Socialist Worker

Britain and Libya: tortured friends

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2268

New documents expose years of murderous interventions in Libya by British governments.

Within days of celebrating their role in overthrowing former dictator Gaddafi, the shallowness of British claims to support democracy in Libya was shown in evidence of their support for torture.

After years of denial and cover-up by both Labour and Tory governments there is now panic in the political establishment.

One secret letter shows that MI6 provided intelligence which led to the torture of a Libyan dissident. It is among hundreds of documents found by Human Rights Watch in the offices of the Libyan foreign ministry.

The letter “for Musa in Tripoli from Mark in London”, about Abdel Hakim Belhadj, was written by Sir Mark Allen, MI6’s then counter-terrorism chief. Allen now works for BP (see below). It was addressed to then Libyan foreign minister Musa Kusa.

Belhadj, who is now a senior military commander in the anti-Gaddafi army, was interviewed by British agents and repeatedly tortured in Libya.

Allen writes, “This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years.”

Allen congratulates Musa Kusa on the arrival of Belhadj and says the rendition was carried out by the US on the basis of British intelligence.

Calling Belhadj “air cargo”, he thanks Kusa for the support shown to an MI6 agent. “I am so glad,” he says. “I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.”

Kusa fled Libya with the assistance of MI6 in February.

Another document, a CIA fax, reveals Britain set up a torture flight for Gaddafi.

The fax from March 2004 says that the CIA is aware that Libyan intelligence were “co-operating” with British spies “to transfer a suspect to Tripoli”.

MI6 were arranging the extraordinary rendition of Abu Munthir from Hong Kong via the Maldives. The current whereabouts of Munthir is unknown.

British special forces helped to prop up Gaddafi. SAS soldiers trained Gaddafi’s internal security forces.

A letter from one British official also offered to provide training from private company Arturus, with the SAS on hand to “provide quality assurance”.

The shifting sands of who the US and Britain wanted as allies in the Middle East shaped this poisonous web. The oil industry decided the pace of events.

The sands shifted again in response to the revolt in the country. But Britain’s involvement then and now has been purely for its own imperial interests.

The British establishment promoted Gaddafi’s regime in the interests of the oil industry.

That meant collecting details of dissidents in Britain for the Libyan government—and encouraging torture.


Both Labour ministers and the current Tories claimed torture flights did not happen—now they say they have stopped.

Both David Miliband and William Hague have insisted that Britain wasn’t involved in torture.

Former Labour home secretary Jack Straw said in December 2005, “Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, I’m lying and that behind this there is some kind of secret state in league with some dark forces in the US... there is simply no truth in claims that the UK has been involved in rendition.”

In response to the new allegations, David Cameron defended the work of MI6 as vital to security and urged people not to “rush to judgment”.

He then palmed off an investigation to the Gibson inquiry into torture. Lawyers of the victims of torture have boycotted the inquiry.

The inquiry is a whitewash—sitting in secret regardless of whether someone gives evidence that is secret.

Gibson may need some more paint.

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Article information

Tue 6 Sep 2011, 18:56 BST
Issue No. 2268
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