Free John McTiernan: Why Die Hard Director's Imprisonment Is About More Than Injustice

John Mctiernan Delivers A Speech On January 31 2010 In France Afp File Johanna Leguerre E13636681147971 What's your favourite action movie? Die Hard? Predator? The Hunt for Red October? John McTiernan, their director, is unarguably a true master of Western action cinema, and this writer is a huge fan of his work. Sure, there's been a few missteps, your Last Action Heroes and your Rollerballs, but he's an incredibly talented filmmaker beloved the world over. And like many people, you may be wondering what happened to John? Why hasn't he made a movie in so long? Well, it's because he's been imprisoned for the last six months after a lengthy legal battle which prevented him from working- it's a labyrinthine set of events to explain, and was perhaps best done so by Buzzfeed's Michael Hastings. Hastings was the first major journalist in America to investigate the affair, before his untimely and tragic death earlier this year. Gail Sistrunk Mctiernan is John's wife, and was kind enough to grant me an interview, explaining the whole sordid state of affairs, how people can help the campaign to Free John McTiernan, and why it isn't just a fight for her husband, but something much bigger and arguably even more important to combat- that of prosecutorial overreach. DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee alone, and do not necessarily reflect in any way those of the either the author of this article, or of WhatCulture.com.
For the uninitiated, could you please explain the situation involving John? Nearly eight years ago John McTiernan had the misfortune of being snared into a government investigation in Los Angeles concerning the investigation of "Private Eye to the Stars", Anthony Pellicano. A stranger called him at home one evening at dinner time to ask about attorney Dennis Wasser, and his use of Pellicano. Assuming the caller could well be a journalist parading as law enforcement, he politely answered his questions. (Everyone knows the FBI is required to identify themselves with their commission cards which you can't do over a phone.) Two weeks later he learned the caller was actually the FBI. The government threatened to indict him, saying he was dishonest on that phone call, and used their powers to try to force him to remember things that didn't happen. He refused to lie about the government's target. Ironically, the government charged him with making a false statement to a federal officer... Even with this legal pressure, he still refused to lie about another man. Under advice of counsel he pled guilty to a false statement charge. A year later he learned that he had a defense to that charge. With new legal counsel, and within all legal rights, he withdrew his guilty plea. The prosecutors were so furious with his change of plea and his publication of prosecutorial abuses that they tripled the charges against him in retaliation. Forced by government rulings to abandon a fair trial, he conditionally plead guilty to the three charges maintaining his right to withdraw the plea if any issues were won on appeal. After a very expensive, exhaustive legal battle that kept him from working, he is incarcerated in Yankton, South Dakota until April 2014, unless his appeal is successful and they release him sooner. Mctiernan WarbirdsApart from John's imprisonment, what are the issues that should be questioned in regards to this case? Everything. If one looks at the charges in this case you'll see they all relate to McT's dealings with the prosecutors. They accused him of lying about wiretapping producer Charles Roven. It's interesting to note that during that phone call they never, ever, mentioned Charles Roven. We believe there never was any underlying crime, and further that the prosecutors knew this from the beginning. The government's own key witness came forth later and said no wiretapping was done on behalf of McTiernan and that the evidence the government says are summaries of wiretapped calls, did not come from Anthony Pellicano's office €“ that she had never seen them and it is not how things are done in that office. Even Chuck Roven, during the Pellicano trial, told the prosecutors he had never heard of some of the people on their 'summaries'. How can you have summaries of calls of people you don't know? This is why they have been so inventive in hiding the discovery and introducing phone messages and calling them conversation summaries. It has been a prosecution for publicity from the beginning, by a junior AUSA who has since claimed his reward with a highly remunerative private sector job. The government's efforts since then have been aimed at hiding what they did to begin with. Having a stranger contact a citizen at home after hours to ask him about something that may have- or in this case, probably didn't - happen six years prior, and wasn't prosecutable anyway- and then charging him with a felony! That's not allowed but it made a juicy story to feed to the press as the prosecution was being mocked for not living up to the hype of bringing down Hollywood. Snaring a director, gave their story traction. That behavior is not something the court should be encouraging, and it certainly isn't something they should help cover up. I was relieved to hear that 9th Circuit Court of appeals want to hear some of the issues in John's case. Another disturbing aspect of the case is that the judge refused to make the government turn over the evidence they claim they have against John. All they've produced is an edited tape and a set of documents they claim are summaries. When John's attorneys asked to see the originals or even get the metadata on them, which would tell what computer they came from, the date they were created, and such- all that would prove they fabricated evidence- the government refused. So to this day there is no proof of the evidence they claim, and John sits in prison. The evidence is tainted - but that's not all. You see, John's perjury charge is flawed- constitutionally flawed. To be guilty of perjury, or making a false statement before a court as he was charged, both statements must be under oath. In John's instance they were not. One was under oath (standing before the judge raising your right hand to swear to tell the truth) and the other was a written declaration he and his lawyer had submitted to the court to explain what occurred in his case. Another major flaw in the perjury charge is that the government misled the Grand Jury in order to get an indictment against John. They've hidden what they said to them, but they took select words from John's written declaration - took a few words here, a few words there - and they put them together as a new statement and changed the meaning of John's words. It was literally cut and paste! They even changed the words of the judge to convince the Grand Jury to indict. These government actions are improper! The government broke the rules over and over in their case against John because there was no legitimate case. Mct N TadrossWhat lessons do you think can be taken from the whole affair? Do you feel that any lessons will be learnt by anyone? The lessons are many. John is wiser than he was before. Neither of us would have believed that such abuse by our own government was possible. One lesson you cannot trust this government to follow its own laws and rules. You are not fighting in a fair fight if the government wishes to indict you €“ they have the unlimited resources of the government (e.g. our tax dollars) and they will push you until you are financially broken. The right to a trial by jury- which goes back to your Magna Carta - has been eliminated in this country. With pre-trial motions, and improper jury instructions, the prosecutors can condemn an innocent man... or let a guilty man go. John wished to go to trial in 2010, determined to fight these trumped-up charges. However, the motions filed by the government and granted by the Judge made it an absolute certainty that John would be found guilty. For instance, regarding John not knowing it was the FBI on the phone, the judge actually said "Defendant will not be allowed to argue, however, that the telephonic nature of the interview somehow excuses making a knowingly false statement to the FBI. For clarity, the Court rejects Defendant's arguments that the telephonic nature of the FBI Interview has anything to do with the willfulness of his statements. Any defense based on this premise is legally invalid and is excluded." What? So a stranger can talk to you, as one did in John's case, without properly identifying himself, and without saying it's an FBI "interview" and you are charged? You don't know he's a federal officer, and you are sentenced to prison? What country is this? That's exactly what happened to John and it's against our laws. But this judge by her ruling set a very dangerous precedent. The biggest thing that we have learned from the whole affair is that John is only one of many examples of prosecutorial overreach and abuse. There are thousands of cases of improper prosecution. A infamous case earlier this year was the shameful prosecution of Aaron Swartz (an internet activist campaigning against SOPA and key in creating Reddit, who was arrested for downloading Journal Articles from JSTOR, and was then charged with 2 counts of Wire Fraud and 11 violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Swartz tragically committed suicide in April after his second request for a plea deal was denied). As I've said before, John's just another canary in the coal mine of a corrupt Department of Justice. Mctiernan Die HardHow has John been coping since you last saw him? The journey has been difficult. Like any life-changing situation, he has gone through stages. Just imagine being thrown in prison for a crime you did not commit- being thrown in prison because you angered the prosecutors who wanted you to lie about their target. To have your life changed forever and the fear and punishment of not having your dad put upon his young children... all of these things make for a hard existence. Slowly, he began to perk up and get back to the fighting John that I know. He's in Federal Prison, but he's tough and he has a creative mind which has helped him cope. He's been working on a project while he's in there which will be a fun- you imagine yourself in it, a kind of Action-Adventure flick. Needless to say, he was relieved that the 9th circuit court has some ethics and will hear his appeal in January. Hope and faith in the system are precious commodities.
Since the Free McTiernan campaign was launched, what progress has been made? More awareness, certainly in Europe. You can see how many have shown their support...fellow American and European directors, producers, actors, and writers (among them are Samuel L Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Brad Bird, Joe Carnahan, Robert Davi, Florent Emilio Siri, Jan Kounen and Gale Ann Hurd). It's very touching- so many people had no idea of what was going on. I'm ashamed to say the same level of outrage has not occurred in the States, but there certainly has been more awareness. Perhaps they are afraid themselves. Perhaps people are too preoccupied with their own world to note what is happening to others. This is tragic. For what affects one will eventually affect all. We did just have a screening in LA and we hope to schedule more in different cities. The support that John has been given by the many letters, and drawings, photos and books have been tremendous for his morale. I am so proud of and indebted to those who showed their support in that manner. What do you believe to be the best possible solution to this predicament, not just involving John but of the whole issue of prosecutorial overreach in the United States? Oh....a dissertation's worth, but I won't do that to readers! The best solution is getting John home- now. In terms of the overreach? The country's a mess. A recent case in New Orleans, the Danziger Bridge murders, highlights prosecutorial abuse (The Danziger Bridge shootings took place 6 days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Members of the New Orleans police department responded, and killed a 17 year old and a 40 year old mentally disabled man. A further four people were wounded. All were unarmed. The Police then preceded to fabricate a cover-up story and falsely reported events.) If that set of circumstances in what appeared to be an apocalyptic world, wasn't tragic and regrettable enough, the U.S. Attorneys office in New Orleans stopped to a low level and purposely lied and tainted over and over the chance for a fair trial. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt boldly chastised the prosecutors, stating "the Court must remind the DOJ that the Code of Federal Regulations, and various Rules of Professional Responsibility and Ethics likewise do not take holiday €“ even in a high-stakes criminal prosecution....the Court simply cannot allow the integrity of the justice system to become a casualty in a mere prosecutorial game of "qualsiasi mezzo" (any means necessary) He further added that "The public must have an absolute trust and confidence in this process." I think if you removed the "no liability for their actions" from the prosecutors that would be a big help. I would like to see those prosecutors who go after the person, not the crime, lose their license so they couldn't practice law. What they are practicing is not law- it's oppression. Many have written about the prison state of the United States so I won't go into that. Felons lose their right to vote, often permanently. It's the systematic neutering of minorities and poor people by taking away their voice. Once a person has paid their debt to society their vote should be restored. At another time in America's history....it was called Jim Crow. It keeps the powerful people in power, and our nation suffers- and thus, so does the rest of the world. 610 John Mctiernan RollerballYou can like the Free McTiernan campaign on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.
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Aspiring Director, Screenwriter and Actor. Film is my passion, but I indulge in TV, Theatre and Literature as well! Any comments or suggestions, please tweet me @IAmOscarHarding