UK spies will face criminal inquiry over Libya

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LONDON (AP) — Britain’s spy agencies will face a criminal investigation into claims that intelligence shared with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime led to the torture or rendition of two Libyan men and their families, authorities announced Thursday.

A  criminal inquiry was launched in 2008 when a former Guantanamo Bay  detainee alleged that intelligence agencies were complicit in his  torture. The inquiry later expanded to include claims by two Libyans who  accused intelligence agents of sharing sensitive information with  Gadhafi’s regime.


“We want to  get to the bottom of this — not just on grounds of justice or ethical  considerations, but because this whole saga has threatened to make  Britain less safe,” said Conservative lawmaker Andrew Tyrie who chairs a  special committee on the practice of extraordinary rendition.

Tripoli’s military council commander Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group  which had opposed Gadhafi and had asylum in the U.K., claims both  British and U.S. intelligence may have played a role in his 2004  detention in Thailand’s capital Bangkok and transfer to Tripoli.

Documents  uncovered during the fall of Tripoli disclosed the close working ties  between Gadhafi’s spies and Western intelligence officials. One document  allegedly contained a message from an agent from the British foreign  spy agency MI6 making reference to the rendition of Belhaj, also known as Abu ‘Abd Allah Sadiq.

“I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu ‘Abd Allah Sadiq,” the message said. “This was the least we could do for you and Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years.”

Belhaj, who said his pregnant wife was also abused, praised the decision Thursday to open a criminal inquiry.

“I  trust the police will get to the bottom of this, and find not just the  rank-and-file agents, but those ministers who were truly responsible for  her suffering,” Belhaj said. “To this day, I cannot understand why my  pregnant wife was put on the same plane and abused as well.”

Sami al-Saadi, another Libyan who had been opposed to Gadhafi, also claims MI6 played a role in his rendition.

The  New York-based Human Rights Watch found a cache of documents in the  abandoned office of Gadhafi’s former intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa,  after the fall of the regime. Among them was a fax the CIA sent to  Koussa in March 2004, which purportedly showed that the agency would  support MI6 and Gadhafi in seeking Saadi’s rendition.

Two days after the fax, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair  flew to Tripoli to meet Gadhafi. The two were photographed embracing  and several deals were announced, including a multimillion pound  agreement for a gas exploration contract with Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil  giant.

The visit came after Libya bowed to international pressure and agreed in 2003 to abandon weapons of mass destruction.

Still,  Saadi, his wife and four children were bundled onto a plane from Hong  Kong to Libya where they were then separated. Saadi claims he was  tortured.

It’s not is not clear  whether investigators could call on Blair for questioning. Former  Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said he did not know about the rendition.

MI6  chief John Sawers said Thursday it was in the agency’s interest to deal  with the new allegations “as swiftly as possible so we can draw a line  under them and focus on the crucial work we now face in the future.”

While  British intelligence agents will face new questions over the Libyans’  claims, prosecutors and police said Thursday there was insufficient  evidence to prove that agents were complicit in the alleged torture or  mistreatment of former Guantanamo detainees.

The case that prompted the initial investigation was that of former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed.

Mohamed, an Ethiopian who moved to Britain  as a teenager and was initially held in Pakistan, says he was sent by  the U.S. to Morocco where he was interrogated and brutally tortured. He  alleges that he told an MI5 officer of his mistreatment in 2002.

Keir  Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, said there was evidence that  intelligence agents provided information to the US authorities about  Mohamed and also supplied questions for them. But, he said, there was  “insufficient evidence to prove to the standard required in a criminal  court” that any spies provided information when they knew he was being  tortured, or suspected he was at risk.

Mohamed  said Thursday he hadn’t expected British spies to be charged, but that  new evidence may eventually emerge that would reopen cases.

“If  there is any further and wider criminal investigation … I believe it  would be completely impossible to decide that there has not been a  pattern of massive complicity by UK bodies in criminality at the highest  levels directed at other Muslim prisoners,” Mohamed said. “My  experience was not isolated; it was part of a pattern.”

Eliza  Manningham-Buller, a former head of MI5, has said she believes the U.S.  deliberately misled its allies over its handling of detainees during  the so-called war on terror.

In a separate allegation of  complicity from a former detainee, investigators also say they failed to  find sufficient evidence — mostly because they lacked access to  witnesses and the detainee who had been held by U.S. authorities at the  Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Some  3,000 terror suspects continue to be held at the secretive detention  facility where detainees lack access to lawyers. Human rights  organizations have repeatedly criticized U.S. authorities for a lack of  transparency and legal protection for the detainees.

“One  thing you read very clearly in those materials is that it is not that  there wasn’t torture, it is not that the British weren’t involved, it is  that there are witnesses who are not available to put their part,” said  Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer with the legal charity Reprieve who  represents some of the alleged victims of torture and rendition.

Most  of the torture allegations came from terror suspects who were either  initially held in Pakistan and Afghanistan, or sent to other countries  such as Morocco for interrogation.

British agents were accused of passing on information about detainees but not of direct abuse.

Britain  has already made payouts to 16 former detainees at Guantanamo. Among  those alleged to have been part of the settlements were Mohamed, Bishar  Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and  Martin Mubanga.

British  prosecutors and police said that while there was insufficient evidence  to bring criminal charges now, cases could be reopened if new evidence  emerges.

A separate government inquiry into Britain’s role in the so-called war on terror is expected to begin later this year.

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