Nicholas Kristof: "Repression By China, And By Us"

I have some very big conflicts when it comes to Kristof, one of The New York Times' top Op/Ed columnists, but I daresay he got most of this right. What's more, it's very important reading for us.

I’d meant to focus this column on a Chinese woman whose battle for justice has led the police to arrest her more than 30 times, lock her in an insane asylum, humiliate her sexually, shock her with cattle prods, beat her until she is crippled and, worst of all, take away her young daughter.

The case of Li Guirong, a graying 50-year-old who now hobbles on crutches, reflects China at its worst — government by thuggery. But each time I start this column, I feel that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have pulled the rug out from under me. Do I really have the right to complain about torture or extra-legal detentions in China when we Americans do the same in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba?

I keep remembering a heated conversation I had in Yunnan Province when I lived in China years ago. I reproached an official for China’s torture and arbitrary imprisonment, and he retorted that China was fragile and had lost hundreds of thousands of lives in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. “If you Americans ever faced the threat of chaos, you would do just the same,” he said.

“Impossible!” I replied.

Yet I owe him an apology, for he has been proven right. The moment we did feel a threat, after 9/11, we held people without trial, and beatings were widespread enough that more than 110 of our prisoners died in custody in places like Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantánamo.

Our extrajudicial detentions and mistreatment of prisoners are wrong in and of themselves. But they also undercut our own ability to speak against oppression and torture around the world.
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