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I've Seen The Torture And Brutality That Can Happen When British Politicians Scrap Human Rights

07/06/2017 17:33
JUSTIN TALLIS via Getty Images

All of us in Britain are hurting. I hope and expect the full might of British justice will fall on the thugs who conspired in the savage murders in London Bridge and Manchester. But when Theresa May promises to rip up human rights in the name of keeping Britain safe, a chill runs down my spine.

What makes us better than those murderers is the value we place on human dignity. The British rule of law - which stretches back over eight centuries to Magna Carta and runs right up to modern human rights laws - protects each and every one of us from the whim of the powerful elite. Undermining it gives the Government and its agents a free hand to imprison, torture and abuse with impunity.

We've been down this road before. As a lawyer at Reprieve, I've had a front-row view of just what can go wrong when British politicians scrap Britain's values in the effort to be seen to be doing something about security.

The last time corners were cut it was the Blair government, and MI6, who helped abduct my clients - a Libyan opposition figure and his heavily pregnant wife - and put them on a one-way flight to a Libyan dictator's torture chambers.

It made no difference that Abdul-Hakim Belhaj only opposed Gaddafi, that the West was not his enemy, nor that of his blameless wife. Because of MI6's actions - and the decision in the realpolitik of the day to cosy up to Gaddafi, 'human rights' or basic decency be damned - they were brutalised just the same.

First the CIA snatched the couple. They beat Belhaj and chained him to the wall in a Bangkok black site. Worse still is what they did to his pregnant wife: they bound her, head to foot, to a stretcher, with an eye taped open, and left her like that for the fifteen-hour kidnap flight to Libya. Their first son was born weighing just four pounds. Belhaj spent the next six years in various holes, being tortured repeatedly. He told visiting MI6 officers about the violence, but they turned a blind eye.

This happened because of MI6's flagrant disrespect for the law. A senior MI6 official, Sir Mark Allen, boasted how his intelligence work had effectively delivered Belhaj and his wife to Gaddafi like so much 'air cargo'. This wasn't just ugly for the couple. MI5's own candid report, written after the abduction, concluded that the abductions of people who were not our enemies had hurt our national security.

Yet the couple hold no grudge. While they are suing Allen, his old supervisor Jack Straw, and the government in court, they have long said they are prepared to let bygones be bygones, and drop their case for a quid, if officials would only admit their mistake and apologise.

To date, the British state has refused. More disturbingly still, they are expected shortly to try to shunt the couple's trial--surely one of the darkest episodes in the entire War on Terror--into secret. The excuse given, as ever, will be national security. Yet the files that exposed the operation were published, for all to read, over five years ago. The real aim is to save MI6, and former Blair officials, from embarrassment. The truth should be aired in public. Seeking to cover it up for decades more makes none of us safer.

Knee-jerk responses to ghastly events are rarely good decisions. Former top prosecutors and security officials are absolutely right when they say that we will do far better to properly resource law enforcement and prosecution efforts, and dispense with the damaging myth that the powerful in this country should be a law unto themselves.

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