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North Korea's Latest American Hostage

August 23, 2013 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Kenneth Bae apparently entered North Korea to do good, which in Pyongyang’s view is bad. He ended up in prison. He and his family are calling on Washington to do something. However, Americans who travel the globe on personal missions to undermine foreign governments shouldn’t expect rescue if they are caught.

Bae is a 44-year-old Christian missionary. He was arrested last November while leading a tour of Chinese businessmen in the Rason special economic zone. His courage clearly exceeded his judgment. He apparently explained his plans for proselytizing in an online video posted two years ago. He suffers from an enlarged heart, diabetes, and a bad back, a dubious trifecta for someone playing secret agent. And the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea views religion as a particularly serious threat. The only thing in his favor is the fact that as an American he is of value to Pyongyang as a bargaining chip.

After being convicted of “hostile acts” four months ago, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His family received letters from him last month which, said his sister, Terri Chung, “contained the same message — Kenneth’s health is failing, and he asked us to seek help from our government to bring him home.” He urged Washington to send an envoy to seek a pardon for him.

Bae apparently was transferred to a hospital earlier this month. Chung observed: “There’s more urgency than ever to bring him home.” Bae’s mother was even more insistent: “I don’t see any action. I want to ask them, send an envoy or do something. As a mother, I am really getting angry, really getting angry. What do they do?”

It’s a tragic situation. The last thing one should wish on anyone is a lengthy stay at the Pyongyang Hilton.

But it isn’t the responsibility of the U.S. government to win the release American citizens who voluntarily and knowingly violate the laws of other nations. I say that as someone who traveled multiple times with ethnic Karen guerrillas in eastern Burma. Things could have gotten ugly, but I accepted the risk; I didn’t expect a dramatic rescue from Washington. After all, I’d chosen to walk into a war zone.

In Bae’s case the U.S. has called for his humanitarian release. The DPRK almost certainly wants to use him to win one concession or another. In the past that usually meant a high-level visit to Pyongyang. In 2009 …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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