the British government apologised for handing over a Libyan dissident and his wife to Libya's intelligence in 2004, knowing that as an opponent of the government, they would be likely to be imprisoned and tortured.

Fatima Boudchar was pregnant when she was tortured and kidnapped in Thailand in 2004, in a process that has become known as extraordinary rendition. It was carried out by MI6 and the CIA in collaboration with the Libyan External Security Organisation, the ESO.

Her only "crime" was that she was married to a Libyan opponent of the Gaddafi regime, Abdelhakim Belhaj. Belhaj was the former leader of an opposition group called the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) which Gaddafi accused of having links to al-Qaeda.

He and his wife were planning to seek asylum in the UK. However, they were abducted in their transit in Thailand and taken to a CIA detention centre where they were tortured and later handed over to Libyan intelligence.

"I refused to be interrogated by them … and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or any organisation outside Libya. My problem was with the Libyan security services" says Belhaj.

This was not an isolated case and the subject of rendition is one that Western governments need to be accountable for.

Until 2003, Gaddafi had been labelled by the West as the "mad dog of the Middle East". But after the US-led invasion of Iraq failed to unearth Saddam Hussein's so-called weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi seized an opportunity, not simply for redemption but complete rehabilitation, by claiming to possess WMDs and offering to surrender them.

Sanctions against Libya were lifted, lucrative oil deals struck and collaboration between the CIA, MI6 and Libya stepped up in the so-called "fight against terrorism". This led directly to the rendition of Gaddafi's opponents like Belhaj and many others.

After the US-led invasion of Iraq, Gaddafi sought better relations with the West [Michel Euler/AP] 

None of this may ever have come to light were it not for a large cache of documents found in Tripoli after the Libyan revolution in 2011.

Thousands of papers were discovered in what looked to journalists and human rights organisations like the abandoned office of the former head of Libyan intelligence, Moussa Koussa.

One of the most revealing finds was a letter from Sir Mark Allen, then head of MI6 counterintelligence, to Moussa Koussa.

"I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya," it read. Belhaj and another former member of the LIFG, Sami al-Saadi, were released from prison in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

In 2012, the two men and their families decided to sue the British government for what they believed was its role in their arrest, imprisonment and subsequent torture. Al-Saadi accepted an offer of compensation by the British government of 2.2 million British pounds ($2.5m). But Belhaj rejected a financial settlement, maintaining that he and his wife instead wanted a full apology.

Six years later, on May 10, 2018, the British government apologised for its role in their rendition and the couple's suffering.

Human Rights Watch published a report in 2012 called, Delivered into Enemy Hands, which details the rendition process and cites a number of cases. Among them was that of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi who was rendered to Libya by the US in either 2005 or 2006. In 2009, he was found dead in his prison cell after allegedly committing suicide.

Human rights lawyer Cori Crider believes that despite the British government apology this isn't the end of the rendition issue.

"Right now, as we speak, in Yemen", she says, "the United Arab Emirates is running black sites in which detainees are tortured and in which rape is used as a technique of torture; and these are people with whom the US and the UK are in coalition."

Editor's note: Al Jazeera wrote to the CIA to ask it to comment on allegations made in this film but did not receive a reply. 

It's also important to note that although the British government apologised for rendering Abdelhakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar to Libya, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and the former head of counter-intelligence at MI6, Sir Mark Allen, have not accepted any personal responsibility or admitted any wrong-doing in the case of Abdelhakin Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar.

Furthermore, in October 2011, the former head of Libyan intelligence, Moussa Koussa, publicly denied any complicity in the torture of political detainees or in the 1996 massacre at Abu Salim Prison and has since continued to do so.


Source: Al Jazeera