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West End Extra - The XTRA DIARY
Published: 7 November 2008
A scene from Taxi to the Dark Side
A scene from Taxi to the Dark Side
Torture ‘king’ tells Moazzam that he’s sorry

SMALL, bespectacled and very articulate, it’s hard to think of torture and Moazzam Begg in the same breath.
Begg was tortured for three years, that’s the only word to describe how he was manacled, hooded, deprived of sleep, snarled at by fierce dogs, interrogated, first at the notorious jail at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and then Guantanamo Bay.
It all seemed a bit unreal listening to his smooth delivery – made without notes – to a packed audience at a meeting in Conway Hall, Holborn, on Monday.
What next after Obama?
Will peace come to Iraq and Afghanistan? Those were the questions posed by the organisers, the Anti-War Coalition.
Columnist Jonathan Steele and Tony Benn spoke, but memories of Begg’s calmness were the ones that remained with me as I left.
He engaged the audience by asking how many had seen a new documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, about the hell in Afghanistan.
“I’m in it,” he quipped, “but that’s not why I’m mentioning it. It tells so much about things that are so little known.”
He described how two torturers he had known in the US army had now renounced their past.
One will go on a tour of the UK early next year with him exposing the vileness of sanctioned torture. Another – dubbed by US soldiers as the “king of torture” – and of whom he had experience first hand, had sent a letter to him recently, expressing his contrition and shame. Begg deservedly received thunderous applause.

You’ve either got it or you haven’t…

MARGARET Thatcher has it, Winston Churchill has it and the entire crew of HMS Westminster have it.
It’s not an ability to sail through choppy waters: they have all been bestowed with the freedom of the borough, an honour steeped in arcane tradition and quirk.
But three-time gold medal winner and former Maida Vale schoolboy Bradley Wiggins’s bid to join their hallowed ranks fell short this week, consigned by the council to the graveyard of also-rans.
Admittedly only five people and two organisations hold the title, giving them some rather desirable perks including immunity from prosecution, as well as others that may now be frowned upon like being able lawfully to brandish a sword in public.
Westminster City Hall rejected a motion put forward by Labour councillors to make the velodrome wizard a freeman, claiming a plaque would be more “appropriate”.
Leader of the Labour group Paul Dimoldenberg said the council had completely missed the point. “Bradley Wiggins is the real thing.
He is authentic. Nothing has to be made up. Three Olympic gold medals speak for themselves. How many other Westminster residents have or are ever likely to equal his achievements?”
Councillor Audrey Lewis, cabinet member for customers and neighbourhoods said: “Bradley Wiggins has undoubtedly had great Olympic success but we have to consider what is an appropriate and fair way for us to recognise this.
“Both triple jumper Jonathan Edwards and athlete Roger Bannister also have strong ties to Westminster and have achieved huge sporting success. Neither have been awarded freedom of the city.
Whether or not Wiggins is happy with a plaque is not known, but one thing is for sure, the council has form.
In 1996, they caused a storm by voting against giving Nelson Mandela the honour.

David’s fast picture show

EVER wanted to see Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Luciano Pavarotti on the same bill?
Without waking the dead, that’s not going to happen.
But a new show at the Jermyn Street Theatre could be the next best thing.
Showbiz maestro David Capri (pictured) has teamed up with celebrity photographer Doug McKenzie to put on Photo Song Book, which promises to be an evening of anecdotes and songs from some of Tin Pan Alley’s most revered artists.
David, who lives in Westminster and has staged a number of acclaimed musicals, said the show would be a fast-paced roller-coaster.
“It’s going to be intimate, fun and frantic. There’s no danger of anyone getting bored. We’re racing through everyone from Burt Bacharach to Dean Martin. I’ll do the voices and Doug will tell the stories behind the pictures and believe me he’s got some,” he said.
Photo Song Book opens at the Jermyn Street Theatre off Piccadilly on Monday November 10 and runs until November 15. Tickets are priced at £16 and are available from the box office on 020 7287 2875.


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