You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

The Freeman Matter Will Not Die

On March 5, 87 men and women sent President Barack Obama a letter. There are some American signatories, mostly China scholars and other academics. The rest are Chinese living in the vast diaspora far from their homeland; a few live in Honk Kong, some in Australia, most in the United States. Many of them are veterans of the struggle for freedom in China and spent time either on the run or in jail. They are all, in a way, veterans of the struggle that stretches from Lexington and Concord to Tiananmen Square and beyond. A few of them faced the tanks and went to prison for their presence at the Tiananmen protest 20 years ago.

You can feel in their measured and respectful words to the president of the United States their utter incomprehension of his appointment of Charles Freeman as chair of the National Intelligence Council. I myself have written about the president's designation of this ethically squalid man as his gatekeeper to secret information and analyses of the world in which we live. 

Much has also been written by others about Freeman's hostility to Israel, to Jews generally and to friends of Israel. His version has an old and ugly presence in Washington, going back to the lurid fantasies of James Forrestal which ended in Harry Truman's dismissal of him as secretary of defense and his suicide, jumping to his death from the 16th floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital. 

Freeman's affinity with and loyalty to the Chinese Communists also has ancestry in Washington. There were many important men and women in and around F.D.R. and Truman's administrations who sympathized with the Communists. They can at least be partially excused by their idealism, silly and misplaced as it was. That idealism brought them to idolize perhaps one of the three most brutal regimes of the last century.

This regime still exists. But it is shorn of the shabby veneer of idealism. It is cruel and it is efficient. And Charles Freeman is its patsy. Can it really be true that Barack Obama is putting this man at the center of our intelligence apparatus?

And here is the letter from these men and women to our president:

Dear President Obama: We are writing to convey our intense dismay at your selection of Charles W. Freeman to be chair of the National Intelligence Council. No American in public life has been more hostile than Mr. Freeman toward the ideals of human rights and democracy in China.

Mr. Freeman has a longstanding record of defending China's authoritarian regime. In his view, for example, China's nationwide democracy movement in spring of 1989, which protested government corruption and embraced international norms of human rights, was only the "propaganda" of "dissidents." That movement ended in the use of tanks and machine guns to massacre hundreds unarmed protesters in Beijing on June 4, 1989," but Mr. Freeman wrote, as recently as three years ago, that "the Politburo's response to the mob scene at 'Tiananmen' stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership" and that "the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud."

The prospect of a person with values such as these guiding our nation's intelligence activity is truly frightening. It is difficult to see how a person with such a strong ideological tilt toward the Chinese Communist Party will be able to provide you with unbiased assessments of the very dynamic interactions among various aggrieved segments of Chinese society and their authoritarian government. But following these trends will be one of the most important tasks of the intelligence community in the coming years.

The June Fourth massacre, which Mr. Freeman so badly misreads, is not just something that happened twenty years ago. It remains a powerful symbol for the ideals of human rights and democracy among large parts of the Chinese populace. It also, quite plainly, has remained powerful in the minds of the Chinese leaders, who for twenty years have banned any mention of the massacre from textbooks and the media in China, and who take great care to detain and "control" any citizen who might want to observe the June 4 anniversary or make "sensitive" statements. "Dissidents" were pre-emptively confined to their homes during the recent visit to Beijing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

We share your hope, Mr. President, that the United States might regain its moral standing in the world and once again be viewed as a universal beacon for fairness and justice. Your appointment of Charles Freeman could not be more damaging to this hope. Please reconsider.