The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy has made this petition, signed by him, Salman Rushdie, and others:
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.This is in addition to a petition by over 70 major figures in the movie industry, including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, and Woody Allen.
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.
Bernard-Henri Levy's petition has already been thoroughly dissected by my mom -- who asks Levy why he, as a philosopher, would take this position. Another philosopher, A.C. Grayling, shows the right way to address the Polanski case as a philosophical issue.
As my mom points out, Levy's use of the word "plaintiff" should be noted and resisted. He uses "principal plaintiff" as a synonym for "rape victim."
As Grayling points out, references to the "statute of limitations" are irrelevant. Even if it applied to rape, the statute of limitations can't possibly apply to someone who's already been convicted, which Polanski has. All a statute of limitations can ever do is bar a prosecution (or lawsuit) from being brought against someone in the first place. It's based on the delay between the illegal act and the initiation of the court case; it has nothing to do with when he's actually punished.
That legal point is aside from the inequity of suggesting that the long lapse of time since Polanski's crimes should weigh in his favor, considering that Polanski himself caused the lapse by hiding from justice.
This must be pretty well-tilled soil at this point, but of course Polanski's artistic accomplishments have no bearing on how the legal system should treat him. Yet the petition signed by Scorsese flatly states: "It seems inadmissible ... that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary film-makers, is used by police to apprehend him."
Polanski's defenders also point out that he's lost family members through the Holocaust and, unrelatedly, the Manson family. At least this observation, unlike the fact that he's made great movies, has some loose connection to a legal concept: some of his defenders have invoked "mitigating factors." But as with the statute of limitations, this argument is wrong both legally and morally. As a legal matter, mitigating factors can at most reduce a sentence; they don't transform a convicted felon to an innocent person.
Regardless, the fact that two very infamous groups of murderers have killed Polanski's loved ones is a horrible coincidence. But no one can explain why the notoriety of those killers should have any effect on what happens to Polanski now. All that's left, then, is that he's been extraordinarily burdened by traumatic deaths in his family. You could say the same of Vice President Joe Biden, but I don't think anyone wants to give him license to go on a crime spree.
I have a hard time fathoming what's going on in the minds of people like Bernard-Henri Levy. I assume they either don't have children or don't have empathy. What parents would accept leniency for a man who, at the age of 44, raped their 13-year-old daughter? (Or for that matter, their 13-year-old son, for it's hard to see how the gender could legitimately affect the legal outcome.)
Bernard-Henri Levy and Salman Rushdie might be considered top-tier public intellectuals, but they've failed to understand some basic facts about society. In order to have a functional society, we need for this to be the case: that if you rape a child, you are going to sleep in prison.