The Libyan, now a senior member of his nation’s transitional government, claims he was abducted by CIA agents acting on information from MI6 and flown to Tripoli in March 2004, where he was tortured by Gaddafi’s regime. His wife, four-and-a-half months pregnant at the time, was allegedly part of the same rendition and chained to a wall without food before being taped to a stretcher and put aboard the aircraft.
Documents found in the rubble of Gaddafi government offices suggest our previous government approved Mr Belhadj’s rendition at ministerial level – something previously denied by both Tony Blair and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Now media reports say MI6 chiefs are offering Mr Belhadj £1million in hush money to stop him releasing details of his case. We’re told the Secret Intelligence Service is willing to pay “whatever it takes” for his silence.
So what’s Mr Belhadj’s story got to do with Secret Justice? You guessed it – if he refuses the cash and insists on going to court, those plans for hearings behind closed doors could prevent the truth from ever coming to light. This case is precisely the kind of civil claim that, if the Government’s Green Paper gets the go ahead, would be held in secret in future.
Ministers’ alleged complicity in torture is also the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation – a real recipe for international disgrace. Of course the State is desperate to pay up – anyone would do so when they know they’re in the wrong. But unlike any other litigant, the Government pretends that the civil justice system is the problem and instead proposes to forever change the rules so as to never be found out again.
These Secret Justice proposals aren’t about “national security” or keeping us safe, and they’re certainly not about making civil proceedings any fairer. They’re all about covering up British wrongdoing and embarrassment. Ministers are sorely mistaken if they really think the answer to the shame of complicity in torture is even less public scrutiny.