When Harold Pinter, the 2005 Nobel Prize laureate for literature, addressed the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on Wednesday night, he made no secret of his contempt for George W. Bush's administration and its decision to invade Iraq three years ago.
"The invasion ... was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law," the 75-year-old British playwright said in a recorded lecture that touched more on politics than it did on literature. "How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?"
Even if his remarks were strikingly virulent, they typified a trend some have noted in the awarding of the prestigious prizes since President Bush was elected in 2000: Many laureates are either known critics or foes of the president's administration, or have used their selection as an opportunity to voice their complaints.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who won the 2001 peace prize, had said the United States would "not be wise" to invade Iraq.
In 2002, after former President Jimmy Carter, a vocal critic of that invasion, won the same award, Nobel committee Chairman Gunnar Berge said the gesture "can and must be interpreted as a criticism of the position of the administration currently sitting in the U.S. towards Iraq."
A year later, in her acceptance speech, the 2003 peace prize winner, Iranian human-rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, accused the United States of using the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks as a pretext for violating "the universal principles and laws of human rights."
This year's peace prize winner, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed El-Baradei, supported extending United Nations weapons inspections in Iraq rather than forcibly ousting Saddam Hussein.
Recipients of Nobel prizes in other categories have also expressed criticism. Americans Roy J. Glauber and John L. Hall, winners along with Germany's Theodor W. Haensch of this year's physics prize, criticized what they characterized as the Bush administration's attitudes toward scientific research.
"There is a measure of denial of scientific evidence going on within our administration," Glauber said, "and there are many scientists who are not happy about that."
Some past honorees have used their moment in the spotlight to embrace positions of controversy. When the American Gen. George C. Marshall, author of the Marshall Plan, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, he remarked on the irony of a soldier winning the award. "The cost of war on human lives is constantly spread before me, written neatly in many ledgers whose columns are gravestones," he said.
In 1963, Linus Pauling, a two-time winner, endorsed the then-new Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as "the first of a series of treaties that will lead to the new world from which war has been abolished forever."
Speaking two years ago, Stein Toennesson, head of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, noted the open criticism of the Bush administration. "This is, indeed, becoming a trend," he said.
If so, this year's honorees have done little to reverse it.