Bearing Witness by Philip Palmer

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Drama of the Week on BBC Podcasts

BBC Radio 4, 12 December 2012
Set in The Hague in 2000, Philip Palmer's fascinating piece explored the complexities surrounding the trial of a fictitious war criminal Zukic (Serge Sonic), who was accused of being responsible for the death of Serbian Muslims, as well as beating up those who considered him a friend.
The play pitted oh-so-smooth Scottish lawyer Anthony Macdonald (Mark Bonnar), defending Zukic, against harassed Turkish counsel Demir Candarli (Daniel Rabin).  Initially it seemed as if the moral balance had been weighted in Macdonald's favour; he seemed both to have the legal knowledge and the native cunning to be able to outwit his rival.  However Macdonald and his junior counsel Melanie Lefevre (Stephanie Racine) reckoned without Zukic's pride, which encouraged him to make the kind of spontaneous remarks in court that completely dismantled Macdonald's defence.
What emerged most tangibly from Sasha Yevtushenko's production was the fact that 'justice' - as far as war criminals were concerned - was a complex concept. There were other concepts to bear in mind, such as patriotism, nationalism, and the fact that during the Serbian conflict many people believed they were doing right in following their generals' orders.  There was also the question of individual agency: to what extent did the so-called 'rulers,' especially at lower levels of society, have the power of self-determination?
Eventually Macdonald was forced to reconsider his beliefs in the light of this evidence - perhaps legal counsels were not quite as all-powerful as he had first assumed.