The legal charity Reprieve has welcomed a settlement the al Saadi family have accepted from the UK Government over their role in forcibly ‘rendering’ them to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004.
Sami al Saadi, a leading Gaddafi opponent, was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong – having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator –with his wife and four young children in a joint UK-US-Libyan operation.
They were then flown to Libya, where all of them were initially imprisoned and Mr al Saadi was held and tortured for years.
Evidence of the UK’s part in the operation – the only known instance in the ‘War on Terror’ when ‘extraordinary rendition’ was practiced on an entire family, with young children – emerged after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011.
CIA correspondence with Libyan intelligence, found in spy chief Moussa Koussa’s office by Human Rights Watch after the fall of Tripoli, states that “we are…aware that your service had been cooperating with the British to effect [Sami al Saadi’s] removal to Tripoli…the Hong Kong Government may be able to coordinate with you to render [Sami al Saadi] and his family into your custody.”
The operation in 2004 followed then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ with Gaddafi, as a result of which UK intelligence services helped track down and hand over his opponents.
Another victim was Abdul Hakim Belhaj, who was rendered alongside his pregnant wife. A fax from MI6 head of counter-terrorism Sir Mark Allen to Moussa Koussa, also found after the fall of Tripoli, said: “I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Mr Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya. I know I did not pay for the air cargo [but] the intelligence [on him] was British.”
Mr Belhaj continues to pursue legal action against the British Government.
Mr al Saadi today made the following statement: “My family suffered enough when they were kidnapped and flown to Gaddafi’s Libya. They will now have the chance to complete their education in the new, free Libya. I will be able to afford the medical care I need because of the injuries I suffered in prison.
“I started this process believing that a British trial would get to the truth in my case. But today, with the government trying to push through secret courts, I feel that to proceed is not best for my family. I went through a secret trial once before, in Gaddafi’s Libya. In many ways, it was as bad as the torture. It is not an experience I care to repeat.
“Even now, the British government has never given an answer to the simple question: ‘Were you involved in the kidnap of me, my wife and my children?’
“I think the payment speaks for itself. We will be donating a portion of the proceeds to support other Libyan torture victims. We look forward to the result of the police investigation and hope there will be a full and fair public inquiry into our case.”
Khadija al Saadi, Sami’s eldest daughter who was rendered to Libya aged 12 said: “I wrote to Ken Clarke when I heard about the secret courts plan, but he would not say that he would not seek to try my case in secret. I still feel this would have been unnecessary, unfair, and unworthy of the UK. I hope the inquiry will be as open and as fair as the phone hacking inquiry.”
Reprieve Legal Director Kat Craig said: “We now know that Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ was bought with ugly compromises. Perhaps the ugliest was for MI6 to deliver a whole family to one of the world’s most brutal dictators. There needs to be a full and fair inquiry into these issues, and it ought to get started right away. Everyone agreed that Lord Justice Leveson could do his work properly with serious criminal charges pending against many of the key people—there is nothing to stop the Libyan torture inquiry beginning tomorrow.”
Abdul Hakim Belhaj, who went on to lead the battle for Tripoli after his rendition, said: “When my friend Sami Al-Saadi was freed from Abu Salim prison on 23 August 2011, he weighed seven stone. He was close to death. It is a miracle he survived his ordeal and is home with his family.
“I understand and support his decision to provide his family with security, pay for his medical care, and support other victims of torture.
“I intend to fight to ensure the truth is told. I have said before, and I say again now, my wife and I will not allow the truth to be concealed. We look forward to giving evidence at trial, and seeing those responsible for our torture and that of Sami and his family held to account.”
Sapna Malik of Leigh Day added: “The sheer terror experienced by the al Saadi family when they were bundled on to their rendition flight and delivered up to their nemesis clearly lives with them all to this day. Having concluded one part of their quest for justice, they now look to the British criminal courts to hold those responsible for their ordeal to account and await the judge-led inquiry they have been promised.”
* More on Reprieve: http://www.reprieve.org.uk/