Monday, 28 September 2009
When the past catches up...
Oscar winning film director Roman Polanski has been detained in Switzerland and now faces extradition to the United States on a warrant dating back over 30 years. Polanski had fled the US in 1978 after pleading guilty to - and being convicted of - having sex with a 13 year old the previous year.
The case is a complicated one; the victim in question, Samantha Geimer, has since called for the case to be dismissed, arguing that the ongoing saga "causes harm to me, my husband and children." Polanski - who, with his personal experience of the Holocaust and the murder of his wife Sharon Tate has suffered his fair share of personal tragedy - has also claimed that the original judge had arranged a plea bargain but later reneged. US authorities have declared that Polanski must return to the US to apply for dismissal; his lawyers have pointed that any such move would almost certainly result in his immediate arrest as a fugitive. Both politicians and representatives of the film world alike have professed their support for the Franco-Polish director and their shock at the apparent arbitrariness of the arrest, a claim strenuously denied by US prosecutors.
Arresting and charging people for past crimes and misdeeds is nothing new; the most obvious - and frequently controversial - example is the prosecution of former Nazis found guilty of committing war crimes during World War II.
Most of the people associated with the Nazi regime are in their nineties. Every year The Simon Wiesenthal Center publishes a list of its 'most-wanted'; in a large number of cases it is uncertain whether the person in question is alive or dead. That those involved in war-time atrocities are nearing the ends of their lives is a fact that has not been lost on either those hunting Nazi criminals or those who believe such prosecutions are becoming increasingly without merit.
Polanski's case is, admittedly, different. He has already pleaded guilty to the crime of which he was originally charged - that of unlawful sexual intercourse with an underage girl - and one most would not consider on a par with the wartime atrocities committed by the agents of National Socialism. But it has reopened the debate surrounding the prosecution of those accused with historical crimes and whether those prosecutions should be actively pursued. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing Polanski saga will settle the argument once and for all.