Tactical Questioning, Tricycle Theatre, London
Another fine line of inquiry
Wednesday 08 June 2011
Testifying to the inquiry in Arabic and via video link-up and instant translation, Witness Detainee 002 starts to lose his cool. He advances towards the camera and catechises the people in the distant English court room. "Britain is a great country," he declares. "Where are the human rights? How come we have this treatment?... You liberated us from Saddam Hussein and you did this to us. Why?" At this point, the chairman decides to break off the sitting to ascertain whether the witness is in a fit state to continue.
Detainee 002's outburst is an early highlight of Tactical Questioning, which presents verbatim scenes from the 2009-10 inquiry into the torture and death of Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old receptionist who, in September 2003, was arrested along with nine other people at the Haitham Hotel in Basra by soldiers from 1st Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment. After two days in their custody, he was dead from what a post-mortem confirmed to be asphyxiation and 93 injuries to the body.
With the findings about to be published this summer, it makes for a compelling and distressing evening. At issue is the army's treatment of civilian detainees. The so-called "five techniques" – hooding, wall-standing, subjection to noise, and deprivation of food and drink and of sleep – had been outlawed by Edward Heath's government in 1972. So what particular circumstances led to the disgusting open season of horror that erupted in that sweltering holding room?
As the piece works its way up the chain of command, there are people to admire as well as deplore. Having taken part in the orgy of beatings, the soldier Aaron Cooper has the guts to acknowledge that it was "animalistic" and evil – and to reveal that there was an attempt at a cover-up. Strongly opposed to hooding, the army's chief legal adviser, Lt Col Nicholas Mercer (David Michaels), walked out of a meeting with the Red Cross in Iraq when forbidden to speak by defence officials. This pair contrast favourably with the self-serving Major Peebles (Rick Warden), who refuses to accept that starting a false rumour that the detainees may have been responsible for the recent death of a colleague was an incitement to violence, and the evasive Adam Ingram (Simon Rouse), the Armed Forces Minister who hides behind formulae such as "I have no recollection" to dodge responsibility. Though some of them overly conform in looks and mien to central casting's idea of such types, the excellent cast even managed to keep swatting at a couple of rogue flies in character.
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