MI5 spied on Libyan torture victims, documents reveal

BRITAIN’S security service MI5 asked Muammar Gaddafi’s secret services for regular updates on what terrorist suspects were revealing under interrogation in Libyan prisons, where torture was routine.

MI5 also agreed to trade information with Libyan spymasters on 50 British-based Libyans judged to be a threat to Gaddafi’s regime.

The disclosures come from secret intelligence documents left lying around in the ruins of the British embassy in Tripoli for anyone to find.

They include an MI5 paper marked “UK/Libya Eyes Only Secret”, which shows that the service provided Gaddafi’s spies with a trove of intelligence about Libyan dissidents in London, Cardiff, Birmingham and Manchester.

Other documents seen by The Sunday Times in the abandoned offices of British and Libyan officials reveal that:

  • The Ministry of Defence invited the dictator’s sons Saadi and Khamis Gaddafi, whose forces have massacred civilians during Libya’s revolution, to a combat display at SAS headquarters in Hereford and a dinner at the Cavalry and Guards Club in Mayfair; Tony Blair helped another son, Saif Gaddafi, with his PhD thesis, beginning a personal letter with the words “Dear Engineer Saif”;
  • The Foreign Office planned to use Prince Andrew in a secret strategy to secure the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, from prison in Scotland and offset the risk of retaliation if he died in jail. In fact, Megrahi was released anyway.

The cache of documents shows how close the British governments of both Blair and Gordon Brown were to a brutal regime that was overthrown last month when pro-democracy rebels seized Tripoli.

Nowhere is this closeness more evident than in the intelligence sphere. The MI5 paper for Gaddafi’s security services contains detailed information about members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a militant dissident outfit with cells in Britain.

The document, prepared ahead of an MI5 visit to Tripoli in 2005, formally requested that Libyan intelligence should provide access to detainees held by secret police and to “timely debriefs” of interrogations.

It added: “The more timely (the) information the better … Such intelligence is most valuable when it is current. It is notable that LIFG members in the UK become aware of the detention of members overseas within a relatively short period.”

The request was made despite widespread evidence of torture in Libyan prisons and assassinations of dissidents in other countries, including Britain. Torture practices identified by the US State Department included “clubbing, setting dogs on prisoners, electric shocks, suffocation by plastic bags and pouring lemon juice into open wounds”.

The disclosures will reignite the debate on the alleged complicity of British security services in the torture of terrorist suspects abroad. Last year David Cameron announced a judge-led inquiry into separate claims that M15 and MI6 were complicit in the torture of British citizens by foreign interrogators.

Some of those named in the documents found in Tripoli are thought to have been arrested subsequently in Britain and placed on control orders, a form of house arrest that is due to be debated in parliament this week.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: “These chilling revelations show just how cosy British authorities became with a regime known for torture. How on earth did they think these timely detainee debriefs were going to be obtained?

“The thought that people [who were] discussed with Gadaffi’s henchmen may have been placed on control orders as a result of ‘detainee debriefs’ should prey on the mind of every MP who votes on the new control order regime tomorrow.”

Other documents that have emerged show how America’s CIA sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya. One letter from an MI6 officer to his Libyan counterpart reported the release from detention in Britain of a key LIFG member.

The MI5 document makes clear the key area of mutual interest to both countries was the LIFG, the most powerful radical faction waging war against Gadaffi’s regime. The group aimed to replace his dictatorship with a hardline Islamist state. Its main external base was in Britain, where 50 members lived.

MI5 believed the group had growing links to al-Qa’ida. It was suspected of supplying a “pipeline” of finance and false documents for the group’s international operations and of facilitating trips by jihadists from Britain to fight against western forces in Iraq.

MI5 also feared the LIFG might be planning terrorist attacks against the West.

A rider to the report says the information is being sent to the Libyans “for research and analysis purposes only and should not be used for overt, covert or executive action” – an apparent reference to kidnapping or execution.

A senior Whitehall official declined to discuss details of the agreement to share intelligence. He said: “We do not engage in, or encourage others to engage in, or contract out in situations where we knowingly, or have a very strong reason to believe that someone is being maltreated or is at risk of, maltreatment.”

William Hague, the foreign secretary, said intelligence documents emerging in Tripoli “relate to a period under the previous government, so I have no knowledge of those, of what was happening behind the scenes at that time”.

A document found in the office of Saadi Gaddafi, head of Libya’s special forces, showed the Ministry of Defence made elaborate plans for him to visit Britain in 2006 with his brother Khamis, whose commandos killed dozens of detainees before retreating from Tripoli as the regime fell.

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