Jack Straw in trouble – again!

Jack StrawBlackburn MP Jack Straw – who served as Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary under Tony Blair, and later as Justice Secretary under Gordon Brown – has been served with legal papers by solicitors acting for Abdel Hakim Belhadj, one of the commanders of the anti-Gaddafi forces that took control of Libya last year.

This follows detailed allegations in the Sunday Times published last weekend (April 15th) suggesting that Straw personally authorised an operation which amounted to a judicial kidnapping, and ended with Mr Belhadj being handed over to Gaddafi’s torturers.  This illegal process known as “rendition” took place in 2004, when Mr Belhadj and his wife were seized by CIA agents in Bangkok and flown to Libya, where they suffered “torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, batteries and assaults.”

Last autumn Straw claimed in a BBC Radio interview:
“The position of successive foreign secretaries, including me, is that we were opposed to unlawful rendition, opposed to torture or similar methods and not only did we not agree with it, we were not complicit in it, nor did we turn a blind eye to it.”

It seems that MI6 were concerned by this denial and feared that they might have to take the rap.  According to a source quoted by the Sunday Times, senior MI6 officers therefore met with Straw within days of the above interview and “reminded him that he had signed off on it.  He was shown evidence and he did accept that he had signed off on the rendition.”

This isn’t the first time that Mr Straw has been at the centre of controversial and perhaps illegal conduct in the senior ranks of a Labour government.  At the very start of his political career in the mid-1970s he was drawn into a plot by then Labour leader Harold Wilson to leak damaging information to the media about then Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe, who Wilson feared might be about to enter a coalition with Conservative prime minister Edward Heath.  Wilson knew that Thorpe was a secret homosexual, and that his unstable ex-lover Norman Scott could ignite a scandal that would destroy him.

Straw’s role was revealed in 2002 by the former Downing Street press secretary Joe Haines in his book Glimmers of Twilight.  Wilson was building up a dossier of evidence against Thorpe which could if necessary be leaked to the press.  Some of the key evidence was in Norman Scott’s national insurance file, and Wilson therefore asked his Social Security minister Barbara Castle to obtain the confidential file from her department.

Castle wasn’t happy about taking part in this dirty tricks operation, so Prime Minister Wilson told her to “get Jack Straw” (then Castle’s special adviser) to do it.  The file was obtained by a civil servant and Jack Straw duly wrote a report on the affair which was passed via Castle to Downing Street.

Within a few years it had all ended in tears, for everybody except Jack Straw.

Jeremy Thorpe was exposed and had to stand trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy to murder his ex-lover.  He was acquitted but the scandal cost him his seat in Parliament.

Harold Wilson resigned as Prime Minister in 1976, for reasons which have yet to be fully explained.

Barbara Castle was put out to grass by Wilson’s successor Jim Callaghan.  She left Parliament in 1979 to become an MEP, and Jack Straw succeeded her as MP for Blackburn.  He has been in the House of Commons now for more than 33 years.

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