Oil, torture and dictators:
On Monday the BBC Panorama programme substantiated an extraordinary allegation that suggested how far the war on terror has descended into legal abyss. The claim was that MI6 rolled the pitch for Tony Blair’s bizarre 2004 hug-in with Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi by apparently arranging for the CIA to kidnap Gaddafi’s opponent in exile, Abdel Hakim Belhaj. He was seized in Bangkok, where he and his wife were en route to Britain. It’s been suggested they were “rendered” via the British colony of Diego Garcia to Tajoura jail in Tripoli. Belhaj spent six years, and his wife four and a half months, at the tender mercies of Gaddafi’s security boss, Moussa Koussa. Belhaj’s pregnant wife was taped like a mummy on a stretcher, and he was systematically tortured. Koussa himself denies any involvement in torture.
With this gift came a covering letter from MI6’s Mark Allen, offering Koussa congratulations on the “safe arrival” of the “air cargo [Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years.” Within two weeks Gaddafi was welcoming a fawning Blair in his famous desert tent, and announcing that he would abjure terrorism and set aside his “planned” weapons of mass destruction. The plans were spurious, but the deal allowed Blair to walk tall in Washington at a time when the Iraq invasion was turning sour.
Less spurious were other elements in the strange relationship. It was claimed Britain would not just deliver Belhaj but lift sanctions. Gaddafi would greet BP’s Lord Browne, accompanied by Allen, who switched with full ministerial approval from being an MI6 officer to a £200,000 special adviser to BP. When, three years later, the £15bn deal with BP seemed to falter, it’s claimed Allen pressed his old boss, Jack Straw, to release Libya’s Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Allen was a senior adviser to Monitor consultancy, which helped boost Gaddafi’s world image, and assisted the London School of Economics, on whose advisory board Allen sat and where Gaddafi’s son Saif was receiving a much-heralded PhD. The new chairman of BP was none other than Sir Peter Sutherland, also chairman of the LSE.
When, in 2011, Gaddafi’s regime was visibly tottering, Britain coolly deserted him. Sanctions were reimposed, but no one thought to tell Nato special forces, present at the fall of Tripoli, to find and secure the building in which the incriminating documents lay. Presumably to the horror of MI6, Human Rights Watch got there first and found Allen’s letter, which was handed to journalists. To make things worse, Belhaj was now out of jail and head of Tripoli’s military council. Worse still, his old nemesis, Koussa, had shrewdly defected as Gaddafi crumbled and was able to confirm Belhaj’s suspicions of British complicity in his fate.