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45 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 23 May 2011

Andrew Marr talks to the former British ambassador, Sherard Cowper-Coles, about the failures of Western policy in Afghanistan, and how diplomacy would have been a better option than the gun. In 2003 Baha Mousa was arrested by the British Army in Basra, in Iraq. Two days later he was dead. Richard Norton-Taylor sifts through all the evidence to bring the public inquiry into his death to the stage. David Pryce-Jones asks what motivates those who take up foreign causes, to the detriment of their own country, in Treason of the Heart. And the philosopher Angie Hobbs turns to the Greek Gods to untangle modern ideas of heroism and bravery.

Producer: Katy Hickman.


    For three years, from 2007 until 2010, Sherard Cowper-Coles was on the diplomatic front line in Kabul, as the crisis in Afghanistan deepened. First as the British Ambassador and later as the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative, he witnessed at first hand the struggle to contain the Taliban in Helmand, which cost the lives of hundreds of British soldiers, and the political negotiations at the highest level of government. In Cables From Kabul he offers a stinging rebuke both to the military and political leaders for the failure to create a coherent strategy in Afghanistan. He accuses the British army of submitting misleadingly optimistic reports on the war, and argues that the American and British governments should have recognised that the only way forward was to involve the Taliban in direct talks.

    Cables From Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign is published by Harper Press.

    Cables From Kabul

    In the last 300 years, a number of British people have taken up foreign causes, not for money but because they believed in what they were fighting for. In his new book, Treason of the Heart, David Pryce-Jones gives an account of these activists’ lives, exploring their motivations and the effects of their actions. He argues that the British have a particular tendency to take up foreign causes because of this country’s long political stability. He accuses these individuals of "wishful thinking and ignorance of the true state of things" and for a combination of “self-hatred, narcissism, guilt, hunger for power, fanaticism and nihilism”.

    Treason of the Heart: From Thomas Paine to Kim Philby is published by Encounter Books.

    David Pryce-Jones

    The philosopher Angie Hobbs explores the notion of heroism. She describes a hero as someone who does something which is perceived to be of outstanding benefit to their community, but not necessarily someone who is virtuous and good. Looking back to Ancient Greece, heroes like Achilles were egotistical, bloodthirsty and often lacked judgement. Hobbs believes we can learn a huge amount about different groups by understanding who their heroes are, and mustn’t ignore the fact that figures like Osama bin Laden and Gaddafi are considered heroes by others. She argues that there is a modern tendency to confuse heroes with mere celebrities, but the reason some people manage to gain fame so quickly is precisely because we have a deep psychological need for the heroic.

    Angie Hobbs is taking part in How The Light Gets In, the philosophy and music festival at Hay-on-Wye which runs from 26 May to 5 June.

    Angie Hobbs

    In 2003, Baha Mousa and nine other Iraqi civilians were arrested by the British army in Basra as suspected insurgents. Two days later Baha Mousa was dead. He had received more than 93 injuries whilst in the army’s custody. The British government set up a public inquiry and the journalist Richard Norton-Taylor has now edited the transcript of that inquiry to create a new play, Tactical Questioning. His work examines the events surrounding Mousa’s death and the British army’s policies towards the treatment of Iraqi detainees. Richard Norton-Taylor talks about the differences between reporting what's happened in a newspaper and presenting it on stage, and he argues that this kind of ‘tribunal theatre’ has an important role in highlighting miscarriages of justice.

    Tactical Questioning: Scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry is on at the Tricycle Theatre, London, from 2 June until 2 July.

    Tactical Questioning


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