POLITICS AND THE PRIZE
Asked by Washington Post reporter Lally Weymouth if he thought his finding that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program was the reason the Bush Administration hounded him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei said diplomatically, “I don’t know. Someone told me it is dangerous to be wrong but even more dangerous to be right.” You wouldn’t think that talking back to the Bush Administration would be a credential for a Nobel Prize winner, but blame it on US unilateralism. ElBaradei’s independent stance was prominently noted in the news stories about his winning this year’s peace laurel. Contrary to grumbling right-wing critics, however, we very much doubt that the Nobel judges based their selections on the winners’ anti-Americanism. It’s rather more complicated. ElBaradei didn’t start out to defy Washington. It just happened that in the course of leading the IAEA in its mission to halt nuclear proliferation, he ran head-on into an Administration careening toward war on Iraq. Ignoring a vicious US campaign to discredit him, ElBaradei and the IAEA stuck to the task of carrying out inspections of Iraq’s nuclear facilities, emerging with a conclusion that the United States spent some $600 million after the war confirming that Iraq had no nuclear weapons program. One can think of no more deserving winner of a prize for peace than a man who exemplified a clear, sensible, sane alternative to war. • British Playwright Harold Pinter, winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, has opposed US overreach since at least 1948, when he became a conscientious objector rather than serve in the British Army. “That was a political act,” he told interviewer Nicholas Hern. “I was terribly disturbed as a young man by the cold war. And McCarthyism.” A staunch peacenik and fighter for human rights, Pinter has over the years issued passionate denunciations of US policies, from the war in El Salvador to the invasion of Iraq. (“We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery and degradation to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East,'” he wrote.) Pinter’s activism exemplifies a virtue that has become increasingly apparent in the careers of great writers of our time–the willingness to speak truth to power. As he told Hern, his plays had frequently dealt with abuse of authority and the struggle for power in personal relationships, but the short play One for the Road (1984) marked a turning point. It is a searing indictment of torture. Stripped of political specifics, the torturer character is a Pinter social sadist in extremis, obscenely flaunting his absolute power over his victims. Pinter’s enigmatic plays cannot be fully understood without pondering their political dimension.
Until the Supreme Court ruled the practice cruel and unusual punishment, America was the only country that executed murderers who committed their offenses when they were under 18. We tend to forget that the United States is also one of a small minority of nations that permit life-without-parole sentences for child offenders. According to a joint report by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 2,225 youths who committed a crime while they were minors are currently spending the rest of their lives in US prisons without hope of parole. Of this number–by far the highest in the world–93 percent were convicted of murder, 26 percent of those for felony murder, i.e., as accessories to crimes involving murder. More statistics: 59 percent of those sentenced were first offenders, forty-two states allow such sentences, blacks are ten times more likely than whites to receive them. Thirteen other nations permit LWOP for convicted minors, 132 specifically ban it. There are only about twelve LWOP child offenders in the rest of the world.