Monday, September 5, 2011

MI6 knew I was tortured, says Libyan rebel leader

MI6 knew I was tortured, says Libyan rebel leader


Abdul Hakim Belhaj says MI6 helped CIA arrest him and

send him to Libya for torture


Martin Chulov, Monday 5 September 2011


A Libyan rebel leader who was rendered to Tripoli with

the assistance of MI6 said on Monday that he had told

British intelligence officers he was being tortured but

they did nothing to help him.


In a claim that will increase the pressure for further

disclosure about the UK's role in torture and rendition

since 9/11, Abdul Hakim Belhaj said a team of British

interrogators used hand signals to indicate they

understood what he was telling them.


"I couldn't believe they could let this go on," he

said. "What has happened deserves a full inquiry."


Belhaj was detained by the CIA in Thailand in 2004

following an MI6 tipoff, allegedly tortured, then flown

to Tripoli, where he says he suffered years of abuse in

one of Muammar Gaddafi's prisons.


It emerged on Monday that MI6 had been able to tell the

CIA of his whereabouts after his associates informed

British diplomats in Malaysia that he wished to claim

asylum in the UK. Belhaj was then allowed to board a

flight for London and abducted when the plane called at Bangkok.


There were signs that the discovery of a cache of

secret MI6 and CIA documents at an abandoned government

office building in Tripoli was triggering panic in some

parts of Whitehall.


The papers detail the UK's role not only in the

rendition of Belhaj, but in that of a second man, known

as Abu Munthir. This operation appears to have been

planned by British and Libyan intelligence officers

without any CIA involvement.


David Cameron said the disclosures would be

investigated by the Gibson inquiry, set up last year to

examine the UK's role in torture and rendition.


It was unclear whether MI6 or MI5 had disclosed

anything to the inquiry before the new documents came

to light. Inquiry staff first indicated they knew

nothing about the Libyan operations, and were seeking

information from the government "as soon as possible".

Later they said they had "received material relating to

these issues", but declined to be more specific.


Similarly, the Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, a

former member of the intelligence and security

committee, a Westminster body supposed to provide

oversight of MI5 and MI6, indicated the committee knew

nothing about the UK-Libya operations before giving the

agencies a clean bill of health in a 2007 report on

rendition; he then said he could say nothing about the matter.


Belhaj on Monday revealed more details of the lead-up

to his rendition on 6 March 2004, which he says came

amid his attempts to reach the UK, of which the

government had become aware.


He said he had first tried to travel to London from

Kuala Lumpur via Beijing in late February that year.

However, he was refused permission to board in Beijing,

despite carrying a French passport, which does not

require a pre-issued UK visa.


He was returned to Kuala Lumpur where he was detained

by Malaysian immigration officials. It is understood

that an associate of Belhaj then visited the British

embassy in Kuala Lumpur advising officials there of his

intention to seek political asylum in the UK.


Shortly afterwards he was freed from the detention

centre and allowed to buy a ticket to London via

Bangkok. By then he had disposed of his French

passport, issued to a Jamal Kaderi, and was travelling

on a Moroccan passport, issued in the name of Abdul

al-Nabi. Holders of Moroccan passports require a

pre-issued visa to enter the UK, but Belhaj said he did

not apply for a visa and was allowed to board without

one - a highly unusual practice.


The revelation raises fresh questions about the extent

of the government's role in Belhaj's rendition.

Documents discovered last Friday reveal that a senior

MI6 officer, Mark Allen, had written to Libyan spy

chief Moussa Koussa congratulating him on receiving

Belhaj and acknowledging that "the intelligence was British".


"I would not board until they assured me that I could

travel to the UK," Belhaj said. "They did that and I

got on the plane."


Belhaj was captured by CIA officers, in co-operation

with Thai authorities, inside Bangkok airport. He says

he was tortured at a site in the airport grounds and

then sent to Libya, where Gaddafi had long seen him as

one of the biggest threats to his tyrannical

four-decade rule.


"The British were the second team to visit me," he

said. "They came about a month after I was returned to

Libya and they were very well briefed about LIFG

[Libyan Islamic Fighting Group] members in the UK. They

knew everything, even their code names. They wanted to

know more details about the LIFG and also about the

general environment elsewhere, al-Qaida, that sort of

thing. There was a woman who was leading the team, a

big man and a third person who was translating. They

only came one time."


Belhaj said intelligence officers from other European

countries, including France, Germany and Italy, also

travelled to Tripoli to speak to him inside the

infamous Abu Selim prison in the south of the capital.


Before each visit he was told by Libyan officers - and

sometimes by Koussa - to "tell the British and others

that the people they are asking about are al-Qaida".


"The Libyans told me that if I told them that I would

be treated better."


He said Koussa, who fled the Gaddafi regime in March

with MI6 help, would often taunt him in prison, with

threats that he would die there. On one occasion Koussa

ordered guards to put a shade over half of Belhaj's

cell window, to reduce what little sunlight he was



Files seen by the Guardian on Sunday inside the now

ransacked offices of the external security service

reveal that Libyan spies remained in close co-operation

with the CIA and MI6 as late as November last year. The

files reveal the Americans, in particular, were

regularly requesting information about the identities

of Libyan cellphone users. One document showed that the

CIA had responded to a Libyan request about the user of

a satellite phone by giving GPS references for every

call made.



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