I was a citizen of Atlanta when the '96 Olympics were held. I was also a member of Amnesty International back in college, and became acquainted with Equality Now a few years back thanks to the Firefly community. I support the right to freedom of assembly. I support the protesters' right to provide counterpoint, and think so-called free speech zones are nonsense, but I also acknowledge that there's a time and place for everything.
My position on this seems much a product of my upbringing in terms of feeling that it all comes back to behaving oneself. I find it pompous and self-aggrandizing when celebrities use the Academy Awards as a pulpit from which to evangelize their cause of the moment unless they've just won the Best Documentary award, and even then they should keep it short. It's not that their causes are unjust: it's simply the wrong place to make a statement. It's not why the award recipient is being honored: he or she is being recognized for acting, directing, costume design, or other apolitical work, and redirecting the purpose of the party when you are the guest and not the host is simply rude.
By the same token, the Olympics are supposed to be an apolitical international event where athletic excellence from around the world is recognized without regard to borders and origin. In its ideal form and best moments, it is simply athlete against athlete in a grand competition. The US competitors sweat the same as the the Chinese competitors, and so on.
China has an appalling human rights record, and has had for many years. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there are more effective ways to protest treatment: try as hard as you can to stop buying Chinese goods (I know it's difficult. For example, a dress could be designed and sewn in Italy, but the fabric could have been woven in China, and with labeling as it is, you'd never know); write letters, participate in lobbying efforts, and so on. Blog and spread awareness.
Furthermore, a boycott isn't going to do much besides deprive the athletes and make political relations between the superpowers even cooler (They were ticked over President Bush meeting with the Dalai Lama back in October, but that would likely pale compared to the outrage over being snubbed with a boycott). Despite the offense, China would go right on and have the Olympics: they're not going to say, "Oh, we spent all this money, but a percentage of citizens in the US, France, and other western nations object to our treatment of Tibet, so sorry, they're cancelled." Ain't gonna happen. What will happen is a missed opportunity for the athletes of the boycotting nation, and a cheapened victory for the athletes who do compete, ever after wondering what might have been had the event had the full participation of nations.
Essentially, it'd be a symbolic reiteration of the position that we disapprove of China's methods. Their government and military officials know this. They do not care. If they did care, they would have changed already.
This is not a new discussion. I was nineteen years old when protesters in Tiananmen Square demonstrated against their authoritarian government. We're just about a year away from the 20th anniversary of those events. A boycott isn't going to stop the tanks.
I do not fool myself that the Olympics themselves are apolitical. I do not doubt the corruption and bribery of IoC officials. However, just because others are unethical and discourteous does not mean that it is acceptable to follow their lead. As many a mother has said, just because the rest of the class jumped off the bridge doesn't mean it's a good idea.
We can oppose China's actions and still remain gracious competitors on the Olympic stage. The one does not conflict with the other, for they are simply different arenas, and, in my opinion, should remain so.