May 10, 2018 / 6:50 AM / in 5 months

Britain settles rendition case with Libyan ex-rebel, Guardian reports

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has reached a settlement with Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a Libyan former rebel leader who says he suffered years of torture by Muammar Gaddafi’s henchmen after British and U.S. spies handed him over to Libya, the Guardian newspaper reported.

FILE PHOTO: Abdul Hakeem Belhadj, leader of the Al-Watan party, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tripoli March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

Belhadj, who commanded an Islamist rebel group that helped topple Gaddafi in 2011 and is now a politician, says he and his pregnant wife Fatima were abducted by U.S. CIA agents in Thailand in 2004 and then illegally transferred to Tripoli with the help of British spies.

Under the administration of former President George W. Bush, the CIA practised so-called “extraordinary renditions”, or extra-judicial transfers of suspects from one country to another, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Other nations are alleged to have lent assistance in some cases.

The practice has been widely denounced around the world.

Belhadj has pursued legal action for years against former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, domestic and foreign spy agencies MI5 and MI6, a former intelligence chief and government departments, seeking an apology from all the parties involved.

The Guardian did not name its sources or give details of the settlement reached between Britain and Belhadj. It said Attorney General Jeremy Wright, the government’s top lawyer, would make a statement about the matter in parliament later on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Abdul Hakeem Belhadj, leader of the Al-Watan party, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tripoli March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

The attorney general’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

The British government had tried to stop Belhadj from taking legal action, but the Supreme Court in January 2017 dismissed the government’s arguments and gave Belhadj permission to sue those he says were responsible for his illegal transfer.

Belhadj says he was originally detained in China, before being transferred to Malaysia and then moved to a CIA “black site” in Thailand.

He was handed over to CIA agents, acting on a tip-off from MI6, and flown via the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Tripoli, because at the time Britain and the United States were keen to build relations with Gaddafi.

As a long-standing enemy of the former Libyan leader, he was imprisoned and tortured until his release in 2010 while his wife was also mistreated during her four-month incarceration.

Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time in the government of Tony Blair, said he had always acted in line with British and international law.

“I was never in any way complicit in the unlawful rendition or detention of anyone by other states,” he said in a statement.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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