'This isn't a matter of fact, it's a matter of law'. So declaims the lawyer defending the reputation of Prime Minister Tony Blair in the dramatised account of the hearings conducted by lawyers in early 2007, which investigated whether or not Blair was guilty of the crime of aggression as a result of his decision to take the United Kingdom into the 2003 war against Iraq, alongside the United States. The resulting play is entitled 'Called To Account: The indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the crime of aggression against Iraq - a Hearing', and while that may be a mouthful, the play itself is an intriguing journey into the complicated but fascinating world of international law.
The hearings obtained, which are edited by Richard Norton-Taylor, reveal testimonies from well-connected and eloquent figures from both the UK and the US - diplomats, legal experts and politicians. Despite the highly-charged political angle of the play, it is not a witch-hunt. Blair's defending advocate is as lucid and persuasive as his prosecuting adversary. The play is more a contest of ideas and insightful observation than an opportunity for cheap political point-scoring. Certainly, Blair's Labour Party dissidents are there, notably former Cabinet rebel Clare Short, who resigned over the Iraq war. But the play allows plenty of space for the very real questions that all national leaders face when they make the decision to go to war, because one person's victor is another's tyrant, and the history books are generally written by the victors.
After a healthy round of publicity, including articles in the Times and the New York Times, Called To Account earned an extension to its run at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, which allowed us to catch it. For anyone who is interested in the political legacy of the Iraq war, accountability and international law, the play is a welcome examination of a fraught issue that has dominated the British political scene and nearly ruined the premiership of one of its longest-serving Prime Ministers.
Called To Account, at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn, until 9 June