A leading Libyan opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, forcibly returned to the north African country in a joint operation with the UK and US, where he was tortured, has won a £2.23m settlement with the UK government.
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 an alleged joint UK-US-Libyan operation.
They were then flown to Libya, where all of them were initially imprisoned and al Saadi was held and tortured.
In a statement on Thursday al Saadi said he was still hoping the UK government would one day admit it was involved in the kidnap of him and his young family.
He said that the forthcoming Justice and Security Bill, which provides for secret courts in matters of national security, had convinced him to settle, rather than fight the case.
“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.”
Libyans are pictured outside Tripoli's Abu Slim jail, a top security prison known for torture and human rights abuses
Both Tony Blair, prime minister at the time, and Jack Straw, the then foreign secretary, have denied any knowledge of illegal rendition of dissendents to Libya.
Straw said in a statement on Thursday: "At all times I was scrupulous in seeking to carry out my duties in accordance with the law, and I hope to be able to say much more about all this at an appropriate stage in the future.”
Khadija al Saadi, Sami’s eldest daughter, who was rendered to Libya aged 12, said in a statement on Thursday: “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.”
The UK government have not admitted any liability in the case. A Foreign Office spokesman told The Huffington Post UK: "We can confirm the government and other defendants have reached a settlement with the claimant.
"There has been no admission of liability and no finding of liability by any court."
Apparent evidence of the UK’s part in the operation 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 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.
Libyan intelligence agents forced Saadi onto a plane in Hong Kong with his wife, two sons aged 12 and nine, and two daughters aged 14 and six.
He described being handcuffed, and hoods placed over their heads, their leggs bound tightly with wire as they were returned to face retribution. The entire family, children included, were jailed.
Although his wife and children were released after two months, al Saadi was imprisoned for six years, during which time he says he was brutally beaten, given electric shocks and told he was facing death.
Another Gaddafi torture 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."
Belhaj continues to pursue legal action against the British Government.
Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi shaking hands, ahead of their talks in Tripoli in 2004
Sapna Malik of Leigh Day, the law firm which has been representing the families, said: “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.”
Belhaj, who went on to lead the battle for Tripoli after his rendition, paid tribute to his friend's struggle in a statement on Thursday: “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.”
Legal Director of Human Rights charity Reprieve 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.”
Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock told The Huffington Post UK: “The Sami al-Saadi case is just one reason why we need a human rights-compliant inquiry into the extent of the UK’s involvement in torture and other abuses of detainees held overseas.
“The now-shelved inquiry under Sir Peter Gibson was never going to get to the bottom of this murky affair, or to allay public fears over it.
“We’ll be watching developments in the case of Mr Al-Saadi and others with interest, but we’ll also be pressing the government to instigate a proper inquiry as soon as possible, given ongoing criminal investigations.”
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