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RenditionsU.K. government must face kidnapping, torture claims in rendition case: U.K. court
The U.K. highest court has ruled that former foreign secretary Jack Straw, MI6, and the U.K. government must stand trial for their participation in the 2004 kidnapping of a Libyan dissident and his wife. The unanimous ruling by the seven justices said that the rendition and torture of Abdel Hakim Belhaj breached rights enshrined in the Magna Carta, and should be put before an English court.
The U.K. highest court has ruled that former foreign secretary Jack Straw, MI6, and the U.K. government must stand trial for their participation in the 2004 kidnapping of a Libyan dissident and his wife.
The unanimous ruling by the seven justices said that the rendition and torture of Abdel Hakim Belhaj breached rights enshrined in the Magna Carta, and should be put before an English court.
The Telegraph reports that in a series of linked judgments, the U.K.’s highest court ruled that cabinet ministers could not claim “state immunity” or escape trial on the grounds of the legal doctrine of “foreign acts of state.”
The justices, however, rule in favor of the government in cases involving overseas detention of one Pakistani and one Afghani men, ruling that claims based on Iraqi or Afghan law could be resisted due to the principle of “crown act of state.”
The court ruled more broadly that capturing and detaining “enemy combatants” was permissible, thus pulling the rug from under hundreds of other claimants who are taking action against the U.K. Ministry of Defense.
Dismissing the government’s appeal in the Belhaj case, Lord Mance said the use of torture “has long been regarded as abhorrent by English law,” because individuals must be protected from deliberate physical mistreatment while in custody. “The critical point in my view is the nature and seriousness of the misconduct alleged … at however high a level it may have been authorized,” he said.
Quoting from the Magna Carta, Mance said: “No free man shall be taken, or imprisoned, or dispossessed, of his … liberties … or be outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed … excepting by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the laws of the land.”
He added that the letter – which Sir Mark Allen, then head of counter-terrorism at MI6, sent to Muammar Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa — provided a “hint of the underlying reasons” why the U.K. may have provided the tipoff that led to the couple being captured.
Another justice, Lord Sumption, said the conduct of other governments involved were sovereign acts, and that if the United States, Malaysia, Thailand, and Libya were being sued, they would have enjoyed immunity. “However, they have not been sued. Only the government and agents of the United Kingdom have been.” Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, must, therefore, be permitted to sue the government.
Straw, commenting on the ruling, said: “This judgment is about some important points of law, related to how far it is possible to bring into a court process in the U.K. actions of sovereign states abroad. However, at no stage so far have the merits of the applicant’s case been tested before any court. That can only happen when the trial of the action itself takes place.
“I repeat what I said in the House of Commons in December 2013, that 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.”