THE BLOG
05/20/2011 02:21 pm ET Updated Jul 20, 2011

A Modest Proposal for a French-American Prisoner Exchange Deal

I authored some months ago a blog (Sex, Drugs and Roman Polanski) regarding Roman Polanski. Polanski currently lives in France. He is wanted by California law enforcement authorities. Polanski fled from the U.S. and took up residence in France after his conviction for sexually assaulting a young woman in Jack Nicholson's swimming pool in 1978. France has repeatedly refused the requests of California and State Department officials to send Polanski back to the United States.

The arrest of IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges of sexual assault might offer hope for American authorities. On Sunday Strauss-Kahn was pulled from an Air France plane bound for Paris and arrested by New York City police for sexually assaulting a 33-year-old French speaking maid from Guinea. The maid had gone to clean his room after he was to check out of the Sofitel Hotel. He allegedly emerged naked from the bathroom and began to grab her breasts and imprison her in the room. It is expected that Strauss-Kahn will be indicted for sexual assault later this week; and he is likely to continue to be held in New York's Rikers Island jail pending his trial.

Thus, the situation shapes up like this. France (or at least a large swath of the French elite) wants Strauss-Kahn released from U.S. detention so that he can return to France. In France he is a powerful political leader of the Socialist party and was expected to be a candidate to challenge current French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

American government authorities want Polanski to be sent by France to the United States. When the Swiss government (which detained Polanski when he went there on vacation) turned down the US request in July for Polanski's extradition, the State Department reacted bluntly:

Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman at the Department of Justice, which helps process extradition requests, said federal prosecutors are "very disappointed in the decision by the Swiss government." .... We believe the extradition request submitted by the United States was fully supported by the evidence, met the requirements of the extradition treaty and involved a serious offense.''

"Roman Polanski freeing meets with outrage from prosecutors, U.S. State Department," Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2010

Polanski returned to France after his release from Swiss custody. He was recently applauded on the red carpet at Cannes and has been lionized in France for his movie success.

At this year's Césars ceremony (the French equivalent of the Oscars), Mr. Polanski received an award for "The Ghost Writer," which, to quote France's most respected newspaper, Le Monde, "marked his return to the family after his legal troubles." They made it sound like a speeding ticket.

Droit du Dirty Old Men, Stephen Clarke, NYT OpEd, May, 18, 2011

A Proposal for Consideration by France and the United States of a Prisoner Exchange

Why not do what happens when one government holds a prisoner another government wants to see released: a prisoner exchange?

Prisoner exchanges only work fairly, of course, when there is some equality in the bargain. Here those conditions of equal value exist.

First, both men are French citizens of roughly the same age. Second, both men are successful, powerful and wealthy businessmen. Third, both men are revered in their respective professional circles: international finance and the arts. Fourth, and most compelling, both men have a history of an arrogant lack of regard for the dignity and sexual autonomy of young, vulnerable women.

Of course, both Polanski and Strauss-Kahn would recoil at being labeled a sexual predator. That label, they would vehemently argue, is only appropriate for men who jump out of bushes (not out of expensive hotel bathrooms) and force women in secluded places (other than a Hollywood star's swimming pool) to satisfy their sexual urges. Having been educated in France (which claims great superiority in gender relations in comparison to the provincial, Victorian mores of Anglo American cultures), both men cannot fathom the meticulous preoccupation of American law with the finer points of legal consent in sexual relations.

Both Polanski and Strauss-Kahn live within the French cultural cohort that sees little to condemn when it comes to older men with wealth and status making sexual advances to a 17-year-old (as alleged about Polanski) or to a 33-year-old Guinean widow supporting her daughter and herself by work as a hotel maid (as alleged about Strauss-Kahn). (As of this writing, we know little about the characteristics of the woman with whom Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child 12 years ago. But it certainly appears that being a maid working in the service of a powerful man can be a risky proposition.)

Both Strauss-Kahn and Polanski want to avoid the clutches of American law enforcement. Surely, the specter of Polanski's success in escaping those clutches and reaching the embrace of Mother France will hover over any decision about pretrial release in Strauss-Kahn's case.

A Three-Way (Deal That Is)?

Sometimes, as in professional sports, a simple trade between two teams can't be negotiated. The values of the players on the trading block don't match; or the needs of one of the teams interested in a trade are for a different kind of player than a potential trading partner may offer. In sports terms, Polanski may now have more or less of the trading value he once had and no deal for a Polanski trade for Strauss-Kahn can be consummated.

In such situations in professional sports, a three-way trade may be arranged: one team trades to get another player in order to turn the new acquired player around and make a trade with a third team.

Using this professional sports model, there might be one such blockbuster three-way trade that the US ought to investigate. First, France would arrange a trade with England in exchange for Julian Assange. Then, France could trade the newly acquired Assange to the US in exchange for Strauss-Kahn.

Once again there are similarities in value that would support a deal. Granted, Assange is Australian. But he does have a French surname and that ought to be close enough. More importantly in parallel, Assange is accused of sexual assaults with women of lesser status and, like Polanski and Strauss Kahn, Assange acknowledges the sex but pleads that it was consensual; a claim the women in Sweden with whom he slept deny.

Of course if England is to be involved in a three-way trade, France would have to offer something of value to England in exchange for Assange. Again, turning to the world of European sports, that part of the deal between England and France should feature a proposed trade with a similar sexual misconduct theme. For example a trade might involve Franck Ribery, the gifted and famous French football midfielder, who was accused last year of paying for sex with an underaged prostitute. If English professional teams like Manchester United or Arsenal are uninterested in Ribery, the rosters of other professional football teams in France could be checked for sexual offenders who might be offered to England in a trade for Assange.

"Voila", as the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs might say. Strauss-Kahn can be booked on another Air France flight as quickly as he booked his last flight and the deal will be done.

Only one further development will be necessary on this side of the Atlantic. It is imperative that Donald Trump, and not Barack Obama, take credit for arranging the deal.

Update
Strauss-Kahn was released from Rikers Island today and is now in custody under electronic surveillance at an apartment in New York guarded by a private detective. He has posted a $5 million dollar bond and surrendered his passport. While not Rikers Island, this custodial status is likely to remain in effect for some months given the indictment for several forcible sex acts announced today. The "exchange" deal proposed in this post would still be on the table.