British playwright Harold Pinter, who died on December 24th, had a gift for evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia, even within a pause. The winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, Pinter was suffering from cancer of the esophagus and could not travel to Stockholm to attend the awards ceremony. Instead, he delivered his lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics," in a wheelchair via recorded video.
Pinter's acceptance speech, the entirety of which is shown above, included a stinging attack on American foreign policy and on Britain's supporting role. In contemplating the Bush administration's war in Iraq, detention policies and use of torture, Pinter again invited us to consider the themes of violence, power and morality treated in his drama:
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days - conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. ...What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.
Pinter's words are especially relevant now that Dick Cheney has stated that he approved of torture, including waterboarding. So we have a vice president who admits to his status as a war criminal, in full defiance, as Pinter put it, of the Geneva Convention, as well as the War Crimes Act. In addition, the unrepentant Cheney maintains that the legality of an action during wartime is based on whether the president decides to do it. As a "general proposition," of course.
"What has happened to our moral sensibility?" Pinter asked. In listening to Dick Cheney, the man who has served as our vice president over the past eight years, we realize that Harold Pinter never stopped haunting us with the right questions.