Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a Libyan dissident kidnapped and returned to Muammar Gaddafi's Libya – following a likely tip off by the UK government – has won the right to sue them over his rendition.
The UK Supreme Court rejected the government's appeal, saying Belhaj's rendition and torture contravened fundamental human rights. They warned that ministers could not expect immunity, with Lord Mance – one of the seven supreme court justices presiding over the case – saying the use of torture "has long been regarded as abhorrent by English law".
Belhaj was a member of the al-Qaeda linked Libya Islamic Fighting Group, which opposed Muammar Gaddafi's rule throughout the 1990s. He and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, were abducted in Bangkok in March 2004 – during an intelligence effort coordinated between the UK, US, Malaysia, Thailand and Libya.
The rendition, facilitated by the CIA, ended with Belhaj and his wife – who was pregnant at the time – facing torture, interrogation and humiliation in the cells of Gaddafi's feared secret police in Tripoli.
The dissident has relentlessly pursued the right to sue then UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw over his 2004 rendition. Straw has denied any knowledge of the incident.
The likelihood of British involvement in the operation was not confirmed until after the 2011 revolution in Libya, which uncovered private correspondence between the former head of counter terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen, and Gaddafi's intelligence chief Moussa Koussa.
The Guardian reported the letter may have provided the underlying truth behind the tip-off which led to the couple being captured.
Two weeks after Belhaj's rendition, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair travelled to Libya and secured what is know infamously known as the 'deal in the desert'. The rapprochement with Libya, ostensibly over Gaddafi's promise to give up his chemical and biological weapons programmes as well as join the fight against terror, coincided with a £110m deal for Anglo-Dutch Shell for exploration rights off the coast of Libya.
Belhaj has said repeatedly that he is seeking an apology to his wife and no more than £1 in damages. However, a ruling in his favour could open the door to a number of other similar cases.