Ex-Libyan rebel in legal bid against UK politician

Lawyers for a Libyan military commander said Wednesday they are taking civil legal action against Britain's former foreign secretary over claims he approved the Libyan's rendition to face imprisonment and torture by Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

Attorneys for Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a prominent Libyan Islamist leader, say they have served papers on former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw after reports suggested he had signed documents that allowed Belhaj to be sent back to his homeland in 2004.

Belhaj claims both British and U.S. intelligence may have played a role in his 2004 detention in Bangkok, Thailand and transfer to Tripoli.

The Sunday Times newspaper reported this week that Straw had personally approved the rendition.

Law firm Leigh Day & Co said it had asked Straw to produce a number of documents, including his diaries and notes.

"If the former foreign secretary does not now own up to his role in this extraordinary affair, he will need to face the prospect of trying to defend his position in court," said Sapna Malik, a partner at the law firm.

Belhaj, now Tripoli's military council commander, and another Gadhafi opponent, Sami Al Saadi, are already suing the British government and the MI6 spy agency over their alleged role in their rendition, and police are investigating the claims.

British ministers have always denied any complicity in rendition or torture.

Straw, who was foreign secretary between 2001 and 2006 in the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the legal case.

"They are entitled to bring the action and it will be dealt with in due course," he told Sky News.

Straw said last year that the Labour government had been "opposed to any use of torture or similar methods."

"Not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it and nor did we turn a blind eye to it," he told the BBC.

But, he added: "No foreign secretary can know all the details of what its intelligence agencies are doing at any one time."

Britain's foreign secretary is responsible for approving operations carried out by MI6 and the government's surveillance agency, GCHQ.

In a speech in November, current foreign policy chief William Hague said he examined "operational proposals from the (intelligence) agencies every day, amounting to hundreds every year."

Hague acknowledged that approving the plans are "often not easy decisions, and the majority involve judgments about cooperating with other countries. I take ultimate responsibility for these operations, and I do not approve them all."

In 2010, Britain paid millions of pounds (dollars) in settlements to 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who alleged U.K. complicity in their harsh treatment overseas, though the government did not admit any liability.

The government said it was taking the allegations of wrongdoing "very seriously."

"What's important now is to ensure a fair trial in the civil proceedings," a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron's office said, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

She declined to say whether or not the government would attempt to intervene to prevent sensitive documents — such as any written authorization by Straw approving Britain's role in Belhaj's rendition — from being publicly disclosed in court.


Associated Press Writer David Stringer contributed to this report.