For Immediate Release
Reprieve’s London press office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.
Blair Must Answer for UK-US Rendition of Anti-Gaddafi Families at Parliamentary Appearance
WASHINGTON - Reprieve is calling on Tony Blair to provide answers over his role in the UK-orchestrated rendition of two anti-Gaddafi dissidents and their families to the Libyan dictator, when he appears at the Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow [Friday December 11th] discussing UK-Libya policy.
Sami al-Saadi and Abdulhakim Belhadj, Gaddafi opponents living in exile, were kidnapped and flown back to Libya with their families in a joint MI6-CIA operation in 2004. The al-Saadi children were aged twelve, eleven, nine and six years old and Mr Belhadj’s wife, Fatima Boudchar, was heavily pregnant during the rendition. Both Mr Belhadj and Mr al-Saadi were held for six years during which time they were regularly subjected to torture.
The UK’s role in these operations was revealed in 2011, when faxes from MI6 to Gaddafi’s spy chief Moussa Koussa were found following the fall of the regime. In those faxes, Sir Mark Allen, then head of Counter-Terrorism at MI6, took credit for the role of UK intelligence in securing the arrival of what he termed the “air cargo.” Despite this, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair has never admitted to his role in, or knowledge of, the operation which happened around the time of the so-called ‘deal in the desert’. He is appearing at the Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday at 10:30 am where he will be questioned on UK-Libya policy.
Mr Belhadj’s wife, Fatima Boudchar, has told how during the operation she was chained to a wall for five days, and subsequently taped to a stretcher for a 17 hour flight, which left her in agony. She was held in a prison until just before the delivery of her son, who at birth weighed four pounds. Khadija al-Saadi, who was twelve during the rendition, has previously said of her ordeal: “Shortly before the plane landed, a guard told me to say goodbye to my father, at the front of the plane. I forced myself ahead and saw him with a needle in his arm. I remember guards laughing at me. Then I fainted.”
The Metropolitan Police opened a criminal investigation – code named Operation Lydd – into the renditions of both the Belhadj and al Saadi families in January 2012. Since then they have reportedly sent several files to the CPS, the first apparently in October 2014 and the most recent reportedly in summer this year. The case is now awaiting a prosecuting decision from the CPS. Abdulhakim Belhadj and Ms Boudchar are currently bringing a civil case against the UK government, which reached the Supreme Court in November this year.
Cori Crider, lawyer for both families and a Director at international human rights NGO Reprieve, said: “How my clients would love to be sitting in that committee room tomorrow to question Tony Blair themselves about the hell they endured. Abdulhakim Belhadj and Sami al Saadi were opponents of a brutal dictator – as a result they were shipped off to his torture chambers, their wives and young children taken along for the ride. All the while, the Blair government’s main concern was with getting ever-closer to Gaddafi, making shady back room deals wrapped up with embarrassing photo-ops. Tony Blair has so far managed to wriggle out of explaining his role in these kidnap operations – we hope and expect he will be questioned about it at the Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow.”
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Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.