Pinochet and Polanski: even old men should face their past


2:29 pm - November 11th 2009

by Dave Osler    


      Share on Tumblr

What happens when old men touch down in a foreign country and suddenly get hit with a writ for crimes committed decades ago? Consider, if you will, the contrasting cases of Augusto José Ramón Pinochet and Roman Raymond Polanski.

The Chilean general staged a coup in 1973 against a democratically elected government and instituted some strange hybrid regime, fusing military dictatorship with Hayek’s supposedly libertarian economics.

Four years later in California, the Franco-Polish film director had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Under US law, that constitutes statutory rape, although testimony indicates that a degree of coercion may also have been involved. It is also uncontested that he tanked up the young Samantha Geimar with champagne and a Quaalude before getting her into the hot tub.

Pinochet remained head of state until 1990, and was unquestionably guilty of systematic and widespread human rights violations including mass-murder, torture, kidnapping and illegal detention. He may have been personally responsible for 3,000 deaths.

Polanski pleaded guilty in 1978 to a criminal charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Under the terms of a plea bargain, the expectation of both the defence and the prosecution is that he would receive probation. When it became clear that he faced a lengthy prison sentence, he fled the country.

Pinochet visited London for medical treatment in 1998, at which point Spain requested his extradition. On account of his health, he was placed under what was tantamount to house arrest.

Polanski visited Zurich for a film festival in 2009, at which point the US requested his extradition. He has since last September been held in a Swiss jail.

Pinochet became a rightwing cause celebre, securing widespread support on the free market right, including such prominent backers as Margaret Thatcher and Norman Lamont.

Polanski became a leftwing cause celebre, securing widespread backing from the transatlantic liberal luvvie set, including such prominent backers as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Robert Harris and – until she changed her mind, anyway – Emma Thompson. But a number of well-known feminist commentators have taken the opposite view.

In 2000, New Labour home secretary Jack Straw allowed Pinochet to return to his home country, justifying the release on medical grounds. Just how ill the erstwhile caudillo really was is a matter of some dispute, even to those physicians who examined him. But he lived on a further six years, reportedly in some wealth and comfort.

We don’t know what will happen to Polanski, who has been refused bail. Whatever his talents as an auteur, he has a case to answer, and it is right that he return to the US to answer it. There must be some sanction, even if only symbolic, for drugging a starstruck teenybopper and then making her have sex against her will.

But he should be treated leniently. His lawyers argue – apparently not without credence – that his conviction should be set aside on the grounds that the judge and prosecutors colluded improperly

Most importantly of all, his victim thinks the charges should be dropped, and that call has to carry due weight, even if a subsequent $500,000 pay off had something to do with it.

Finally, it should be stressed that Polanski is now 76, and hardly likely to remain a risk to LA Lolitas.

But whatever the outcome, the contrast with Pinochet remains glaring. If Polanski had restricted himself to attending the London Film Festival, he would not now be the slammer.

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  


About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
· Other posts by


Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.


Reader comments


Most importantly of all, his victim thinks the charges should be dropped, and that call has to carry due weight, even if a subsequent $500,000 pay off had something to do with it.

It should carry no weight at all. This was a criminal case, and the opinions of his victim are not now relevant. Drugging a 13 year old and then anally raping her is not a trivial matter.

Polanski agreed to pay half a million dollars but (at least according to the LRB’s diary) he has not actually delievered on that.

His victim says she doesn’t want him charged because she’s sick of the media landing on her doorstep everytime this story raises its head. Understandabe of course, but if a victim wanted the death penalty (or even just a much longer sentence than the law dictates) we wouldn’t bow to those wishes, so it is not clear why we should bow to hers here.

Also, the lawyer who made the claim about improper collusion between the judge and the prosecutor has since stated that he lied.

David,

I’m surprised to see this discussion and can’t quite see what the point is.

Pinochet and Polanski had/have three things in common:
1. They both had/have surnames ending in P,
2. They both commited crimes many years ago – crimes for which they sought to avoid extradition, and
3. They both had/have friends abroad that are sympathetic towards them and in whose company they sought refuge. In Pinochet’s case it was mainly centre/right leaning politicians and in Polanski’s case it’s mainly liberal/left ‘creative’ people.

Pinochet had many people killed whist leader of Chile.
Polanski raped and buggered a 13 year old girl whilst a film producer in the US.
(I don’t know how to judge them on a scale of badness)

Neither were/are particularly nice – though Polanski’s films have provided a legacy to endear him to a greater audience for years to come. There’s nothing to show Polanski any more ‘understanding’ than one would show Pinochet.

So ……leniency, my arse. Polanski’s age is (76) is irrelevent.
The plea bargain that reduced the term of his imprisonment was made on the basis that his victim’s idendity would not be reaveled. By bunking off to Europe Polanski compounded the injury forever – exposing her as ‘the girl Roman Polanski raped’. Nice one. No wonder she want’s rid of it. Making out she was a ‘slapper’ or is in it for the money, as some of the earlier commments have done, is creepy.

By the way, I’m thinking of submitting an article looking at how Idi Amin and Garry Glitter had to move abroad to start second their careers.

Kojak

I’m not sure the comparison is apt. I found the Pinochet arrest troubling as it appeared to involve a foreign country, in this case Spain, seeking to unravel a reconciliation process based on which Chilean democracy was restored. Although I have every sympathy with the view that it was excessively lenient, ultimately I believe that was a matter for the Chilean people to decide without outside interference, indeed there were attempts before his death to prosecute him there. I have no problem either with the concept of compassionate release on medical grounds. It is one of the many things that make us better than a regime like that of Pinochet.

I have no sympathy at all with Polanski. This was an extremely serious offence committed against a child. I am staggered that anyone has seen fit to defend this. His supporters allege misconduct by the judge, but if this argument has any weight at all (and I’m far from convinced) it is a point he can ventilate in Court. It is true he is an old man, but that is rather like the mythical parent killer asking for indulgence because he is an orphan. As for the argument that a film festival should be regarded as sacrosanct, rather like a Church in Medieval times offering sanctuary, it’s hard to imagine a more ridiculous example of celebrity self-regard.

I do agree however that the UK is a soft touch. Polanski engaged in libel tourism here in suing Vanity Fair. The High Court in an extraordinary decision allowed him to give video evidence in order to shield him from the risk of arrest. If there is a coherent explanation for that decision I have yet to hear it.

I’m confused when people repeatedly state that Polanski’s victim wants the charges dropped. There are no charges to drop – he has already been found guilty. The trial is over, and a verdict was reached. He raped a child, and I fail to see why he should be treated ‘leniently’ because of his age, or background, or because he made some movies.

By the way, he didn’t ‘have sex’ with a 13 year old girl, he raped her. Sex =/= rape.

Lets be clear here – Mr Polanski commited a crime in the USA and is facing extradition to the USA.

General Pinochet commited crimes in Chile and was facing extradition to… Spain? At the time the UK did not recognise that Spain had jurisdiction to try a case that took place in a friendly, democratic nation (as Chile was at the time, and I believe still is). Can any of the legally trained advice whether the UK is likely to recognise Spain’s jurisdiction in such a case even now? I doubt it.

So the two cases are not legally comparable, as the key fact is Chile did not want to try General Pinochet (presumably for the same sort of reasons as South Africa did not try the villains in the apartheid struggle), whilst the USA does want to punish Mr Polanski. What a campaigning judge in Spain wants in either case is irrelevant.

wait.. woody allen pledged support to Polanski? Bet that helped.

I seem to recall that Pinochet involved some subset of soveriegn immunity. That a Head of State cannot be prosecuted for acts while a Head of State. That immunity is limited: crimes against humanity for example.

But I don’t think that is what he was charged with, was it?

A more apt comparison for Pinochet might be Jaruselski: both military coup makers, both responsible for deaths.

I’m not sure the comparison is apt. I found the Pinochet arrest troubling as it appeared to involve a foreign country, in this case Spain, seeking to unravel a reconciliation process based on which Chilean democracy was restored.

Yes, as weird as it may seem to us, the Chilean Socialist Party did not want Pinochet put on trial either at the time of the arrest controversy (I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying this). They’d decided that the reconciliation process was more important than seeking justice for the victims of the dictatorship by putting Pinochet on trial.

This perhaps plays in with Dave Osler’s claim that Polanski should be treated leniently because his rape victim has forgiven him. On this basis was Straw not also justified in treating Pinochet leniently?

On the specific point of Spain interfering in Chilean politics: wasn’t the arrest warrant issued by Garzon based on Pinochet’s alleged involvement in the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile during his rule? It was quite right for a Spanish judge to want justice for Spanish citizens.

The point is being missed here. Polanski has already been tried. He ran away. He is a fugitive and faces not only jail time for his crime but jail time for absconding. There is absolutely NO comparison with Pinochet. End of story.

‘This perhaps plays in with Dave Osler’s claim that Polanski should be treated leniently because his rape victim has forgiven him. On this basis was Straw not also justified in treating Pinochet leniently?’

You can’t forgive on somebody else’s behalf any more than you can apologise for someone else.

Unless ALL those tortured or who lost relatives to Pinochet forgive him there’s no comparison.

For what it’s worth, I think Pinochet should probably have gone to be tried in Spain and Polanski should definitely be forced to face the music for his paedo-rape sexploits (it’s bizarre to think that anyone whose crimes can be described in such a way can still enjoy the support of celebrities…Garry Glitter must think it’s so unfair)

13. the a&e charge nurse

I suspect the luvees clamouring for lenient treatment all know of at least one industry big shot who does not play by the same rules that the ‘little people’ are expected to follow?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2009/sep/28/roman-polanski-arrest

Why is Polanski less of a threat to young girls because he’s 76? Given his lack of remorse, he should surely be considered just as much of a threat as he’s ever been?

The man is a convicted rapist; he should be behind bars. Doesn’t matter that he’s one of the most gifted film-makers who ever lived.

who was thinking about the other 9/11 on Monday?

“although testimony indicates that a degree of coercion may also have been involved”

Indicated? Really? I can only assume you haven’t read the transcripts in the link below.

http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0928091polanskiplea1.html

If you have, then shame on you.

“But a number of well-known feminist commentators have taken the opposite view.”

So have a hell of a lot of other people. Why is that you only include ‘feminist’ in this statement?

I can clearly see that ‘Misogynist…comments will be deleted. Shame this policy doesn’t extend to the posts as well, then I wouldn’t have to be exposed to this shit.

‘starstruck teenybopper’
‘LA Lolitas’?

Wow, Dave, I can feel the contempt for Polanski’s victim come off you in waves here! The second phrase in particular implies that she tried to seduce him. You’ve alleged, with these phrases, that she was somehow to blame for her own rape. Please explain how exactly that works for me, I’m just a dumb bloggerstruck twentysomething.

Most importantly of all, his victim thinks the charges should be dropped, and that call has to carry due weight, even if a subsequent $500,000 pay off had something to do with it.

Dave, c’mon – this is just factually incorrect. As many have pointed out the guy is guilty and has been convicted as such. This “charges” stuff doesn’t work really. I’m inclined to agree with mike power’s two-liner above.

19. John Meredith

“A more apt comparison for Pinochet might be Jaruselski: both military coup makers, both responsible for deaths.”

Yes, that is a better analogy. Or Fidel Castro, of course, a man who is also responsible for about 3,000 deaths, I think.

*Or Fidel Castro, of course, a man who is also responsible for about 3,000 deaths, I think.*

Or our own great ex-leader Tony Blair. Or Henry Kissinger. Or George Bush. All of whom make Fidel and Augusto look like lightweights in the murdering of innocents stakes. What was it Madeleine Albright said about the deaths of half a million (thats HALF A MILLION, mateys) children in Iraq?
“A price worth paying”. Jeez!

These arguments about Pinochet, Castro and the pathetic little pervert Polanski are just a side show when the real terrorists and murderers in the world not only get off scot- free, but even get awarded peace prizes, FFS!!

I give up.

A 13 year old child is drugged and anally raped after she rebuffs the advances of a middle aged man.

Or should that be “a star – struck teeny – bopper (lolita would be an alternative, here)” is drugged and “made to have sex against her will”?

Hmm. I think I’ll go for the first option.

The “film director had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Under US law, that constitutes statutory rape, although testimony indicates that a degree of coercion may also have been involved”

Are you taking the fucking piss or are you aware of definitions of rape and sex with children that don’t involve coercion?

“Under the terms of a plea bargain, the expectation of both the defence and the prosecution is that he would receive probation. ”

Really? Well, that would be pretty unusual for such a serious offence (in the UK it can attract a life sentence and we’re pretty liberal compared to the Americans). What’s even more curious is that the prosecution has no recollection of a “plea bargain” a contention which is given credence by the fact that Polanski was remanded for psychiatric reports. This wouldn’t usually happen if the sentence had already been agreed. So, Dave, turning Polanski into the victim of a dastardly American Judicial double – cross doesn’t really work, does it?

Minimising the offence, showing utter contempt for the victim and turning the perpetrator into the aggrieved party, yes your article is a journalistic triumph, mate.

It really is difficult to imagine how you could possibly have inspired so much contempt with so few words.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Nicholas Stewart

    #LiberalConspiracy Pinochet and Polanski: even old men should face their past http://tinyurl.com/yl9p35k

  2. | bella gerens | Phillips v. Osler: battle of the Gramscians |

    […] that’s not clamping down on un-permitted views). And this is from the same guy who called a rape victim a ’starstruck teenybopper’ and an ‘LA Lolita’ on a website that supposedly prohibits misogynistic […]





Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.