The Foreign Affairs Committee’s report into Libya was damning in its criticism of David Cameron, outlining that the rise of IS was a consequence of the former prime minister’s “failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.” But while the report outlines a number of failings, there is no serious accountability for the aftermath of the intervention.
When seen in the light of Britain’s approach to members of Libya’s opposition, and its continued lack of accountability in its treatment of these individuals, Britain’s recent military incursion takes on a more sinister light. The relationship between the British government and Libya has of course been one of political expediency and has for some time undermined Libyan attempts to alter their own political situation.
In 2004, British prime minister Tony Blair struck a deal with Colonel Gaddafi, despite his oppression of his people, in the name of co-operating in the war on terror. As part of the ‘Deal in the Desert’ Britain was to begin courting favour with Gaddafi by honing in on dissidents. That same year, Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, members of the Libyan opposition, were kidnapped, rendered and transferred back to Libya where they were tortured.
Belhaj’s wife Fatima Boudchar was also abducted and flown by the CIA to Tripoli. Saadi’s wife and four children – the youngest being a six-year-old girl – were also rendered and imprisoned. Recent efforts to hold former foreign secretary Jack Straw accountable for their torture, have been unsuccessful – a situation that surely continues to taint British relations with Libyan people.
One year later, in 2005, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, an organisation dedicated to the overthrow of Gaddafi, was banned as a terrorist organisation in Britain, and five Libyan dissidents were arrested, detained on control orders and threatened with deportation to Libya where they would have certainly faced torture. David Davis MP, said that the use of control orders against these men seemed to be “a way of appeasing Gaddafi by handicapping his opponents”. These men fought and won against their detention and deportation, but were confined to their homes under control orders, or house arrest.
One of the men subjected to this ordeal, Abdul Baset Azzouz, described these restrictive orders as having “excommunicated me and my family from the entire community.” The use of secret evidence against them was especially frustrating and a breach of the fundamental right to free trial.
“SIAC plays games with Muslims. They are using secret evidence – they have made this law just for Muslims. They said that we have contact with terrorists such as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who are supposed to have Al Qaeda ideology. When I asked where the evidence for this is, all I was told was that it was secret,” said Azzouz.
The basis for deporting these men was a memorandum of understanding outlining that these men would not be tortured and would be given a fair a trial. Faraj Hassan, who sadly passed away in 2010 soon after his restrictions were lifted said of the MOU: “It makes a mockery of the so-called civilised democracy and human rights the UK professes to uphold and uses as an excuse to invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan claiming to be bringing democracy and human rights to these countries and removing dictatorship, when the UK itself deals with these very dictators as and when it suits it.”
Faraj rightly pointed that the behaviour of the British government only breeds resentment: “The double standards and the blatant hypocrisy of the UK government towards countries which torture is clear for everyone to see and the UK government wonders why Muslims feel angry?”
It remains to be seen whether this culture of impunity for this duplicitous British involvement in Libyan affairs will continue – for if it does, the situation will not improve. The recent parliamentary report is more proof that the British policy has changed from pro-Gaddafi to anti-Gaddafi in the name of protecting its own interests and at the expense of ordinary Libyans.
What is also clear in the report, is that regime change is often sold to the public in the name of protecting civilians. However, in time the real aim becomes clear: to install a government friendly to the British counter-terrorism agenda, while local military despots and their complicit British security men and leaders continue to remain unaccountable for the abuses notched up in the process.
(CC image courtesy of Number 10 on Flickr)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)