Monday, June 20, 2005

Visible Symbols

On Saturday, Bob Costas talked to Vanessa Redgrave on CNN's Larry King Live. Some excerpts from the transcript of the interview:
COSTAS: Guantanamo.

REDGRAVE: Is the most visible symbol. There are many other Guantanamos and interrogation centers where torture is being used.

COSTAS: No one denies that there have been missteps and many who are not as far left as you certainly believe that much of American policy is mistaken. On the other hand, the detainees at Guantanamo, many would say, are not covered by the Geneva Convention. They don't wear a uniform. They don't represent any sovereign nation, and most importantly, they themselves would never observe the slightest aspect of the Geneva Conventions.

These are evil people who would slit my throat or yours if they had a chance is the way that argument goes.

REDGRAVE: Well, the only way that you can find out if someone has committed an evil act is to charge them and put them on trial. That's the only way that humanity has found and it's found some major progressive steps along the way and America led the way on that. And that is why millions of people look up to America and should be able to continue to look to America for that.

How can there be democracy if the leadership in the United States and Britain don't uphold the values which my father's generation fought the Nazis, millions of people gave their lives against the Soviet Union's regime, didn't they? Because of what?Democracy. And what democracy meant. No torture, no camps, no detention forever or without trial, without charges. In solitary confinement. Those techniques which are not just alleged, they have actually been written about by the FBI. I don't think it's being far left - I hope that I'm wrong to consider that it's far left to uphold the rule of law.

COSTAS: There's ...

REDGRAVE: To uphold the constitution.

COSTAS: There's little doubt that what happened at Abu Ghraib and some of what's happened at Guantanamo has hurt American interests, has hurt America's image and little doubt that we should hold ourselves to a higher standard than our enemies. But without being overly argumentative, I think some people, given what they know about your background, would want me to ask this question.

Even given the mistakes or perceived mistakes of American policy, what is the greater evil in the world, America and its policies or America's enemies?

REDGRAVE: It's an important question. One of our most respected judges and highest up in our judicial system said that laws which detain indefinitely without charge, without trial, without defense, without prosecution, without evidence, without cross examination, are a greater evil than terrorism, and I feel the same, actually.

COSTAS: You do?


COSTAS: You feel that Guantanamo ...

REDGRAVE: Terrorism has to be - what do we do about it? There are a lot of things that have to be done, clearly, but to abandon the rule of law, I don't think that can solve terrorism for one moment.

COSTAS: A number of reasonable people say, all right, we understand the objections to certain American behavior. Let's say as one example, at Guantanamo. But where is the proportion over outrage over possible mishandling of the Koran or questionable interrogation techniques that set up violent protests in the Muslim world, some resulting in death, where at the same time radical Islamists blow up mosques, attack the funeral processions of Muslims. How can those not be greater desecrations of the Koran and everything that Islam is supposed to stand for, and where is the outrage from a certain portion of the political spectrum over that? There is no proportion here.

REDGRAVE: Oh, I am sorry there is great - If you read, as I am able to do, and work with the human rights movements in all the different countries. I work with my friends in Russia. Torture is now endemic in Russia because of the war in Chechnya and has the United States or Britain - they have made certain representations but democracy in Russia is hanging by a thread because political repressions have come back and the Soviet secret services are back, according to statistics my Russians friends give me, they are back into 60 percent of the seats of powers in all the ministries and in all fields, business, culture, let alone military and intelligence, etc, etc.

We have a very difficult situation in our world, there is no doubt about it.

[passage omitted]

COSTAS: Jane Fonda almost idolizes you. Named her own daughter Vanessa after you. You and she appeared together in "Julia" and obviously there are some similarities between the two of you with being politically outspoken and perhaps paying a price for it. What are your thoughts about Jane Fonda? Have you read her recent autobiography?

REDGRAVE: Yes I have. I think it is very, very good. Yes, she sent me a couple. I was very thrilled. It is a difficult thing to write.

COSTAS: Did she confide in you during the Vietnam War when she was speaking out as she did, catching some flak for it. Did she commiserate with you?

REDGRAVE: No she didn't commiserate with you, I rang her up and I said, Jane, I'm starting to work with GIs here in England, can you tell me what you've been doing and how you're doing it because we were all involved against the war in Vietnam.

COSTAS: What would you say to her regarding those, and they may have good reason, who no matter what Jane Fonda does, as an artist or as a person, no matter her good works and good deeds, they will never forgive her? She will always be Hanoi Jane. And there were some who will never forgive you for what they perceive to be your stances through the years, no matter what you do.

REDGRAVE: And you want me to answer that?

COSTAS: What would you tell her about dealing with that?

REDGRAVE: I think she deals with that very well. I mean, at my point of life and I guess, us two, we have led very different lives in many respects but I've come to see through the course of my life people haven't know really what I was up to or maybe I didn't explain it well or whatever, whatever, I come to see people understand what I've tried to do, however inadequately I do it. I'm very capable of bring (unintelligible), you know, but I've just found people have come to understand me and be glad that I tried to do what I tried to do. And I do feel very inadequate about it but I feel I must try other ways. As one wonderful Soviet dissident said who suffered terribly in the Soviet psychiatric prison, had just made a film called "Russia, Chechnya, Voices of Dissent" and she was asked, well, why did you go into Red Square on August 25th 1968 against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and she said simply, well the Soviet government said the whole of the Soviet Union rejoiced in saving their Czechoslovakian brothers and since I was a Soviet citizen I wanted to show that actually there was a couple - some at least, Soviet citizens who were horrified at what their country had done and she said I would have felt ashamed if I hadn't made a protest.

And I think that any citizen can understand that whatever mistakes they feel anybody has made that you must raise your voice and do the best you can to speak out.

(Hat tip: M.L.)

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