Adrian Bradshaw/European Pressphoto Agency/New York Times

Norgye, a 29-year-old monk, was one of the voices of protest during the run-up to the Olympic Games, when Chinese athletes carried the torch throughout China, including the “Tibet Autonomous Region.” Now he has been returned to the scene of his protest, the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa, to formally regret his actions:

“I wasn’t beaten or tortured,” he said. “We had to learn more about the law. Through education about the law, I realized what we had done in the past was wrong and was against the law.”

Norgye, 29, who like many Tibetans goes by one name, was speaking in the ancient inner sanctum of Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, the holiest shrine in Tibetan Buddhism. During the 10-minute interview, he was watched carefully by government employees from Beijing and Lhasa, as well as by Laba, an older monk who was the director of the temple’s administrative office. They were the escorts for a group of foreign journalists who were on a tightly scripted, five-day government tour of the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is usually closed to foreign journalists.

The manner in which the interview was monitored, with Laba interrupting several times as Norgye spoke, reflected the Chinese government’s anxiety about anything in Tibet that contradicts the official line.

How tragic that the United States’ own cynical misuse of “torture,” both as a practice and as a word, has so twisted the lexicon as to make the word meaningless. Make no mistake: This monk was beaten and tortured and the voice he speaks with now is not a free voice or a voice from the heart. The totalitarian fondness for these sickening spectacles—from show trials to struggle sessions to the barely subtler scripted media tours of present-day China—is completely baffling. They are transparently cynical, hollow, and false. They serve only to undermine the regimes they are meant to bolster. We will probably never know what terrible suffering Norgye and the other monks detained during the protests underwent. Monks and ordinary citizens still remain missing and may never reappear, silenced, murdered, for daring to speak their minds. Political prisoners rot in jails all across the globe. May they be free.