(Reprieve) – The UK Government has spent over £600,000 on lawyers in an attempt to stop a torture case being heard in court, documents obtained by human rights group Reprieve have revealed – even though the victims bringing the case have offered to settle for an apology and a token payment of one pound.
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were kidnapped and tortured in a joint MI6-CIA ‘rendition’ operation in 2004, and have brought a case against the UK Government, along with Jack Straw, who as Foreign Secretary was responsible for MI6 at the time, and a former senior director at the intelligence agency, Mark Allen, who took credit for organizing their kidnap.
The lawsuit was filed in December 2011 after secret documents emerged in the aftermath of Gaddafi’s downfall showing that MI6’s Mark Allen claimed that the intelligence responsible for the rendition was British.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recently announced that, despite having been handed over 28,000 pages of material by Metropolitan Police investigators, it would not be bringing charges over the rendition due to a ‘lack of evidence.’ However, the civil claim brought by Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar remains before the UK Supreme Court, who are currently considering whether it should be allowed to proceed.
The CPS decision, and the UK’s wider involvement in the CIA torture programme, is due to be debated by MPs this Wednesday (29 June).
Ms Boudchar was heavily pregnant at the time of the rendition, during which she says she was chained to a wall in a secret CIA prison in Bangkok, punched, and then bodily taped to a stretcher for the full 17-hour flight to Libya. In a recent interview with the BBC, Ms Boudchar described the experience: “I was six months’ pregnant. I was so scared that I was going to die.” Mr Belhaj, as a prominent opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, was subjected to years of imprisonment and torture.
The documents obtained by Reprieve reveal that the government’s legal team includes 11 barristers, who are being paid fees of up to £250 per hour. By autumn last year, as part of a total spend of £613,558.45 on the case, £26,580.25 had been spent defending Mr Straw and a further £109,785.85 on Mark Allen’s defence. This does not include the legal costs incurred during the Supreme Court hearing, which are likely to have made the total significantly higher.
Supreme Court judges are currently assessing the Government lawyers’ claim that UK courts should be barred from hearing the claim on the grounds that it would damage relations with allies, including the United States.
Commenting, Cori Crider, a lawyer for the family and a director at international human rights organization Reprieve, said:
“The government has wasted over half a million pounds in taxpayers’ money arguing that torture cases shouldn’t get their day in court, simply to spare the blushes of MI6 and the CIA. Meanwhile my clients Abdul-Hakim and Fatima are prepared to settle for just £3 – one pound per defendant – and an apology.
“The Government must use this week’s Parliamentary debate on renditions as a chance to finally come clean over Britain’s involvement in rendition and torture, and apologize to the victims of this shameful practice. Saying sorry to the women and children that were kidnapped and abused by British intelligence is not only the right thing to do – it will allow our country to finally move on from this dark chapter in the ‘war on terror.’”