China: A Paragon of Due Process, an Example for Observing International Law?

When the New York Times and others published the story that China had decided against using an armed drone over Myanmar’s territory to kill an infamous drug lord wanted in the horrific murders of 13 Chinese sailors, but instead captured the man alive and brought him to trial in China, it was acclaimed by some who oppose the use of drones by the U.S. to target terrorists as a magnanimous act of justice, morality and respect for international law.

Some credited the Chinese regime with greater moral conscience and respect for international law than the United States.

This credit to a country that according to Human Rights Watch, “continues to be an authoritarian one-party state that imposes sharp curbs on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organizations, often through extra-judicial measures.”

Have we already forgotten Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Xinjiang, etc.?

Dennis M. Gormley, an expert on unmanned aircraft at the University of Pittsburgh, after expressing little surprise at China’s original plan to use an armed drone to go after the drug lord — “Given the gruesome nature of the 2011 killings and the Chinese public’s outcry for action” — brazenly blames the United States for allegedly providing a bad example to China — a country that has violated just about every human right and which is guilty of using the most loathsome and brutal tools of warfare, torture and oppression against its own people and other countries. He says, “And [the Chinese] surely will have America’s armed drone practice as a convenient cover for legitimating their own practice,” according to the Times.

Liu Yuejin, the director of the Ministry of Public Security’s anti-drug bureau told the Global Times, “One plan was to use an unmanned aircraft to carry 20 kilograms of TNT to bomb the area, but the plan was rejected, because the order was to catch him alive.”

One certainly has to wonder whether such order was eventually given for legal or humanitarian reasons, or perhaps because of the information Chinese officials were anxious to extract from the drug lord, Naw Kham, and his gang members.

Again, Human Rights Watch: “Weak courts and tight limits on the rights of the defense mean that forced confessions under torture remain prevalent and miscarriages of justice frequent.”

“Naw Kham and three members of his gang were sentenced to death on November 6 last year for killing 13 Chinese sailors, according to a verdict from the Intermediate People’s Court of Kunming. On December 26, the Provincial Higher People’s Court of Yunnan maintained the sentences, rejecting appeals.” says the Global Times.

Kham and his gang members probably deserve such severe sentences and will join the other 5,000 to 8,000 men and women who Human Rights Watch believes — the exact number is a state secret — are executed every year in China, making it a world leader in executions.

The same drone expert who claims that America’s armed drone practice will give China a convenient cover for legitimizing their own practice also suggests that the decision not to carry out a drone strike might reflect a lack of confidence in untested Chinese craft, control systems or drone pilots, according to the Times.

Could that perhaps have been one of the reasons for abandoning the armed drone plan, instead of China’s thirst for due process?

I do not have the answers to such questions, but given China’s abominable human rights record and the nature of its justice system and the character of its military and security forces, I would not be throwing bouquets at this incident solely to prove a point on the use of drones for anti-terrorist or military purposes.

Image: www.shutterstock.com

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist

22 Comments

  1. Thanks for another fine article, DDW! I have enjoyed your insightfiul and fair coverage of the drone issues. I continue to look forward to your regular contributions here at TMV. Keep On Truckin’ …

  2. Thanks, KP. Will try (to keep on truckin’)

  3. Watched an interesting documentary last evening called Surviving Progress. It is recent and relevant to the discussing we have shared on drones.. Found it on instant view Netflix and it is recent. Definitely worth a watch if it is accessible…

    This bracing documentary considers whether human “progress” stemming from the Industrial Age could be paving the way for civilization’s collapse. The film asks a range of thinkers whether the modern world might be headed for a “progress trap.”
    Stephen Hawking
    David Suzuki
    Jane Goodall
    Margaret Atwood
    Colin Beavan
    Simon Johnson

    Thanks Dorian…and Tidbits… and KP….

  4. That documentary certainly sounds intriguing, and foreboding. Will try to find it. Thanks OS.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Petew.

    I agree with your overall assessment of China’s abysmal human rights record and — given that record — reasons to doubt that China’s motives for not using drones to flush out or kill the drug lord and his gang were all that noble.

    On the same token, I understand how and why Americans have concerns about our own drone programs. However, I strongly believe that contrasting our country’s measured use of drones to China’s planned use or its one-time restraint in using drones (for whatever reasons or motives) is a bit over the top.

    As I mentioned in my post, there have been several comments in that direction.

    Here is another one:

    When the United States is doing the same things that one of the most brutal communist regimes in the world is doing, shouldn’t that cause Americans to pause and reflect on where the U.S. national-security state has led and continues to lead our nation?

  6. Who knows why China did what they did. The fact is they did it whether they have a lousy record or not. No one has to praise them for one act or condemn them for their prior stuff. After all, some, including me, feel that dropping A-bombs on Japan and other acts of war put the U.S. in history’s worst actors category.

    So, back to the present. Here we are with this drone thing and again I don’t feel anyone is being vilified, but I do believe there are strong feelings given that we are murdering U.S. citizens and justifying, no legalizing, it with a White House lawyer’s memo. That is pretty weak and should be criticized. However, the killing of innocents is indeed barbaric and they don’t have a fancy lawyer to make their families feel better. So, as I have noted before, being a pragmatist I think CAREFUL use of the drones is good military strategy, but I certainly doubt that it is morally correct and not CAREFUL enough.
    To that extent ES is absolutely correct in his opinion on the military usage thus far, and I admire his beliefs and hope that the personalization and the bullying perception is unintentional and is amplified by an overage of rhetorical spin.

  7. Hello there: Please stay with the topic, not what one thinks of writer or commenter or commenterS. Then all is well and will be well. Thanks.

    archangel/ dr.e

  8. I’m laughing because when it suits its purposes, the U.S. China, and other countries just ignore “international law”. There is so much hypocrisy around you have to wear wading boots.

  9. Thanks, Duck. For what its worth, it is not easy taking unpopular positions. Sparrow linked an article the other day that nearly 90% of Americans supported our drone policy.

    I keep thinking back that it was about the same percentage who supported the “Use of Force” provision that led to the Iraq invasion. My wife and I had friends, neighbors and even relatives who questioned our patriotism because we wouldn’t believe the WMD claims in the face UN weapons inspectors who said it wasn’t true and we wouldn’t believe the Iraq-is-AlQaeda’s-best-buddy claim when most objective reports had bin Laden hating the secular government of Saddam.

    But, we stuck to our beliefs, and we got called all sorts of things, and here we are 10 years later and they’re running television specials about how the WMD claims and the Iraq/AlQaeda link claim was all a bunch of hooey. Somehow all those folks who called us traitors during the lead-up to the Iraq invasion have forgotten what they called us when our views were unpopular…before the common wisdom caught up.

    There was also that little deal called the Gulf of Tonken Resolution that led to Vietnam. The Gulf of Tonken has been pretty much debunked as an excuse for war too. That’s not in any way denegrating to those who served, btw; they did their duty and deserved better treatment than they got coming home.

    Then there was that little thing about the battleship Maine and how the Spanish blew it to smitherines in Havana Harbor and how we just needed to go to war over that.

    In all those things there were a tiny minority of people who questioned the government and said “I don’t buy it” right then when it was happening. And, I imagine they were all called traitors or some such unpleasant thing for holding opinions that most people didn’t like.

    Then earlier in the week I saw Sparrow’s link where 90% or so thought the drone policy was a good idea, and I thought “Oh sh*t, here we go again. I’m a traitor again.”

    But,you know what? Talk to me in 10 years. Maybe I will have been proven wrong, who knows? But, given how challenged our government is when it comes to honesty and transparency don’t be surprised if the poll numbers are different, and maybe they’re even running television specials about all this stuff. Doesn’t matter. No one will remember who dared to take the unpopular view back when it was unpopular.

    Yeah, I get tired of the nasty insinuations. You’d think I’d learn to quit taking unpopular positions. Bet after this comment I’ll get criticized for playing victim or sounding arrogant and self righteous. It’s a pretty thankless job, this willingness to take unpopular positions. Did I mention that I oppose the death penalty and that I think the Patriot Act is un-American? Hell, being opposed to our drone policy is child’s play compared to those views.

  10. This is the problem I’ve had with both the US government’s attitude that has trickled down to our citizens. So many of the things we’ve done over the past 50 years where we have all but bullied weaker nations into what we want/need from them is hypocrisy at its finest. There are so many things our nation has done that had it been done to us, we’d (politicians and the public, alike) have pitched such a loud fit it probably would’ve blown out a few eardrums. When US citizens get detained in foreign countries, many times we expect a certain level of treatment (almost like they’re going to recognize our Bill of Rights for us). However, Guantanamo prisoners are being held indefinitely because they’re not American citizens, even though we’ve treated foreign caught here to the same judicial process as set forth in the Constitution. That’s blatantly antithetical to some of the principals of our government. The National Archives should consider opening the display cases of the Constitution and Bill of Rights to add the the slogan under it, “Membership has its privileges.” That sort of action troubles me because we are either ignorant of this or we’re arrogant and dismissive of it when we deal with other nations. Picture Mel Brook’s portrayal of King Louis the XVI whenever he said, “It’s good to be the king.” As an American, I always expect better than that from our government because we are a leader in so many other ways and many of these good examples have provided an impetus for other countries to follow us.

    However, while I’m being critical of the public and our government I’m not absolving myself. There have been times (as I’ve admitted in other columns) that while I morally question the military using the drones in relation to civilian casualties, I’m not so much opposed as taking out people who all but admit to being enemy combatants of the USA. I think we have to remember that as technology progresses battlefield strategies change. After centuries of open field battles where opposing armies just lined up and killed each other until one side retreated, WWI brought about both trench and submarine warfare. “Old timers” in the military thought both kinds of warfare to be disreputable and cowardly. When military aircraft got to good enough to be able to take out whole towns during bombing raids, Army soldiers derided the Army Air Force’s tactics as being “too impersonal” (translation: no honor in killing that way). But, guess what? When their side started taking on too many casualties, they adopted these new strategies as well. So, it is with the latest incarnation of drones that we see yet another leap in military combat. I’m not a fan of any war overwhelmingly approve of diplomacy. However, if fighting does break out, I don’t mind giving our side a little latitude (very little) if it means keeping the number of our troops, sailors, pilots and marines safe and out of physical combat; and it is done in conjunction with frequent performance reviews that with the intention of improving it so that collateral damage is as close to zero as possible.

    With regards to China, I find it funny that they have no problem picking up on our bad habits while ignoring many of our good ones. I have my own theories as to why China was allowed into Myanmar and it has everything to do with each country’s military. They’ve invaded for less, you know. Even though I don’t at all equivocate China’s actions with our own, we have had instances where if you were to play a game of “Guess which country’s military/government did this?” you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish the two. Again, China’s abuses (human rights and economic) dwarf our own, but I feel like there have been instances where we’ve stepped closer to China’s side of the political fence rather than having them come over to ours. Sadly, I don’t know how I should feel about that either: secure, paranoid, sad, content, or what?

    We don’t live in a perfect world run by perfect people. I just hope we still have enough to lead us who haven’t lost their way where one day we’ll wake up looking through the foggy windows of our government only to watch a meeting between leaders from the US and China, but not be able to tell them apart. That more than anything else is the fear I have for my government and fellow citizens.

  11. brcarthey,

    As I believe I have said before — after reading your comments –many of us are conflicted about the twists and turns our nation has taken since 9/11.

    Having spoken (and written) against the Vietnam War, after first supporting it while in the military (sounds familiar?), I lost many of my military contemporaries as friends.

    Then after speaking up (and writing) against the Iraq War, torture, Guantanamo, warrantless wiretapping — pretty much the entire Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld neocon agenda — I was pretty much ostracized by my military “buddies.”

    So, after all such personal setbacks, when I take a stand on something it is after after a lot of soul-searching, not done lightly and fully aware of the consequences — but also understanding of the same soul-searching others are going through.

    That is perhaps why I take kindly and listen more to those who face similar dilemmas as I have faced and am sometimes taken aback by unbending, cocksure moral certitudes…

    But then again, where would we be without moral, ethical and religious certitudes and without disagreements? :)

    p.s. I believe you asked one time to be forgiven for “droning on” or something similar. Now I do the same.

  12. DDW,

    Thank you for your kind response. You were not droning on, quite the contrary. So many of my posts have been long (winded?) because I write like I would as if I’m having a face-to-face conversation. Unfortunately, that’s a short-coming of mine as I feel I may lose people some times while I’m trying to elucidate my thoughts and feelings in my response(s). You, however (as well as other writers here), seem to be able to say quite a bit while using fewer words. Hopefully, one day, I will be able to do the same. Cheers!

  13. Great thread. It’s hopeful for me to see how much DDW, brcarthey and ES have in common.

  14. ES, what you consider unpopular positions are very popular with those that are skeptical, and that is my unpopular position. I think because of your zeal and past “unpopular” positions, that you are rightfully over sensitive to new ones such as this drone issue. Talk to the rabbits more often and be well.

    BTW, holding a view that is against whatever crowd you are in, for instance in a more liberal one like TMV, means you take heat, just as I would on a conservative blog because I am pro-life, anti campaign money power, pro gun control, VERY skeptical on fracking (Walter Brasch did a fine article and got one comment, mine), and many others.
    Am I wrong or just in the wrong church (oh, I am also an atheist).
    Bottom line of this TOO long comment, is we need people like you to keep the preaching to the choir to a minimum and less tag-team wrestling tactics.
    Keep up the good work.

  15. Duck,

    You made me laught. …
    Either I’m really good at calling the shots as in my prior comment or I really am an arrogant self pitying so-and-so. Hmmm, there’s some food for thought. :)

    At least I still have a sense of humor. Enjoy avoiding church this Sunday morning my athiest friend.

  16. we need people like you to keep the preaching to the choir to a minimum and less tag-team wrestling tactics.

    I agree dduck. As one of the most “liberal” in a family of moderated conservatives to “rabid righties” it’s made me be less knee-jerky and combative/agitative in my own comments (not that ES has been IMO). Speaking with them as well as my conservative friends or posters like yourself has made me: 1. more respectful of my tone, and 2. try to consider both sides of the debate. That’s not to say you won’t see me on other blogs or comment threads making snarky comments to very outlandish comments (no matter which side it is).

    As within my own family and friends, I grew tired of us talking past each other and not considering the other person’s view. I think most of the American electorate feels the same way and hope it’s only a matter of time before this intransigent fever in Washington breaks.

    What’s funny to me is that of the positions you hold, I disagree with only two. I’ll let you figure out which two if you feel like it. ;) The larger context is that I think >85% of Americans hold the same views/goals it’s just the means on how to achieve them is where we disagree.

  17. ES, I said, not to quibble, “rightfully over sensitive” and justified by you being absolutely right on WMD, where the rest of us including a majority of congress were wrong. Fighting against that tide with stupid people can only do damage to one.
    Above all, keep that sense of humor, and yes, I do enjoy avoiding church on Sunday or any day. :-)

  18. Thanks. brcarthey

    I watched the trailer you linked to. Powerful and alarming.

    You may have heard or read, there are presently investigations and court-martials going on at Lackland Air Force Base related to sexual abuse of female recruits.

    it is a big problem in the military and, as you say, Panetta has acted forcefully.

    BTW, where can one see the whole documentary?

  19. it’s available on itunes and at amazon for download/streaming or if you want to go the theater, here’s a list of screenings around the country: http://www.notinvisible.org/screenings

    I had heard something about Lackland a few months ago, but just as quickly as it made news, it was quickly buried in the national media. I honestly wonder what the general public believes happens to our military vets after they come home from battle. Between this and the underfunded medical and psychiatric care vets receive, I sometimes believe the public thinks y’all must have it made and the same perks and pay as Congress. Sadly, hardly anyone in the media seems to care

  20. Thanks, brcarthey, and thanks for the kind thoughts for our veterans.

  21. More than one person on this thread contacted us in admin. with conflicting opinions about various goings on. If you want to have a discussion about commenters, off topic subjects, please take it offline between yourselves. If you want to clarify commenting rules for yourself, please –they are at the top of masthead on the home page. The rules for commenters here are very few and hold firmly to civility.

    We keep a comment field here on TMV as a courtesy for our commenters who stay to the topic of the post, not each other, not triangulating with personal opinions about what commenter or writer is over the top or under the table or whatever else.

    Most persons, most of the time, stay within those stated boundaries for civil discussion. It is appreciated. Though as we state in commenters’ rules, we reserve the right to edit or delete any comment that falls outside the stated purpose, frankly, I wish I could, but with family, day jobs, life challenges and the big pay at TMV [$0 ] I cannot very often edit comments so they remain civil. I depend on our commenters to self-check.

    Again, if you want to have a conversation with one another, hopefully in good will, about matters that are OT, off topic away from the post, contact each other personally offsite, if both or more parties agree.

    I’d suggest too that it’s easy to forget that many MANY more persons read comments for factual and teaching content, than leave comments. Readers peruse comments when they are interesting re various ideas about the actual topic. Not the writer. Not the other commenters.

    The latter re opining about other people’s minds or hearts, can be had, if one wishes to spend one’s time reading people’s projections about others they do not know, ad nauseam across the blogosphere on sites both big and small. TMV holds to a different standard. Overall, I can see from emails we receive as admins, and I believe, our commenters enrich the conversations on topic. And I like to read comments here too, because I often learn from how you see life and ideas.

    Thank you.

    archangel/ dr.e

  22. Thanks, dr.e.

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