UK Attorney General Jeremy Wright has apologized to Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, admitting the UK government’s complicity in their rendition and ‘mistreatment’ at the hands of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan forces.
Putting an end to a six-year legal dispute, Wright admitted to the Commons that “the United Kingdom government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition, and suffering.” Reading from a letter from UK PM Theresa May to the two rendition victims, Wright said they “apologize unreservedly” and that the government “accept[s] this was a failing on our part.”
Rendition – defined as the practice of covertly taking a suspect to be interrogated in a country with less rigorous regulations for the humane treatment of prisoners – was widely used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Belhaj and Boudchar were abducted and taken to a Tripoli prison under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Belhaj was the emir of the defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an anti-Gaddafi guerrilla group. Boudchar was pregnant at the time, and was released shortly before giving birth.
The AG also laid out the conditions of the settlement, revealing that boh Belhaj and Boudchar had dropped their claims against former foreign secretary Jack Straw and former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen.
Wright also revealed that the UK government had paid out £500,000 ($ 676,000) to Boudchar – but Belhaj did not seek compensation and has received no bursary from the UK government as a result. Both will also receive a personal letter of apology from Theresa May.
“It is also important that we should act in line with our values and in accordance with the rule of law,” Wright said in his statement. “That means when we get things wrong, it is right and just that we should acknowledge it, compensate those affected, and learn lessons. I believe this is such a case.”
Boudchar, who was at parliament with her son to hear the apology, thanked the government for saying sorry. “I thank the British government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government’s apology,” she said. “This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for many years, and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going. But by today’s settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honor, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children.”
Belhaj echoed his wife’s sentiments in a statement. “I welcome and accept the prime minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the attorney general my thanks and sincere goodwill. For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done,” he said.
“Today is a historic day, not just for myself and my wife. We hope our case will serve as a marker for future generations. A great society does not torture; does not help others to torture; and, when it makes mistakes, it accepts them and apologizes. Britain has made a wrong right today, and set an example for other nations to follow.”
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