In Brief

Why has Theresa May apologised to Abdul Hakim Belhaj?

PM admits UK role in rendition of Libyan dissident and his wife

The prime minister has personally apologised to a Libyan dissident and his wife for Britain’s role in their abduction and rendition, which led them to be tortured by the Gaddafi regime

Abdul Hakim Belhaj, an opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, and his pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar were abducted by CIA agents with the help of the British intelligence services in 2004. They were illegally flown to Tripoli, where Belhaj spent six years in jail and was tortured.

Following a High Court judgement in their favour, Theresa May has written to the couple accepting that “the UK Government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering” and apologising for the “appalling treatment” they suffered as a result.

Boudchar, who was detained for four months and released three weeks before giving birth, was in Parliament yesterday to hear the prime minister’s apology read by the attorney general.

“It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Ms Boudchar who was pregnant at the time,” Theresa May’s statement read.

The practice of “extraordinary rendition” became widespread in the years following the 9/11 attacks and drew condemnation from around the world, with opponents claiming the US and UK were seeking to circumvent international human rights laws and engage in torture.

The rendition of Belhaj and his wife came at a time when Britain and the US were trying to mend relations with Gaddafi’s Libya “for geopolitical reasons”, after years during which the Tripoli regime had been an international pariah, reports Reuters.

Britain’s involvement only came to light when a fax from MI6 to the Libyan intelligence services detailing the couple’s whereabouts was discovered after the dictator was toppled in 2011.

As part of their case against the Government, the couple brought claims against former foreign secretary Jack Straw, former MI6 boss Sir Mark Allen and various government departments and agencies.

The case was settled out of court this month, with the attorney general confirming that Boudchar had received £500,000 in damages by the government.

While this brings the legal case to an end, The Daily Telegraph reports MPs are demanding Tony Blair, who was prime minister at the time, apologise for his part in the decision.

The case might also cause waves across the Atlantic, and a shine a light on Donald Trump’s nominee to head the CIA, Gina Haspel, who is facing questions about her role running alleged rendition programmes after 9/11.

Addressing a press conference in Turkey, Belhaj said the appointment of Haspel, is “a step in the wrong direction and an expression of poor intent”.

He added: “I think the American administration is acting with arrogance and negativity in particular towards the Muslim world. What does it mean for someone to be elevated and honoured, someone who oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where torture was being practiced?”

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