Does US approve of summary executions?

By David Borden, Executive Director

The mass executions of drug offenders by the Chinese government, marking the United Nation's "International Anti-Drugs Day," are not surprising. Amnesty International has been writing about it for at least five years, but these latest killings raise troubling new questions in light of the US government's recent decision to enter into cooperative intelligence and evidence sharing with Chinese agencies on drug trafficking. Will US drug agents, employed with US taxpayer dollars, indirectly participate in a totalitarian government's cruelties, even subsidize them?

There seems, of course, a clear risk of this happening, something inevitable over time if the cooperative drug enforcement program goes forward. There will certainly be alleged drug offenders apprehended by Chinese authorities in the years ahead as a result of information provided by US agents, and barring a substantive shift in China's criminal justice policies, they will be executed.

Most of them, according to Amnesty, will not be the major drug traffickers that the Chinese and US governments make them out to be. Rather, they will be low level drug offenders; often just possessors caught in the system at a time when a totalitarian bureaucrat needs to fill a quota.

Indeed, many of them will not be guilty at all. Even in the United States, with our multiple levels of appeals and due process protections, we are just beginning to accept the reality that execution of the wrongfully convicted is a possibility and has probably happened more than we would like to believe. How many innocent lives have been sacrificed in China where there is no realistic system of due process and the death penalty is imposed thousands of times per year? In China, according to Amnesty, there is no presumption of innocence; the right to defense counsel is severely limited, and the outcome of a trial is often predetermined. Torture is sometimes used to extract confessions, and appeals are limited to one try at best, sometimes none.

One case in particular has stuck in my mind since Amnesty brought it forward three years ago: A young woman, returning to Guangzhou province from her honeymoon in Kunming in January 1996, agreed to take a package for an acquaintance in return for some money, a common practice in China. During the train ride she became suspicious about the contents, tried to open the package, couldn't, and began to realize it contained drugs. Seeing her agitation, a ticket checker on the train seized the package and turned her in. On June 26, 1996 -International Anti-Drugs Day - the Guangxi High People's Court sentenced her to death.

For Barry McCaffrey, a Cabinet-level representative of our President, to forge such a partnership - indeed, to meet with Chinese drug officials in person and announce the program with media fanfare - is abhorrent. That it comes at a time when both the death penalty and trade relations with China are major political issues is particularly callous. How dare our drug czar make such an agreement, with our resources, knowing that the final application of our dollars may be a summary verdict and a bullet to the back of the head? And how dare the UN Drug Control Program continue to hold its "Anti-Drugs Day" year after year, knowing that each time a totalitarian, rights-abusing government is thereby provoked into carrying out dozens of state-sponsored murders?

Trade relations with China is a complex international issue, and advocates of democracy and human rights may reasonably come to different conclusions as to which is the right course to follow. There can be no possible benefit to human rights progress, however, from working with Chinese drug enforcement agencies. Nor do any credible authorities believe that international drug control programs thus far have controlled drugs, reduced their use or mitigated the consequences of their abuse, in China, the United States or anywhere else. This is not an issue where it can be argued that one evil should be tolerated for a greater good.
McCaffrey's China connection should be severed, and the International Anti-Drugs Day abolished - before we the people become complicit in yet hundreds more unjustly stolen lives.

(Thanks to Dave Borden and Phil Smith for submitting the preceding news article and editorial from Issue #143 of The Week Online with DRCNet, 6/30/00. Visit:

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