The treatment of Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar was indefensible. Britain’s apology has far-reaching implications for security cooperation with states that support and practise torture
When a government falls short of its own high ethical standards, the attorney general Jeremy Wright told MPs on Thursday, it must do three things: first, there should be a proper apology; second, there should be appropriate compensation; and, third, there must be changes, based on a learning of lessons for the future. That all sounds admirable and principled. But how does it measure up in practice? The British government’s apology to Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar for its part in the 2004 rendition operation, which kidnapped them in Thailand to end up in Libyan jails, ticks the first two boxes. The question is whether it also ticks the third.
The apology was given on Thursday after an out-of-court settlement of the Belhaj/Boudchar couple’s litigation against the British government, along with the former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former MI6 counter-terrorism chief Sir Mark Allen. It was certainly full. It takes the form of a letter from the prime minister, read out in full by Mr Wright, with Mrs Boudchar listening in the gallery, and a copy of which was handed to Mr Belhaj by the British ambassador to Turkey. The choreography was meticulous. Britain apologised “unreservedly”. Theresa May herself was “profoundly sorry”.