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CHINA'S JAILING OF ACTIVIST WU SHOWS IMPENETRABLE STUPIDITY

The commandants of the gulags of the world and their security-ministry masters have two things in common, in whatever country they operate. They have a taste for torture, and they are very stupid.

Perhaps part of the combination comes from genetics. Some people seem to be born to fight for freedom and others to draw blood from them.But the stupidity comes from a particular environment - the totalitarian environment. The guardians of the gulags never have to test their minds against those of free men and women.

The first such individual I encountered was a governor of Goa when it was a Portuguese colony in India. He gave me permission to tour his prison to show me that the people for whom I was searching - Indian Socialists who had crossed the border carrying freedom flags - were not in his custody. He led me down a cell row leading left from a main corridor; large, sparsely occupied cells, Socialist-free.

As he showed me out, of course I walked to the right. The cells were packed with prisoners who had just been jammed into them, my Socialists. They held up arms livid with cigarette burns. The governor looked at me in astonishment that anyone would ever think of turning in an unauthorized direction.

In the Soviet gulag, a commandant was stunned that a visitor shown a glistening clean, white isolation cell would smell the walls and discover they were damp with fresh paint.

How dull these people are. But for impenetrable stupidity, I have rarely known anything like the film the Chinese made and sold to Western news organizations. This film is supposed to show that Harry Wu confessed that his reports are false.

My Harry, your Harry, the Harry of all who admire those who put their lives on the line for freedom. Harry Wu spent 19 years in Chinese slave-labor camps. After he was freed, he made his way to America. But he kept returning to China to get even more information to spread before the world about slave-labor exports that support China's military establishment. And he has reported about organs taken from executed Chinese prisoners, then sold to sick, rich Chinese and foreigners who do not inquire whether the prisoners are guilty or of what.

Of course, Harry Wu was heard confessing to nothing except maybe some editing errors by a BBC editor of his own organ documentary. The gulag film really shows how hard Wu resisted, not that they had broken him.

The United States hopes that the film means the Communists are getting ready to release Wu. But there is as good a chance that the police apparatus will demand continued imprisonment.

American diplomats are doing their personal best to help Wu. But if he is released, it will not be because of irresistible U.S. government pressure.

There has been none applied that Beijing would recognize - raising of tariffs, barring China from the World Trade Organization or blocking a World Bank loan. By breaking his promise to apply pressure for human rights in China and Tibet, President Clinton made himself the prisoner of Beijing.

The only realistic hope is that some Chinese foreign-service officers who are not brain-dead will be able to overrule the security police, who gave Wu and his fully documented reports world recognition by arresting him.

Harry Wu has won his victory. The only way China can now cut its losses and save face is to set him free.