LABOUR’S FORMER Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, may have to defend himself before a Court in connection with his role in “rendition”. This is the practice undertaken by the USA during the “war on terror” which saw them in effect kidnapping suspects and taking them to territory over which the USA had jurisdiction or to third party countries which wanted to prosecute them.
Although rendition was largely carried out by the USA, it has been acknowledged that third party countries, such as the UK, assisted the USA – though the extent of the assistance has always been a closely guarded secret and a very touchy subject.
Mr Belhaj claims that in 2004 he and his then pregnant wife, Fatima Boudchar, were in Asia, about to fly to London to claim asylum on the grounds that he had taken part in the uprising against Libya’s then Leader, Colonel Gaddafi. Mr Belhaj alleges that the USA in effect kidnapped the couple and returned them to Tripoli. Ms Boudchar was imprisoned and then released just before she gave birth, but Mr Belhaj spent six years in jail in Libya.
The Supreme Court has now ruled that Libyan Abdul-Hakim Belhaj can bring a case in the British Courts about these events. He wishes to sue Jack Straw, Labour’s Foreign Secretary at the time, and Sir Mark Allen, then a senior MI6 officer – as well as the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the UK security services. Mr Belhaj has made it clear that he will take this case to court unless he receives an apology and token damages of £1.
The Court considered the question of whether UK courts could hear cases involving actions taken by other government in other countries, but concluded that the allegations were so serious they should be heard by a court somewhere – and the UK courts may be the only ones that would hear them, so they should do so.
Mr Straw downplayed the allegations, saying, “At no stage so far have the merits of the applicant’s case been tested before any court…” This is of course true – but the new ruling deals with the applicant’s request for permission to bring the case before a court, so it is a rather strange point for Mr Straw to make at this stage.
Mr Straw also denied that he was in any way culpable in respect of the claims, adding, “As foreign secretary I acted at all times in a manner which was fully consistent with my legal duties, and with national and international law. I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of anyone by other states.”