Friday, 21 May 2010

The Judgement in Berlin film and legal case

Occasionally I came across an unexpected and brilliant film on one of the Sky free channels which I cannot remember seeing before. Judgement in Berlin is what it says, a Legal Judgement in the City of Berlin but based on a true story.

On 30th August 1979 two East Germans used a starting pistol, not an actual gun, to hijack a Polish passenger aircraft bound for East Berlin and instead diverted it to the USAF base, Tempelhof airport in West Berlin and requested political asylum. A number of the other passenger on the plan joined them and were granted the asylum. In the film the gun is presented as a toy gun smuggled on to the plane by the daughter of one of the hijackers.

In addition to the film my sources is a Wikipedia note on the book written by the presiding judge USA Federal Herbert Jay Stern, who with his wife had lost relatives through German genocide and who was appointed on the assumption that with confessions he would regard the case as open and shut and an provide sentences as required by the State and Justice Departments. The part is played by West Wing Michael Sheen in the film. This was supplanted by an detailed analysis of the actual case by Professor Andreas Teuber, in a work on the Philosophy of Law.

Until this incident anyone making it across the border was granted asylum but the USA government had only recently negotiated a treaty with the Russians over hijacking and wanted to cooperate not only by prosecuting but then allowing the extradition of those convicted back to the Soviets. According to his book and the film the Judge resisted State department and Russian pressure several instances, over holding a Jury Trial, over insisting that USA legal rights applied to the female defendant and then using his discretion over the sentences when the Jury agreed that the make defendant had taken a hostage but was not guilty of all the other charges,

The woman was Ingrid Ruske, a waitress in East Berlin, divorced with a small daughter, and in love with a West German engineer. They had planned to escape to West Berlin by boarding a Polish cruise ship in Gdansk with fake Western ID's. Ingrid, somewhat fearful, wanted someone else to try the strategy first. She remembered her former boyfriend, Hans Tiede, who was agreed to play guinea pig.

“Hans and Ingrid flew to Gdansk to wait for the engineer to bring them their ID's. He never came. East German agents had gotten wind of his efforts through their underground network in West Berlin and arrested him when he re-entered East Berlin. The would-be fugitives guessed what had happened. What to do now? Their own arrests could not be too far off, since the photographs on the engineer's fake ID's would clearly give them away. They couldn't stay in Poland much longer, since they had no money left. In fact, their only assets were the return tickets to East Berlin, which they had bought merely to avoid arousing suspicion.

Hans suggested hijacking the plane to West Berlin. Unfortunately, he had no weapon. As they aimlessly wandered through the streets of Gdansk. Ingrid's daughter drew their attention to a toy gun in a shop window. It looked real enough, Hans thought. He sold some of his clothing and bought the gun.

They got on the plane, LOT flight 65, quite easily, by putting the gun into the child's luggage. Airport security in fact searched their bags and found it, but thought nothing of it when they saw it was a toy. The moment of truth came when the pilot announced the plane's imminent landing at East Berlin's Schoenfeld Airport. Ingrid began to have second thoughts. Wouldn't the Gdansk control tower have told the pilot the gun was a toy? Hans brushed aside her reservations, ordered a stewardess at "gunpoint" to take him into the cockpit, stormed into the cockpit, keeping the stewardess with him as a "hostage," and ordered the crew to take the plane to West Berlin. There were 68 passengers on board the airplane. Everyone reacted calmly. The pilot checked with the East Berlin airport, then with the West Berlin airport and within a few minutes the plane had landed in West Berlin. By this time, Hans' relationship with the crew was almost cordial. He had told them why he did what he did, had passed around pictures of his wife and children, and by the time the police led him away the captain even flashed a thumbs-up sign. Before the plane took off again, eight other East Germans had decided to stay in West Berlin as well.

West Germany, East Germany, Poland, and the United States were all parties to an international agreement to prosecute hijackers. But West German authorities did not welcome the idea of prosecuting the case. The West German Constitution at the time made all Germans, including East Germans, West German citizens and gave them a "protected right" to enter West Germany. West Germany did not at the time recognize the validity of East German travel restrictions either. In fact, an East German body guard who shot and killed a fleeing East German was regarded under West German law at the time as having committed murder. Since the Americans continued to exercise the power of an occupying force in West Berlin, the West German authorities asked them to convene an American court to try the hijackers. The Americans obliged, setting up a special United States District Court of Berlin, Judge Herbert Stein of the United States District Court of New Jersey presiding.

Ingrid Ruske was never brought to trial. Her part in the hijacking was evidently minor. The only proof of her involvement was a statement she made to an interrogator. The judge ruled that the statement had been improperly obtained and ordered it suppressed. Stripped of its evidence, the prosecution withdrew the charges against her.

The case against Hans Tiede, however, went forward. He was charged with hijacking, taking a hostage, depriving other persons of their liberty, and doing bodily injury to a stewardess. Hans Tiede pleaded not guilty on grounds of necessity.

Tiede claimed that he was simply asserting his rights under the West German Constitution. At this time, prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the merger of East and West Germany into a single nation, the West German Constitution did not recognize the border between the two countries nor did it recognize the distinction between "East" and "West" Germans. An East German who successfully escaped from East to West was simply regarded by the West German constitution as a German citizen travelling within his or her own country. Tiede pointed out at his trial that he and Ingrid Ruske were threatened with imminent arrest by East German agents and that the only way for them to avoid arrest was to hijack the plane. Tiede also argued that he had secured not only his own and Ingrid Ruske's freedom but the freedom of eight other East Germans who seized the opportunity to defect. The USA Penal; code states: "The harm or evil sought to be avoided by [one's] conduct [must be] greater than that sought to be prevented by the law defining the offence charged."

The prosecution argued that Tiede's conduct had indeed caused harm. By hijacking the plane he had "endangered the lives and safety of 68 innocent people" aboard Lot flight 165. The pilot had to land on an unfamiliar airport that was not designed for planes of the size of flight 165. He had also caused mortal anguish to the stewardess.

However at the trial the issue was raised if in fact he was a hijacker. When he left the plane and was led away across the tarmac the pilot gave him "a thumbs up sign." By the time the plane landed in West Berlin, Tiede's relationship with the crew had been cordial after he had told them why he did what he did and had passed around pictures of his wife and children. There was also evidence that he captain had known all along that he was carrying only a toy gun. He was not in fact a terrorist but a man desperate to join his Polish wife and two sons already in the West

The West Germans did not wish to try the case. They reminded the Americans that they were still an occupying force and therefore requested the USA to convene an American court to try Hans Tiede and Ingrid Ruske. A special United States District Court was set up in West Berlin where the trial was held. In the film the Judge insists in a jury trial which was drawn for West German citizens and had to be advised about the relationships of the charges and USA law. Steiner instructed the jury in the relevant rules of law. Given their decision to find Tiede not guilty of the hijacking charge it could be argued they were inconsistent to find him guilty of taking the air hostess hostage. I suspect they were influenced that at first she did not know the gun was fake would have been terrified and this was used to gain access to the pilot. Judge Steiner then decided that he would not grant the maximum sentence demanded by the prosecution but ordered time served, nine months to the date thus immediately releasing him to join his family. In the film Ingrid boyfriend is seen one side of a crossing point while she is on the other. It is not cleat if he was free to join her and if so if he had been imprisoned.

I was able to find this out from the German Paper Speigel who followed the story in terms of passengers who decided to return to East

“Some 32 years later, Ruske, who now uses her married name Maron, is sitting in a pub in the western part of Berlin. After the hijacking, she was charged with disrupting air traffic, but then the charges were dropped. Her lover, who had been captured by the Stasi, was sentenced to eight years in an East German prison for engaging in organized crime and for forgery of personal and border crossing documents. It wasn't until years later that he decided to marry Ruske. They separated after 11 years, and he died in 2006.”

Today Ruske says: "I had no expectations of the West, and it didn't even live up to those." She had had a happier life in East Berlin. Once she was in West Berlin, she trained to become a practitioner of alternative medicine and now provides acupuncture massage and hypnosis in her West Berlin apartment.

When Tiede was released from prison after a few months, he refused to talk about the hijacking unless he was paid to do so. His account eventually led to two novels, a film and a play about Aug. 30 and the period after that. Tiede has made a living from his story, which is the subject of a TV movie to be broadcast on the German broadcaster RTL this year. So I have gained some knowledge about what then happened to the two accused.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Ghost Writer and Centurion

On Thursday morning while sitting in the car park of an entertainment park in Leeds, I listened to BBC Radio play back what Gordon had to say having been asked to answer questions from a passing voter. She is reported to have expressed the usual concerns about the level of immigration and potential cuts and with his wireless microphone still on for the interview as he sat in the official Party car with his advisers, he complained about the interview and called the life long labour voter, a bigot.

Not having heard the interview I cannot say if the retired local government worked is a bigot or not. It would not have surprised if she had been as there are plenty of politically illiterates, educational morons and racist and other forms of bigots in the UK, as in all countries, but if you hope attain and retain power in a democracy you do say so in public and you will be wise to keep your own counsel in private. The big question is will such a gaff make a difference when it comes to voting? For Gordon to remain Prime Minister he has not only to retain the share of the vote but gain a point or two into polls while the Liberal democrats, continue to hold their position or marginally improve.

The political machine surrounding Gordon immediately realised this was likely to be a defining election losing moment so he was quick to apologise to the woman and to party loyalists as well as to the public at large. We had seen the real face of Gordon who has lived in the Ministerial and Prime Minister’s world for over a decade and who prefers the discipline and routine of office to living as the rest of us. The event will overshadow the third and final Leader’s debate and could foresee a haemorrhaging to the Labour vote especially in a situation when the Liberal Democrats could win the seat.

As it happens I was unable to see the first of two films planned for the afternoon having first mistaken the times and then my gift voucher was refused because the system could not cope with my paying the difference between the voucher and that for a 3 D film. I therefore went for a short car ride and returned to watch the Roman Polanski film about Prime Ministers and politics, called The Ghost Writer.

Over three decades ago Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to a sex charge involving a minor in a plea bargain to protect his anonymity although originally protesting his innocence. When the ploy did not work and he was given a custodial sentence he fled to France and became a citizen as the country did not recognise extradition to the USA. The Polish Director has an impressive record commencing with Knife in the Water, and Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, The Ninth Gate, The Pianist and Oliver Twist. Polanski was also the husband of Sharon Tate who was murdered by Charles Manson and his so called family.

Recently, presumably believing he was safe, the 77 year old travelled to Switzerland to receive an International award and was promptly served with an extradition arrest warrant and placed under House arrest from where he completed the editing on this film. Could this have been something to do with the subject of the film which follows the main theme of the 2007 novel by Robert Harris, which states that the CIA were involved in a plot to assassinate not one but two Ghost Writers who and uncover the truth about the political rise to power of none other than British Prime Minister Tony Blair, why he committed Britain to involvement in invading Iraq and regime change and became charged with War crimes for his involvement in the kidnapping (rendition) of terrorist suspects and their torture in friendly countries as well as at Guantanamo Bay.

The recently retired British Labour Prime Minister is played by Pierce Brosnan who has been writing his political memoirs at the beach house of his multi millionaire publisher on Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod. The setting is appropriate because it is the established haunt of celebrities, politicians and academics who like to holiday somewhere beautiful and secluded with a small resident population who are protective of the their own and visitor’s privacy. Nearby is Chappaquiddick Island infamous for the death of an assistant to the late Edward Kennedy.

Ewan McGregor as a successful international fiction writer is hired by the publisher on the recommendation of a senior executive friend to ghost write the completed memoirs following the alleged accidental drowning of the previous writer who had been a long term friend and associate of the British Prime Minister and his wife.

Within three days of arriving on the island McGregor finds himself involved in some form of international conspiracy and murder involving the CIA and where the truth of the story is signalled well in advance for those with the kind of mind who look out for clues and red herrings when they experience thrills in the cinema theatre.

The rewrite is overtaken by the news that action is being taken to prosecute the former Prime Minister for war crimes following the allegation that he was complicit in the rendition of terrorist suspects from one country to Guantanamo Bay where they have been tortured to secure confessions and information. The action is fuelled by a former cabinet Minister in the Prime Minister’s cabinet (I wonder who the author of the book had in mind). The former P.M effectively seeks sanctuary in the USA where he has the continuing support of the American Government and the majority of its people and who do not recognise the International Court.

The plot develops as McGregor find some photos tapped under a drawer of the dead predecessor when clearing the room of possessions which amazingly have been left as they were before the man suddenly took off in the guest car for the ferry and the mainland.

Then McGregor finds out that the death is suspicious(surprise surprise-no) and that a woman living in the area where the body was washed up had reported seeing lights on the beach area, had a fall at home and is in a coma.

With the former Prime Minister away in Washington, fixing his position, and McGregor reveals his concerns to the wife she pleads ignorance of what has been going on and jumps into his bed at the residence. McGregor knows this is not a good idea but he plays a character who is repeatedly stupid as well as amoral mercenary, doing the job because it is paying a quarter of million dollars for a month’s work, later reduced to two weeks when the Prime Minister is asked to cooperate with the War crime investigation. He reacts more like Gordon Brown last Thursday morning with impulsive temper losses and a reliance on the advice of other’s.

McGregor has worked out that the reason why the Ghost writer was killed is because the Prime Minister appears to have been recruited by a Rhodes Scholar CIA member when at Oxford. The Prime Minister explains why he suddenly went into politics having previously appeared to be only interested in acting, smoking pot and women when he met his future wife, then a Labour activist in the University. He discovers that in the Prime Minister had been a party member two years before meeting his future wife and was a friend with the Rhodes scholar who went on to become an influential Professor, director of a major arms company, involved with CIA and formed a top level secret org to influence governments. This therefore explains the Prime Minister’s sudden rise to power and his unswerving support for USA policy regardless of which President or Party was in power.

His first reaction to the situation is to run taking the manuscript with him and the guest car but cannot resist following the orders of the Sat navigation equipment which takes to him to the home of, guess who, the Professor who lives in isolated secured home on the mainland. The Professor denies any knowledge or being a close friend but we overhear the man’s wife alerting someone that Ewan has called upon them. Although the Professor denies being home when the killed ghost writer appears to have made arranged the visit he ahs already emphasised that he sees no one without an appointment.

We thus deduce that having arranged the visit the previous ghost writer had been killed before leaving the island and the Professor knowing he would have an alibi being away at a pre arranged event. After leaving the house Ewan is followed and attempts to get on the last ferry back to the Island after hiding with his vehicle in the woods. But his pursuers are able to hold up the ferry and get on board, they are the CIA black ops after all, but he manages to get off the ferry as it leaves and finds himself stranded at the ferry motel as there are no planes away until the morning. I am confused about the location of airports at that point.

At the motel he makes he rings a telephone number handwritten on the back of the key photo and this amazing appears to be a key British political figure who is able to visit within a short period of time and wants to se the manuscript. He explains that the previous ghost write had contacted and said that if anything happened to him he had placed information at the beginning of the manuscript. Ewan provides the information about the Prime Minister and the Professor and the CIA and is then persuaded to accept an invitation from the Prime Minister who is flying back from Washington to Martha’s Vineyard to be picked up, so that he can confront the man with what he has found and on the premise he will be safe as to kill the second ghost writer would arouse suspicion. The Prime Minister denies the accusations in a convincing way and by this time anyone who has been paying appropriate attention has worked out that the CIA contact and fixer was not the Prime Minister but his wife.

However Ewan is too stupid to work this out and when the Prime Minister is shot and killed he agrees to complete the book without any revelations and goes to the book launch at the invitation of the personal assistant rather than the wife. The personal assistant and the wife have clashed over influence on the man, McGregor‘s suspicions about the truth is finally aroused when he finds that the widow is being supported by the book launch by the Professor and follow student from Oxford days. The assistant has brought along a copy of the original manuscript as a souvenir and he re-examines and works out from coded information that it is the wife who worked for the CIA via the Professor and who obviously arranged the killing of his predecessor. Left open is did she also arrange the assassination on arrival back at the island airport, The culprit is presented as the aggrieved father of a boy killed in the Iraq war. He first appears as a suit middle aged man at the Island hotel where McGregor first stays until the War Crimes action is announced and he is moved into the private and secured residence. The man also appears to have entered and examined the contents of his room. It is never explained why he did this? The man then reappears in combat uniform at a Peace Camp type protest set up at the gates of the residence, but her and the other protestors then vanish when the Prime Minister goes to Washington. He then appears to be the assassin.

I enjoyed the film at the time of viewing but it flawed nonsense which is why Tony did not bother to sue. I look forward to learning what Dr Mark Kermode makes of the film if he decides to undertake a catch up and view.

The main purpose of the visit was the city centre Vue cinema, the only multiplex in the city centre and off the Headrow in a new tall arcade development of over 32000 square metres designed for high spending customers with 13 screens and 3000 seats, and middle class eating such as Browns and Cafe Rouge. There is a health club and a Radisson’s Hotel £65-£95 room rate a night. I had a good hour before the planned showing of Centurion so I first made my way to the Merrion Centre just behind the side exit of the Light and which is showing its age and is several notches below Eldon square and a generation below the latest transformation. On the way to see what was on at the Grand Theatre, the home of Opera North, I discovered the London style Blue Coyote Lap dancing club with London prices aimed at the business and student community, offering vintage champagne a private dancer for £60 for 15mins £250 an hour, or a single dancer in the main room from £10, according to the website. It boasts of being the only USA sport bar type of lap dancing club in the UK.

I then headed down to the area of Victorian arcades and crossed over to the famous Kirkgate markets, with the indoor refurbished in the early 1990’s. The market is vast with over 500 stalls indoors and 200 outside. Those outside have roofs. In butchers row I counted a dozen mini shops and the fish shops are vast. I spotted a South African home food stall, a Polish Russian and an Afro Caribbean. I was after a can of coke available at 20p in Azda and here the cold price was 85 to 90p. I settled for a can from a news agent opposite the Grand Theatre on the return journey for 65p. It was to be my only expenditure of the day with free bus, prepaid food, accommodation and car parking. I used the second of the Vue Vouchers which was to expire at the end of the week.

I did not enjoy the film Centurion, Directed by Neil Marshall with Michael Fassbinder as Quintus Dias a centurion who becomes the only survivor of the 3000 to 4000 men of the Ninth which for centuries was alleged to have disappeared to the north of Hadrian’s Wall. The film takes the view that the Legion was ordered north to capture the Pict leader Gorlacon as a political manoeuvre by the Roman governor anxious to achieve something which would earn him a recall home. The Legion General is given as his guide Etain, a ferocious and bloodthirsty Pict who is mute following the massacre of family by the Romans in which her mother was raped and she had her tongue cut out as child witness. Her other senses have been developed with the kind of tracking antennae usually associated with native Americans and Africans. She leads the Legion into a trap in which almost everyman is massacred. Among them is Quintus who at the opening of the film is the only survivor of a Pict attack on a fort and he manages to escape after being taken prisoner and we see him trying to out run his captors across snow covered mountains and then nearly being recaptured in a forest to be rescued by as Legion scouting party.

On learning that the Legion general has been captured the small band of survivors attempt to rescue him but fail, with one of them killing the son of the Pict Chief who with Etain sets of on a revenge mission to kill in as painful a way as possible everyone of the survivors.

Quintus and two others make their way south after going north and to the west and come across Arianne who has become a Pict Outcaste but has learnt to communicate with the Romans from another fort two days to the south. She helps one of the injured and provides food and shelter and a hide when the Pict revenge band arrives. The trio then make their way to the Fort to find it abandoned as the new policy is to retreat below Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, abandoning the intention to conquer and subdue Scotland. Here they manage to defeat their pursuers although one dies. They then find one of the two other survivors, the man responsible for the death of the child and who has also wounded a fellow soldier because he could run faster than pursuing wolves. In sight of a wall fort, Quintus as to deal with this renegade during which time his companion is mistaken for a Pict and killed by a Roman soldier on lookout. This leaves only Quintus who although welcomes and given food and drink finds that the Governor has decided to have him killed so that there is no evidence that the Ninth were sent across the border and were all killed. There will be no record of what they did, where they went or what happened to them. Quintus then decides to go back across the new border to live with Arianne with whom he had struck up a relationship.

I have been able to find that 50 years before the date when the film is set around117AD the Ninth was involved in a massacre in which it is believed about half its strength were killed by forces of Queen Boudica and the Legion was then commanded by someone called Quintus. The Cavalry were not involved and the rest of the force of 5000 men were elsewhere in forts and other duties. It is not known what happened to the Ninth because it does appear records were destroyed or lost. However there is dispute among historians that the Legion may have been deployed on other missions outside of the UK and that at some point it was disbanded with the men deciding either to settle or return to the lands of their origins.

I thought the film was too full of vivid violence however accurate, was cold and bleak and failed to engage. Dr Kermode liked it but mentioned it has reached only 13th in the British popularity by attendance list.

I and the other handful of the public in the theatre had to sit on one side as there was a roof leak. At Headingley there had also been a roof leak just above where I had chosen to sit on a sunny day. It was raining when I left the cinema and quickly made my way to the City Bus station on the other side of the outdoor market, where earlier I had been tempted by original Jazz Long Play records and some DVDs, but resisted. I had a long wait as having missed one bus and the driver of the next was delay because of a serious accident in the Headrow and we set off some 15 minutes late.