Daily Archives: May 11, 2007


Fallujah

Fallujah, a play about the American siege and assault of the Iraqi city in 2004, is currently running at the Old Truman Brewery, on Brick Lane, London. Fallujah represents an unforgettable part of Blair’s legacy, an action in which British forces played a key role. According to the producers:

“The siege of Fallujah constitutes one of the most extensive human rights violations of recent times. Breaching over 70 articles of the Geneva conventions, US forces bombed schools and hospitals, sniped at civilians (including children) holding white flags, cut off water and medical supplies, and instigated a chemical weapons assault, deploying napalm and white phosphorus, both of which are banned by the UN.”

“This play presents testimony from those at the heart of the siege: Iraqi civilians, clerics, US military and politicians, journalists, medics, aid workers, and the British Army. None of this testimony has been heard before. Every word of this play is verbatim.”

Reviewed by Philip Fisher in The British Theatre Guide

For those that were lucky enough to see it, Fallujah will almost inevitably bring to mind the sensation of last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Gregory Burke’s Black Watch.

To varying degrees, the style, subject matter and sentiments are similar but this play is a Verbatim drama, entirely created from the words of those at the sharp end of the conflict that still rages in Iraq, three years on from the start of these proceedings.

Academic and theatre practitioner Dr Jonathan Holmes has got together a team of influential friends to put on this indictment of the American conduct in that benighted country.

The ICA have become involved in a project that takes place in a large, decommissioned brewery in Brick Lane, now almost like a Bangladeshi enclave in the City of London, just around the corner from Petticoat Lane Market.

There, designers Lucy and Jorge Orta have created an installation that fills the large space and eerily features empty anti-gas suits, old shoes and boots, as well as screens large and small on which much of the drama is presented or repeated. This is as well, since if there is ever a capacity audience of around 650, few will see the actors in the flesh for any great length of time. Even a promenading crowd of 100 or so only got good views for perhaps half of the time.

However, the text – and the testimony that it provides – is almost all on this occasion. That is not to detract from some great acting and real fireworks as the creative team attempts to recreate the experience of being in the midst of a war zone. These explosive scenes run to a rhythmic beat that might seem distasteful in a depiction of what some might call genocide.

The 90 minute play has been set to music by Nitin Sawnhey. This can sometimes add depth to the drama but at other times seems gratuitous when the subject of the evening is mass slaughter.

The dramatis personae represent a wide cross-section of those involved, led by Chipo Chung’s vacuous Condoleezza Rice, a woman who has made an art form out of saying nothing, at length. She sets the scene, without irony, by saying that “The President of the United States understands Islam to be a faith of peace, a faith that protects innocents, and the policy of the United States is to do the same”.

The play then becomes a collage of interviews and re-enactments that builds a picture of life (and death) in a city the size of Edinburgh, around 500,000 inhabitants, that was practically razed to the ground, judging by the filmed sequences shown at the end of the performance.

The characters come from all areas of the conflict, with a couple of useful peripheral insertions to offer perspective. There are soldiers of all colours and priests, journalists and ordinary citizens. They come from many nations, America, Britain and Iraq to the fore.

The lynchpins are two White women portrayed by major names, who are obviously committed to this anti-war cause.

Harriet Walter plays Sasha, an American investigative journalist (actually a combination of several interviewees) who has a knack of embarrassing those whom she interviews. This results from a combination of bravery, determination and the knack of asking the right question.

Even braver is Jo (Wilding), a clown at home in the UK, but risking her life to act as an auxiliary nurse on the front line. The scene in which she and a local woman are picked up by militia men and seem destined to die, shows actress Imogen Stubbs at her very best, as fear literally makes her shake.

There is also a Frenchwoman, played by movie star Irene Jacob, seen on film telling the story of her kidnap and eventual release after a terrifying time in captivity.

The remainder of the ensemble are almost equally good, playing numerous parts with unquestioning commitment.

It could be argued that this story of the destruction of a city is partial with a bias against the United States. Whether that is so or not, the slaughter of innocents must always be regarded as a crime against humanity and it is to be hoped that Jonathan Holmes’ play, that is also available in book form with texts of interviews, might just accelerate the end of a not-war that continues to claim lives on a daily basis.

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IPCC clear the killers of Jean Charles de Menezes

From BBC Online

Eleven officers involved in the shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes will not face disciplinary action, the police watchdog has said.

They were among 15 Metropolitan Police officers interviewed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Decisions have not been made on the four most senior officers investigated.

The family of Mr Menezes – shot eight times at Stockwell Tube station after being mistaken for a suicide bomber – said the decision was “disgraceful”.

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Freedom Of Information: Government could be forced to publish secrets of Iraq memo

Via Blairwatch

Al Jazeera continues to seek clarification on the Daily Mirror report of a leaked memo that alleged “President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station Al Jazeera” and reiterates its call to see a copy of the relevant section of the memo.

Civil servant, David Keogh and MP researcher Leo O’Connor were jailed today for leaking the secret four-page memo. Press and public were banned from the trial which has been heavily criticized by MPs and civil rights groups.

The memo is purported to have recorded discussions regarding the events in Falluja between Tony Blair and George Bush in the Oval office in 2004. Former defence minister, Peter Kilfoyle, stated that ‘There remain unanswered questions about the discussions about the attack on Falluja and subsequent deaths of many hundreds of civilians’.

Another approach to get at the truth is described in todays Independent

What did Tony Blair tell George Bush when they discussed Iraq?

Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, considers how the Freedom of Information Act might provide the answer

A civil servant and an MP’s researcher were yesterday sentenced by an Old Bailey judge for being involved in the disclosure of the contents of a top-secret Iraq memo which recorded conversations between Tony Blair and George Bush during a 2004 meeting in Washington. The same memo has been the subject of an 18-month inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act.

A request made to the Government for the memo’s formal disclosure under the right-to-know legislation is now with the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, who has the power to order release of the four-page document. Such a move would be extremely embarrassing for the Government and undermine the decision to prosecute the two men under the Official Secrets Act of 1989.

The trial judge has already imposed a court order preventing any further reference to the contents of the memo on the grounds that such publication would be a threat to national security. In such circumstances it seems very unlikely that Mr Thomas would be able to find an argument in favour of disclosure.

But a careful reading of the Downing Street response letter to the Liverpool academic who first made the request in December 2005 shows that national security is not one of the exemptions that its FOI team relied on to deny access to the document. Instead the Government said that the information would damage international relations between Britain and America. It reads: “The effective conduct of international relations depends on maintaining trust and confidence between governments.”

This is not the same as national security, which government lawyers in the Old Bailey trial had argued would be damaged if the memo was published. They even said that disclosure could threaten the lives of British troops serving in Iraq.

The precise detail of the information being sought is now covered by the terms of the Old Bailey gagging order. But it is clear from the correspondence between the Cabinet Office and the FOI requestor that both sides knew what was at stake.

Part of the argument raised by the academic in favour of disclosure is that the possible content of the memo has already been alluded to in the media and therefore the information is already in the public domain. The content of the memo has been confirmed by a respected source, a Member of Parliament, Peter Kilfolye.

The requestor also reminds the Cabinet Office of guidance from the Department for Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice) on the application of the exemption for possible harm to international relations:

Individual requests for information must be considered on their merits but you should take account of what is already in the public domain when assessing prejudice to international relations. The fact that similar or related information is already in the public domain may reduce or negate any potential prejudice.

The Liverpool academic made the same request for disclosure of the memo to the US State Department under the American Freedom of Information Act. It was seven months before he got an answer. And when he did, it was even more disappointing than the one he received from the British government. It read simply: “No records responsive to your request were located.”

A quite astonishing result given that a civil servant was jailed for six months yesterday because a jury found that he had leaked this memo to a researcher working for an anti-war MP. If the memo didn’t exist, then he must be innocent.

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