A court ruling in London yesterday marked a rare victory in the search for justice for torture and other abuses by the UK, US, and allies in the years after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The London case involves Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a former political opponent to the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, who have brought a claim against various branches of the UK government, a former UK foreign secretary, and a senior intelligence officer over their alleged involvement in the couple’s 2004 rendition to Libya, where they were imprisoned and tortured. Boudchar was pregnant at the time.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch found evidence that UK authorities, with the help of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), assisted in the rendition of Belhadj and his wife to Libya. In December 2013, the UK High Court refused to hear Belhadj and Boudchar’s claim, ruling that the case would damage the UK’s international relations. Yesterday’s ruling by the Court of Appeal reversed that decision, finding that “the risk of displeasing [the UK’s] allies or offending other states” is no grounds to prevent justice.
A criminal investigation into the rendition of Belhadj and of Sami al-Saadi, another Libyan opposition figure, and his wife and children, is still ongoing. In December 2013 the UK government handed responsibility for a much needed inquiry into its involvement in renditions and overseas torture to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), a body that has repeatedly failed to hold the government to account for failures of the security services. The UK government had previously promised to hold a judge-led inquiry.
A lot more work needs to be done in the UK to account for abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism, with the government still refusing to acknowledge its role in these programs. While the government may appeal yesterday’s ruling to the Supreme Court, it is an important step towards justice over a dark chapter of this country’s history.