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Polanski's Arrest: Shame on the Swiss

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I've had it with the Swiss.

I used to admire them -- their clean, orderly, decorous way of life. Their stubborn independence and self-reliance. I forgave them for the years they never joined the United Nations, and even now, not joining the European Union.

When I learned, years ago, that they had blithely allowed German military trains to transit their country during the Second World War, while claiming Swiss "neutrality," I was shocked, but tried to excuse them on grounds that they were protecting their country from invasion and armed warfare.

I was glad when they finally gave women the vote not so long ago. And I was glad when their banks initially balked at American demands to release the names of their American clients. Swiss banking secrecy, after all, has not been a ploy to launder dirty money; it has been a time-honored tradition to respect the privacy of their customers.

(May I add that Europeans have always been, and still are to a large degree, much more discreet about their money than Americans are.)

But now, not only are the Swiss bankers caving in to America's bullying, so are the Swiss police and Swiss jurisprudence.

Arresting Roman Polanski the other day in Zurich, where he was to receive an honorary award at a film festival, was disgraceful and unjustifiable. Polanski, now 76, has been living in France for over thirty years, and has been traveling and working in Europe unhindered, but the Swiss acted on an old extradition treaty with the U.S. and seized him! The Swiss Justice Ministry will decide whether to extradite him to the United States.

The judge in the 1977 statutory rape case is dead. Polanski had agreed at the time to a plea bargain, but then the judge reneged on it. Polanski has tried to appeal.

But there is more to this story. The 13-year old model "seduced" by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California. (It's probably 13 by now!) Polanski was demonized by the press, convicted, and managed to flee, fearing a heavy sentence.
I met Polanski shortly after he fled America and was filming Tess in Normandy. I was working in the CBS News bureau in Paris, and I accompanied Mike Wallace for a Sixty Minutes interview with Polanski on the set. Mike thought he would be meeting the devil incarnate, but was utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence.

Now, three decades later, the long arm of Uncle Sam is grabbing this man and hauling him back to California, thanks to the complicity of the Swiss. There are surely more important issues in the world, and more villainous rogues at large that we should be attending to. Why does America always get sidetracked by sex and scandal?

I suggest, in the finest American tradition, we protest this absurd and deplorable act by smashing our cuckoo clocks, pawning our Swiss watches, and banning Swiss cheese and chocolate.

And let them yodel all they like.