Police to investigate MI6 role in Libya torture

By Jevon Whitby

Thursday saw a decision by the crown prosecution service to investigate  two allegations of  rendition and torture by the British Secret Intelligence Service. MI6 is accused not of torturing in Britain, but removing suspects to Gadhaffi’s Libya to be interrogated away from the eyes of international law.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after a decision not to press charges on MI5, after claims that a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, was detained in Pakistan, Morocco and Guantanamo Bay in 2002. Mr Mohamed insists that whilst in Pakistan his torturers included British interrogators, but the case has now been closed by the CPS citing ‘insufficient evidence.’

Both new cases have resurfaced from information revealed to the Human Rights Watch group from the abandoned files of Libya’s former Intelligence Agency chief (and recently defected Foreign Minister) Moussa Koussa. The controversy comes after a long line of rumoured secret deals with Muammar Gadhaffi’s regime over the release of the Lockerbie bomber, arms sales and harsh immigration laws.

It is alleged that Sami al Saadi and Abdel Hakim Belhadj (now a commander in Libya’s rebel army)  were captured in Asia by a joint MI6 and CIA operation and taken to a Libyan prison where they were tied by their wrists and beaten. Mr Belhadj also claims that his pregnant wife was imprisoned as part of the illegal rendition, and that they were targeted because of his staunch political opposition to Gadhaffi’s regime.

Head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, insisted in a statement that ‘It is in the service’s interest to deal with the allegations being made as swiftly as possible so we can draw a line under them and focus on the crucial work we face now and in the future.’ Cabinet Office statements expressed a similar sentiment on behalf of the government today, standing firmly against ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Yet it will be hard for MI6 to ever shake off the spectre of secret illegal actions given the service’s confidential nature, even if they are genuinely innocent.

Conspiracy theorists and human rights activists alike are sure to rally around the latest bout of torture stories from a troubled decade in which Britain joined America in some questionable practices in the name of the ‘War on Terror’.  In addition, Guantanamo Bay remains open, water boarding remains a contested issue in the USA, and the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US endures: all fuelling the notion that Britain is complicit in torture.

With the Gibson Enquiry now effectively escalating to a much more serious police investigation, there could be potential foreign policy ramifications for the National Transitional Council’s relationship with Britain. This is not the first such claim, and therefore transparency under police investigation must be seen to be a top priority for the whole of government, let alone the security services.

The intense media focus on the allegations now demands not just the so called ‘rank and file’ to be punished, but any highest authority that ordered the rendition. These claims will undoubtedly cause a large headache for the Coalition as they attempt to support the ‘new Libya,’ despite both alleged crimes relating to the previous Labour government. If true, torture  accusations understandably reflect poorly on the security services and the British government’s questionable relationship with a dictator that they have at least now helped denounce and remove.

With the Libyan war now over, and the British government now expecting a beneficially constructive relationship with the National Transitional Council. The revelation that we may have colluded with Gadhaffi’s brutal prison system to secretly torture suspected terrorists will be unsettling for the new Libya.

Mr Belhadj himself tightened the screw on British-Libyan relations yesterday with another statement to SKY News in which he hoped for a positive diplomatic relationship but one that must ‘start on a good footing’ that requires ‘justice for the crimes of the past.’

If this toxic story unfolds with Scotland Yard’s investigation finding further evidence of torture, the result will doubtlessly be widespread and severe regardless of outcome. In all likelihood, for the sake of diplomatic relations with the new Libya and the tainted reputation of British security, a scapegoat must be found quickly whether the torture happened or not.

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