Theatre - In the spotlight

John Cooper QC reviews the Tricycle Theatre’s Tactical Questioning: Scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry which prepares for the spotlight to fall on the Report to be published in September.

Tactical Questioning: Scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry, edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, the Tricycle Theatre (2 June until 2 July).


On the 8 September 2011, Sir William Gage is expected to deliver his long awaited Report into the death of Baha Mousa, a 26 year old hotel receptionist, who was arrested along with nine other Iraqis at the Haitham Hotel in Basra on the 14 September 2003.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion Queen’s Lancashire Regiment apprehended the men upon the understanding that bomb-making equipment had been found at the scene. This was never substantiated.

What happened after that resulted in one of the most controversial incidents in the whole Iraq conflict, some of it broadcast all over the world depicting images of some of the detained men crouching, their backs against a wall, being shouted at, threateningly and aggressively, by a member of the Armed Forces.

Baha Mousa was held in a detention centre for 36 hours, more than 23 of those hours hooded, and two days after his arrest died. A post-mortem examination found that he had suffered asphyxiation and at least 93 injuries to his body, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.

This incident resulted in the setting up of the inquiry into his death.

In advance of the publication of the Report in September, the Tricycle Theatre have presented a compilation of scenes from the proceedings, using exact words taken from the transcripts of the case.

Once again, Richard Norton-Taylor, the vastly experienced Guardian journalist has been tasked to compile the piece. He has been responsible for similar projects, bringing to our attention such seminal proceedings as the Scott Arms to Iraq Inquiry, The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry and The Saville Inquiry.

Here in ‘Tactical Questioning’, we have more of the same. The title comes from the use of “tactical questioners”, who conduct initial interrogations of so-called prisoners of war, as well as servicemen and women from all three branches of the armed forces who conduct “interrogation in depth”.

The central thesis of the compilation, specifically constructed to make the point, is that what happened to Baha Mousa was nothing short of torture. During the course of Norton-Taylor’s powerful selection of evidence, we learn that testimony was given at the hearing of the use of various “techniques of torture” by the Armed Forces upon those detainees, including the use of “stress positions” (painful body posture) and “hooding”. Hooding was something about which (on the face of the material selected by Norton-Taylor) Adam Ingram, the then Secretary of State for Defence, made attempts to say he knew nothing  – despite compelling documentary evidence to the contrary.

This was an intense two hours of theatre, presented in essence as a question and answer tableau, with a series of witnesses, ranging from junior servicemen, to the impressive military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer. Mercer, played by David Michaels, seemed to be one of the few people at the time who stood out against what was happening to these detainees. The impressive Thomas Wheatley played Gerard Elias QC, Counsel to the Inquiry.

This is an important piece of work. By its nature it has to be selective and, to a significant degree, a subjective judgment by the author; nevertheless one could not help but leave the theatre feeling that in 2003, in the heat of Iraq, matters were out of control and that as a consequence of this, an innocent man died. But, of course, we must wait until September to see what Sir William Gage concludes.

John Cooper QC, 25 Bedford Row

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