Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Roman scandals

The respected French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy recently published this petition:

Apprehended like a common terrorist Saturday evening, September 26, as he came to receive a prize for his entire body of work, Roman Polanski now sleeps in prison.

He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.

Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.

We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.

Good sense and honor.

This petition has attracted the support of a number of equally respected artists and writers, including Mike Nichols, Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Milan Kundera, Salman Rushdie and John Landis. Ronald Harwood sniffs, "It seems to me very odd that America, which calls itself a Christian country, is so entirely lacking in the ability to forgive." The British sarcasm, it stings!

The victim, whose name M. Levy does not bother to include, is Samantha Geimer. When she was a thirteen-year-old girl named Samantha Gailey, the ingenious filmmaker drugged and raped her, crimes to which he pleaded guilty in order to obtain a reduced sentence. When the judge refused to honor the deal, he fled the US. California also has a statute of limitations, but it did not apply. Nor is it clear why the Swiss government has decided this is the time to respond to demands for extradition. What is clear is that the stellar names on the petition have handed the right another weapon to aim at the immorality of left-wing Hollywood, one of their favorite tropes since the days of Charlie Chaplin. (I wonder what they will do if it emerges that the Swiss responded to pressure from the Obama Administration. That might be fun to watch.)

Polanski is a gifted director; Chinatown is on nearly every list of the top fifty films of the century, or whatever arbitrary number you like. He had a horrific childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto, and his wife and unborn child were butchered by the Manson gang. If talent and adversity granted permission to assault children, or even adults, the world would be even more dreadful than it is. We don't wave away crimes by saying they happened a long time ago, and the victims want to put the past behind them. If we did, John Demjanjuk would not be going on trial next month in Germany.

Demjanjuk, known to tabloid readers as "Ivan the Terrible," was a Red Army draftee from Ukraine who deserted to the SS after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and became a guard at Sobibor and Treblinka concentration camps. He is 89, thirteen years older than Polanski, and claims to be in poor health. He also insists he is not the man in the old ID photo. Although he has been acquitted by an Israeli court, Germany will try him for participating in the murder of thousands of people. Demjanjuk settled in Cleveland in 1951 and spent most of his life working in an auto plant. Clearly he should have become a filmmaker.

Yes, Mr. Harwood, I can be sarcastic, too.

Everywhere you look, criminals are pocketing giant bonuses (John Fuld) or pontificating like elder statesmen (Dick Cheney) or otherwise prospering away (take your pick). Eric Holder would rather pose naked with the statue of Justice in his building's lobby than indict anyone in the Cheney-Bush regime for torture and murder; apparently we have to "look ahead." What criminal wouldn't prefer that? And the madness is spreading like strep throat in a pre-school: When Gore Vidal pronounces Timothy McVeigh "a true patriot, a Constitution man," I walk quietly to the bathroom and check the mirror to see if my head is on backwards. An end-justifies-the-means man, Vidal will probably sign the Levy petition, too.

We're clinging to civilization by our cuticles, with little or no help from those best situated to do the unpopular job of enforcing the law. Civilization demands that crime be punished, and raping children is a crime, not an "episode." There are no other issues. There is no martyrdom. California's teeming prison system will just have to find another bed.



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