Monday, March 10, 2008


By William Fisher

Here’s the good news:

As reported in a Washington Post editorial Monday morning, China is prepared to renew its human rights dialogue with the U.S. after a five-year hiatus – triggered by China’s repeated objections to international interventions in its domestic affairs.

The Post opined that China’s turnabout was generated by “growing international criticism of its pre-Olympics crackdown on dissent and of its relationships with Sudan and Burma.”

Of course, this is good news. The Post headline got it right: “Let’s Talk.”

But here’s the bad news:

The United States no longer has the credibility to influence any substantive change in Chinese human rights practices.

We squandered it at Abu Ghraib.

We squandered it at Guantanamo.

We squandered it by bedding down with some of the world’s most repressive and authoritarian regimes – Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example.

And we squandered it at home.

We made endless and as yet unfulfilled promises to find safe haven for the Iraqis forced by our occupation to flee their country.

We rounded up Muslims and others who we thought looked like Muslims, jailed them without charges or lawyers, and then convicted no one.

We engaged in “extraordinary renditions” – shipping people to countries quite likely to torture them.

We authorized our CIA to run secret prisons full of ghost prisoners, unknown even to the Red Cross.

Our president used his “signing statements” to trash the Constitution and rule of law.

He used his veto pen to give the CIA free reign to engage in waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques, while piously claiming “America doesn’t torture.”

Our National Security Agency listens to our phone calls and intercepts our emails – and then demands immunity for the telecom companies who helped the Administration break the law.

The Chinese know all this. And so does the rest of the world.

If China agrees to restart its human right talks with the U.S., it will no doubt make all the right noises. It doesn’t dare jeopardize the billions it has invested in its Olympics infrastructure and image makeover.

But, at the end of the day, the United States will find itself hoisted by its own petard. The Chinese will go right on violating the human rights of its people.

Because our own behavior has stolen our credibility. It has robbed us of the leverage we once had. Our State Department can continue to put out its annual reports of human rights abuses around the world – and it should. But, next year, it needs to include us.

Getting another country to change anything has always been a tough sell. But it’s a lot tougher when the salesman is pitching a tainted product.