MPs have called for former foreign secretary Jack Straw to give evidence before parliament about his role in the kidnap and mistreatment of two Libyan families.
The demands come after the government apologised for its role in the abduction and mistreatment of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, who were flown from Bangkok to Tripoli in 2004 in a rendition operation involving MI6, the CIA and Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence services.
After the apology was made on Thursday in a letter from Theresa May and a statement to MPs by Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, Straw conceded publicly for the first time that he had authorised some of MI6’s actions.
The year after he gave this authorisation, he told MPs that allegations of UK involvement in rendition were conspiracy theories.
During the 2011 Libyan revolution, documents came to light revealing MI6’s role in the rendition of Belhaj and Boudchar, and a second Libyan opposition figure Sami al-Saadi, who was kidnapped along with his wife and four young children. At this point Straw gave an interview in which he implied that MI6 had not informed him of its involvement.
Straw has said that he is prepared to give evidence to the intelligence and security committee, the panel of MPs and peers that provides oversight of the UK’s intelligence agencies. That would be done behind closed doors, however, and some MPs believe Straw needs to be given a chance to give evidence to a parliamentary committee that sits in public.
Who is Abdel Hakim Belhaj?
Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, were the victims of a so-called rendition operation mounted with the help of MI6.
They have battled for compensation and an apology for more than six years, after papers that came to light during the Libyan revolution revealed the role that British intelligence officers played in their 2004 kidnap in Thailand.
The couple were hooded and shackled and flown to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons, where Belhaj was tortured and sentenced to death.
They had sued the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and Sir Mark Allen, the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, as well as the agency itself and the Foreign Office. Among the evidence obtained by Scotland Yard was a faxed letter from Allen to Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, in which he made clear that MI6 had tipped off the Libyans about the couple’s whereabouts.
Boudchar was four and a half months pregnant at the time that she was kidnapped. She was set free shortly before giving birth.
Two weeks after the couple were renditioned to Libya, Tony Blair paid his first visit to the country, embracing Gaddafi and declaring that Libya had recognised “a common cause, with us, in the fight against al-Qaida extremism and terrorism”.
Other documents discovered during the Libyan revolution make clear that information extracted from Belhaj was used to justify the detention in Britain of members of his Islamist opposition group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, some of whom had settled in the UK as refugees many years earlier.
One shadow minister said: “Now this has been exposed and the government’s role admitted, there has to be an explanation from the individuals then involved – former and serving civil servants and politicians – about what they knew and when about rendition and torture.
“I want to know how complicit the government was, who they were talking to and the details of their relationship with the intelligence services. We need to know how was it allowed to continue and the efforts that were subsequently made to cover it up.
“Obviously, as the foreign secretary Jack Straw has many questions to answer. He must now explain what he knew, when he knew it and why his story appears to have changed.”
Another shadow minister said: “Rendition has been used to outsource torture and any future Labour government should not be tainted by the actions of former Labour ministers. Straw should come forward and explain himself and get this out in the open.”
A veteran Labour MP added: “Any minister who was involved in such an obvious breach of human rights should explain themselves.”
Abdel Hakim Belhaj with the UK government’s letter of apology. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images
Following a Scotland Yard investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that the main suspect – known to be Sir Mark Allen, then head of counter-terrorism at MI6 – had sought political authority for some but not all of his actions. Friends of Straw say that the authorisation that he gave was subsequently “twisted and expanded” by MI6.
Human rights groups say there needs to be a broader inquiry, independent of government.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, called for an independent judicial inquiry into the Libyan renditions and other human rights abuses in the years after 9/11.
“Even now, despite the perseverance and bravery of Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar in seeking an apology, we still don’t know the full facts in this deeply troubling affair,” she said.
“We’ve still never had the judicial inquiry into the UK’s role in torture carried out by its partners – including the CIA’s extensive programme of rendition and illegal detention – that we were promised under David Cameron’s government. We still need to know the truth.”
Jack Straw – the twists and turns
13 December 2005 To the Commons foreign affairs committee, after the Guardian had reported that CIA rendition aircraft had been refuelling at UK airports:
Unless we start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea
5 September 2011 In an interview with the BBC, shortly after documents that detailed MI6’s involvement in the kidnap and rendition of two families emerged during the Libyan revolution:
No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time
10 May 2018 In a statement issued by his lawyers, Kingsley Napley, after Prime Minister Theresa May told Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar that she was “profoundly sorry” for the role that MI6 and the British government played in their kidnap, rendition and torture.
Although Straw described the authorisation he gave as being sought on 1 March 2004 with “great urgency”, and the couple were kidnapped by the CIA the following day, Sami al-Saadi and his wife and four young children were not kidnapped until 27 March 2004.
After a Scotland Yard investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that Sir Mark Allen of MI6 had “sought political authority” for some, but not all, of his subsequent actions:
On 1 March 2004 my approval was sought for some information to be shared with international partners. In almost every case such approvals were made by me in writing, on the basis of written submissions to me. However in rare cases of great urgency, oral submissions could be made and oral approvals given by me. This is what happened on this occasion