Inquiry targets UK, Libya intelligence ties
LONDON - A British inquiry into the country’s pursuit of terrorism suspects will examine new allegations about cozy ties between UK intelligence officials and Moammar Khadafy’s regime, Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
Security documents discovered after the fall of Tripoli have offered embarrassing examples of the warm relationships that British and American spies had developed with their Libyan counterparts.
The trove of files documents efforts by the CIA and Britain’s overseas intelligence agency MI6 in advising Khadafy’s regime on ending its international isolation. In return, the Western agencies won close cooperation as they hunted Al Qaeda linked terrorism suspects.
Files discovered among tens of thousands of papers collected from an External Security building in Tripoli show how Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, now Libya’s rebel military commander, was targeted for rendition.
Belhaj, who was seized in Bangkok in 2004 and delivered to Tripoli, alleges that US and British intelligence planned his capture and were later involved in his interrogation.
Cameron said a government-commissioned study - known as the Detainee Inquiry - being led by Peter Gibson, retired appeals court judge, must consider the allegations in its examination of Britain’s conduct in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The British leader said there were significant accusations “that under the last government relations between the British and Libyan security services became too close, particularly in 2003.’’
Lawmaker Jack Straw, who was Britain’s foreign secretary in 2003, said that his previous Labor Party government opposed torture or mistreatment, but acknowledged that it was “entirely right’’ that the inquiry examine assertions Britain offered inappropriate support to Tripoli.
In one letter uncovered in Tripoli, dated Dec. 24, 2003, a British official thanks Moussa Koussa, then Khadafy’s spy chief, for a gift of a “very large quantity of dates and oranges.’’
Koussa defected from Khadafy’s regime and flew to Britain in March, where he was questioned for several weeks by intelligence officials.
In a statement in April, Koussa - who also served as Libya’s foreign minister - acknowledged he had ties with a number of British officials.
“I personally have relations, and good relations, with so many Britons. We worked together against terrorism and we succeeded,’’ said Koussa, who later left Britain for Doha, Qatar.
Cameron said Gibson’s inquiry panel would examine issues around relations with Libya. The inquiry’s primary focus is to consider allegations put forward by former Guantanamo Bay detainees who accuse Britain of being complicit in their mistreatment.
In a statement, the inquiry said it would look “at the extent of the UK government’s involvement in, or awareness of, improper treatment of detainees - including rendition.’’
Andrew Tyrie, a British lawmaker who heads a group of legislators investigating so-called extraordinary rendition, said he hoped the British inquiry would get to “the truth about alleged British complicity in the kidnap and torture of detainees.’’