Start - Sean Penn in Iraq - 2002 -  2003 - Links & Infos


An open letter to Mr. Bush


Even though Sean Penn always insists, that he is unpolitical and points out that he does no belong to any political party - the political activism has a tradition in the Penn family. Leo Penn, Seans father, refused, calling before McCarthys American Activities Committee, to name alleged communists in Hollywood and thereupon was set on the 'black list'. Without a doubt Sean Penns character was stamped by the influence of the father and so Sean build up, although - as he says - not politically engaged, a political and social feeling for justice.

It was October 2002, before other Hollywood Stars went on the street for demonstration, that Sean Penn started to interfere into the international debate about the Iraq - and this with a sensational bang! He wrote an open letter ' to Mr. Bush', placed as a full-page ad, for which he paid the proud amount of $ 56,000, in the daily newspaper 'Washington Post'. Therein he requested the president of the United States - among other things - to let the weapon inspectors do their work and to stop the cycle of 'bombing is answered by bombing, mutilation by mutilation, killing by killing'.
(see Washington-Post-Ad or photo of the original ad ) .

What an impertinent thing to do!
And surely it polarised people. Apart from much agreement for his courage Sean Penn was also confronted with heaviest reproaches, in particular from politicians and the press. On television he was scoffed and many people regarded him as a traitor to his country.

The Rupert Murdoch media impire - Sean Penns personal "enemy" since his marriage to Madonna and owner of the New York Post und Fox News Channel - quickly contacted Republican congressman Peter King who talked tough: 'The guy's lucky he can act and should leave it at that. It gives recognition to Hussein, that he doesn't deserve.'

Sean Penns friend and actor-collegue Woody Harrelson put it like this: '... when he did that deal with Iraq, my admiration for him shot through the roof. I just thought that was one of the bravest moves ever. Of course, he got nothing but shit for it.'

In an interview in the year 2005 Sean Penn reflected as follows over the hostility he got after his Woshington Post publication: '... But the bigger issue is that it's an absolutely stupid notion that you should take the title of someone's profession and attach it to what they should not do. It has nothing to do with citizenry. I think they should shove it with their hypocritical Ronald Reagan standard right up their ass.'

Just go and look and listen

Sean Penn in Irak - in the back a photo of Saddam HusseinThe whole situation became even worse, because Sean Penn dared to travel in December 2002 to the Iraq! In the eyes of many incomprehensible, unpatriotic and traitorous. Who the hell does he think he is? He is no politician, no soldier, not even a journalist! What is an actor looking for in Iraq?

Norman Solomon, the director of the 'Institute for the Public Accuracy' (a consortium of political scientists) had invited Sean Penn to the journey and he had accepted the invitation, as 'a patriot and observer', because he wanted to have a better understanding of the crisis between Iraq and the USA.

A decision, that deserves our respect, especially with regard of the background of the reproaches and hostility regarding his person.

Kathy Kelly, a freedom activist who met Sean Penn in Iraq reflects on him as follows:
'I'm sort of preternaturally out of it: my friends wrote to me and said: 'Sean Penn was married to Madonna, and we don't mean the mother of Jesus! Try to get this straigth ... So we went to the Al-Rashid and Sean sat and talked with us for about an hour. It seemed to me he was a very genuine person - didn't have any airs, didn't seem interested in making an impression ... And we admired him for saying he wasn't going to be anybody's poster boy: he just wanted to go and look and listen.'

Sean Penn tried to keep the press out of his journey. He only made a brief statement, when he arrived at the Al-Mansour Childrens Hospital, that he was glad to be there. He refused to talk further with reporters or allow them to join his tour of the hospital, saying he needed privacy with the sick children. 

On december 15, 2002 Sean Penn held a press conference in the Al-Rashid in Baghdad - it was the only comment he made.


Norman Solomon & Sean Penn at the press conference in Baghdad

Norman Solomon & Sean Penn at the press conference in Baghdad

Text of the press conference in Baghdad

In a statement issued later, Sean Penn said that 'as a father, an actor, a filmmaker and a patriot' his visit to Iraq 'is for me a natural extension of my obligation ... to find my own voice on matters of conscience.' He said that he was happy that he had a chance 'to pursue a deeper understanding of the conflict' and hoped that 'all Americans will embrace information available to them outside conventional channel.'

And the Iraq used Sean Penns visit for their own propaganda. On 19. Dezember 2002 the official Iraqi News Agency reported: '... that Sean Penn had in the course of his trip confirmed, that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction'. (!!)

So much 'interference' in 'big politic' should not be without consequences. Like many other actors, Sean Penn got to feel the effects of his open expression of opinion.

In February 2003, just a month prior to the invasion of Iraq, Sean Penn sued producer Steve Bing for $10 million for allegedly firing the actor from a film. Sean Penn alleged he was sacked because of his Washington Post ad and his visit to Baghdad. Bing then has alleged the actor threatened to embarrass him by saying a political disagreement kept them from making a movie together.

However, meanwhile Bing has suffered the first blow in the legal wrangle after a judge has dismissed some claims. The Los Angeles Superior Court Judge ruled, that Bings claim for civil extortion did not exist in Californian law ...

What ever happend since to Sean Penns sue is not known ...


Sean Penn in Iraq - 2003 ...