Editor’s Note: Film historian Paul Sutton argues in the guest column below that Die Hard Director John McTiernan, left, is unfairly imprisoned. Sutton, based at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, last week completed an eight-week trip to the United States to research the case. He visited McTiernan, who began is serving a year-long federal term in South Dakota at age 62 on false statement charges following a prolonged legal battle.
Sutton is shown at lower right as one of the speakers at a “Free McT” rally last May in Paris to support the director’s freedom. Our Justice Integrity Project repeatedly reported on excessive prosecution in the case, beginning in a 2010, Feds Bully ‘Die Hard’ McTiernan Into Plea for False Statements. McTiernan, at left, was convicted in the wiretapping scandal involving private detective Anthony Pellicano as authorities sought to determine whether Pellicano illegally wiretapped producer Chuck Roven while he and McTiernan were remaking Rollerball in 2002. The photo at lower left shows him saying farewell to his children, age 10 and12, last spring as he began his sentence.
By Paul Sutton
On May 25th 2013, hundreds of French citizens, and one Englishman, gathered at the Max Linder Panorama in Paris to celebrate the films of John McTiernan and to support the campaign for his release. McTiernan’s films include Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, Predator, and The Thomas Crown Affair.
He is in federal prison in South Dakota. The following month, hundreds more, making a combined audience of almost a thousand, packed screenings of McTiernan’s films at the L’institut Lumière in Lyon. The organizer, Arnaud Bordas of the ‘Free John McTiernan’ Facebook page, said “more people attended the events that the theaters could hold. There were people sitting on the stairs and standing at the back. There has never been anything like it”. The Lyon screening was in memory of the late Michael Hastings, the only mainstream journalist in America who had seen through the press release the prosecution published on jailing McTiernan, a man who had spent his life making American films that are enjoyed throughout the world.
According to the prosecution press release, John McTiernan pleaded guilty to two charges of making a false statement to a federal officer and one charge of perjury. For this he was given a twelve-month prison sentence, with no time off for good behavior, a $100,000 fine, and a three-year extension to an already seven-year supervision order that had prevented him from working in the years before his case came to trial. At face value, this punishment seemed harsh for a first time offender. But the charges against McTiernan are serious and a sort-of justice seemed to have been done — until you look at the detail.
Making a false statement to a federal officer suggests that McTiernan stood in front of an FBI agent and made a false statement to him. That wasn’t the case. An FBI agent was not present when McTiernan allegedly made a false statement so heinous that it landed him in prison. The false statement was a casual answer to a statement made to him on the telephone one evening by an anonymous caller. No badge or ID was ever shown to McTiernan; he was not told he was under investigation, and he wasn’t speaking under oath. He was merely trying to get a man he thought might be a journalist off the phone. He had been bombarded with phone calls from journalists when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor, and had learned that the best way to stop journalists from pestering him was to be polite and to engage them with a short and honest conversation.