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DPRK sentences 2 US journalists to 12 years hard labor

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/world/as...tml?_r=1&hp

SEOUL, South Korea — With the Obama administration signaling a tougher response toward Pyongyang after weeks of growing tension, North Korea’s highest court on Monday sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor, dramatically raising the stakes in its confrontation with the United States.

The sentencing introduced yet one more imponderable factor into Washington’s stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions. The court’s decision came as the United States displays increasing impatience with what President Obama has called Pyongyang’s “extraordinarily provocative” behavior in recent weeks. For its part, the North Korean leadership has shown no sign of backing away from its taunts and challenges directed at the United States and its regional allies.

“This is a high-stakes poker game,” said Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico who as a congressman helped negotiate the release of American citizens held in North Korea in the 1990s. He was speaking on NBC’s “Today” show and called the sentence “harsher than expected.”

North Korea’s Central Court convicted the two Americans, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry,” the North’s official news agency, KCNA, said in a report monitored in Seoul.

Ms. Ling, 32, and Ms. Lee, 36, were detained by North Korean soldiers patrolling the border between China and North Korea on March 17.

President Obama was “deeply concerned” by reports of the journalists’ sentencing, the White House said in a statement Monday. The United States is “engaged through all possible channels to secure their release,” the statement said.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, quashed hopes that the regime might release the journalists as a gesture to ease a standoff with Washington.

But Mr. Richardson, said there may be an opportunity to press for the release of the two journalists. “In previous instances where I was involved in negotiating, you could not get this started until the legal process had ended.” He noted that North Korea had not so far publicly linked the plight of the two women to Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea launched a rocket on April 5 in what was widely believed to be a test of its long-range Taepodong-2 missile. On May 25, it conducted its second nuclear test in less than three years and then test-fired several short-range missiles.

Mr. Richardson said the United States could try to seek a kind of “political pardon, some sort of respite from political proceedings,” The Associated Press reported.

The North’s labor camps are notoriously brutal. International human rights groups and North Korean defectors say detainees are subjected to frequent beatings, hunger and inhumane workloads. Ms. Ling is said to suffer an ulcer, while Ms. Lee has a four-year-old daughter at home.

The sentencing of the journalists came two days after President Obama, meeting President Nicolas Sarkozy in France, indicated that he was considering a tougher response to North Korea, saying: “We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation.”

It was not clear, though, whether those words had influenced the sentencing, which was sterner than many expected.

“The North Koreans meted out a verdict somewhat harsher than I had expected,” said Lee Woo-young, a North Korea specialist at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul. “But ultimately the verdict doesn’t mean much because this has to be resolved politically in the end.”

When they were detained, Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were working for Current TV, a San Francisco-based media company co-founded by Al Gore, the former vice president. Lisa Ling, Laura Ling’s sister, told ABC television the journalists were working on a story about the trafficking of women from North Korea into China, but other reports said they were reporting on North Korean refugees who had fled their country. The North charged them with illegally entering North Korean territory.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the charges against them “baseless.”

On Sunday, Ms. Clinton indicated that Washington may restore North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, further isolating the country.

The families of the journalists made no immediate public statement about the court ruling, and Mr. Gore has not spoken publicly about the case. The families had appealed for clemency and said their public reticence was intended to give space for diplomacy.

The human rights group Amnesty International sharply criticized the legal procedures behind the women’s sentence and called for their immediate release. “No access to lawyers, no due process, no transparency: the North Korean judicial and penal systems are more instruments of suppression than of justice,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Based on its own studies of the North Korean penal system, the group said that prisoners are often forced to work 10 hours or more a day, with no rest days, performing demanding work that can include logging and stone quarrying. Beatings are not infrequent, even for forgetting the words to patriotic songs. Food, hygienic conditions and medical care are poor, taking a toll on prisoners’ health, Amnesty said.

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists described the sentence as “deplorable” and called on all participants in the Six-Party talks on North Korea — both Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States — to work together for their release.

Mr. Lee of the Sejong Institute said that North Korea would eventually free the two journalists, as Iran expelled Roxana Saberi, an American journalist who spent four months in an Iranian prison before her release on May 11 — but not before Washington sends a prominent special envoy like Mr. Gore to Pyongyang.

In 1996, Mr. Richardson, then a member of Congress, traveled to Pyongyang to negotiate the release of Evan Hunziker, who was held for three months on charges of spying. Mr. Hunziker, apparently drunk, swam across the river border between China and North Korea and was detained. He was also instrumental in negotiations to obtain the release of an American pilot shot down over the North in 1994.

Analysts said dispatching a special envoy to free the journalists could provide Washington and Pyongyang an opportunity to reopen dialogue. But Mr. Richardson said talk of sending an envoy seemed premature.

It also remained unclear whether Pyongyang was ready for a compromise with the United States.

Some analysts say that North Korea’s recent bellicosity has been driven by domestic political considerations. Kim Jong-il, the nation’s leader, is ailing and reportedly preparing to hand power to his youngest son. Mr. Kim may thus be attempting to secure the support of hardline generals who consider a goodwill gesture toward Washington capitulation.

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I think that the best solution here is to either put major pressure on N. Korea by stating that if they aren't freed then we will retaliate militarily, or to go in and get them commando style. I can't really think of a downside to taking some military action against N. Korea other than it might piss off China, which I suppose is something to consider.

What do you all think?

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It is impossible to come up with a proper course of action for the US government without knowing what the President knows: are these two people American spies or not?

If they're not (and they're probably not), then the amount of weight they hold should be significantly less, when it comes to US foreign policy. As much as I empathize with these people (and I do, I can't help but feel sorry for them), the US government can't risk a nuclear war over two people who were irresponsible enough to go to N-Korea.

And Dr, Chiill, the major downside to attacking North Korea is that they are pretty likely to nuke both Seoul and tens of thousand of American soldiers, if we do. (at this point, your suggestion would be comparable to a military incursion into Russia, in the 70's, to free a couple of journalists they sentenced to forced labor)

If we are to attack N-Korea, it better be a nuclear attack on every potential launching site they may have. Not exactly a realistic scenario. The best course of action is to just work toward a complete embargo on them, and hope for a coup.

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Responding weakly to this will invite further aggression towards our people and national interests. We should take ALL necessary action to get our people home, and should do so as soon as possible. The paramount responsibility of any government is the protection of its citizens. People kidnapping our innocents and working them to death is exactly the thing we should react violently and immediately to.

But I suspect we'll just ask the UN to write them a nasty letter.

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I see your point Jake, but it just doesn't make sense to let a country like North Korea do what is wishes to our people. America cannot afford to appear weak in the worlds eyes. I guess i was making my point on the presumption that North Korea was not fully nuclear capable, if they are it changes the whole ballgame.

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Some of you seem to be working on the premise that the US military should go to war every time an American deides to go into one of the many dictatorships on Earth and gets in trouble.

I disagree. The US has no business risking the lives of thousands of soldiers for the sake of two people who chose to walk into a country where we would have to go to war to help them. We don't look weak, we look sane if we don't start a nuclear war over them.

We are looking weak for other reasons, like the constant pointless negotiations we've been doing with N Korea.

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I had heard that they may have been in China as well, but this seems unlikely as I would think China to be very upset by a North Korean incursion on their territory. But since they seem to be relatively quiet on this issue I somewhat doubt it.

I see what you mean Jake, it is illogical to "send in the cavalry" every time some careless American ends up in a foreign prison. But with North Korea they have repeatedly acted out against us, so don't you think a discussion of military action at least has some merit?

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  • 2 weeks later...
I think that the best solution here is to either put major pressure on N. Korea by stating that if they aren't freed then we will retaliate militarily, or to go in and get them commando style. I can't really think of a downside to taking some military action against N. Korea other than it might piss off China, which I suppose is something to consider.

What do you all think?

I just want to say that I am absolutely in support of this, just in a little more secretive form. We should not start an open war with them, because they might retaliate against Seoul. A secret special ops force to get them out, or a Pearl Harbor style attack would be a good show.

The DRNK did something so morally atrocious when it arrested two innocent, foreign citizens, that the United States would be morally justified in destroying it just for that, not to mention the hundreds of other morally outrageous acts it has committed. But when a government sentences two foreign citizens to 12 years in a labor camp - that government has proclaimed it's own barbarism so wholly and nearly irrevocably, there is nothing wrong with blowing the whole thing up.

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The US gov. is not the moral arbiter of the World. If we were, we would have far greater moral outrages than two people sent to labour camp for 12 years to right first.

We have allies in the region, who would be in danger of nuclear attack as a consequence of any military action, not just all out war. In fact what you're suggesting (a limited strike) would mean more danger to them, since it would leave the NK regime intact.

How is it rational foreign policy to attack NK, risking alliances and major hubs of civilization like Tokyo or Seoul, every time two Americans sneak into NK and get captured, despite clear warnings from the State Department that NK territory is not an area where the US gov. can protect them?

Should we have attacked the Soviet Union, risking all out nuclear war, if Americans were arrested in Moscow, just because what they did to people in the Soviet Union was immoral?

I've heard a lot of speculation that the reporters were actually dragged in across the border which changes the dynmaic greatly.

Not really. The US gov. can't be expected to protect Americans wondering about in Southern China either.

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  • 1 month later...

So we all know by now that Ling and Lee are safely returned to American soil after the North Koreans requested Bill Clinton meet with Kim Jong-Il to negotiate a release. The White House did ask Mr. Clinton to make the trip and had already contacted the North Koreans and came to an understanding that if Clinton were to go to Pyongyang, he would have to depart that afterward with the Americans. It is unknown what exactly occured during Clinton's meeting with the head of the Communist state, as well as Mr. Kim Kye Gwan, the DPRK's chief nuclear negotiator, but the White House maintains that it was a private, humanitarian mission by Clinton and that there was no negotiations nor no apologies on behalf of the US government. The North Koreans maintain that Mr. Clinton did apologize on behalf of the US government and in return the Americans were granted a special pardon.

Some Republicans and others, most notably Ambassador John Bolton are claiming that the North Korean's imprisonment of the two Americans amounts to a state-sponsored terror act as Ling and Lee were basically held for political hostage, and the Obama administration's response "comes dangerously close to negotiating with terrorists" and potentially puts Americans at greater risk in the future.

Was this the right thing to do, yes or no, and why?

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Some Republicans and others, most notably Ambassador John Bolton are claiming that the North Korean's imprisonment of the two Americans amounts to a state-sponsored terror act as Ling and Lee were basically held for political hostage, and the Obama administration's response "comes dangerously close to negotiating with terrorists" and potentially puts Americans at greater risk in the future.

Was this the right thing to do, yes or no, and why?

If the only thing Clinton delivered was an "apology" from Obama, then I think it's fine. The N. Koreans gave up hostages for nothing, except some stupid satisfaction no one cares about except the NK leadership, in their stupidity.

But, if they actually gave them something in exchange (which I've seen no evidence of), then it would be wrong.

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I agree with Jake. Actual prisoners of war would be a different case because the gov't ordered them to be where they were and what they were doing and has a moral responsibility to rescue them if they are captured. Sending troops into another nation is an act of war in the first place, no matter whether that war has been declared or not.

Civilians visiting foreign lands of their own free will travel at their own risk. Only if the capture of the civilians consists of an actual attack (such as Somali pirates attacking an American cruise vessel) is the American Gov't morally required to act and seek redress. But the gov't doesn't exist to protect civilians from the consequences of their own *illegal* behavior, whether at home or abroad.

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I must say, I am a bit confused by Yaron Brook's recent comments (http://arc-tv.com/bill-clinton-in-north-korea/) regarding the issue. On CNBC he suggested that it was the wrong thing to do, that the US should not have sent Mr. Clinton to North Korea because it was negotiating with evil. There was nothing to gain from it, and it put Americans in danger. It was a weak move of appeasement and President Obama should have asked Mr. Clinton not to go and they should have looked at other ways to get the Americans released.

I agree that the US foreign policy has been one of appeasement, altruism, multilateralism, neoconservatism, weakness and self-immolation for decades, but it seems that there is nothing wrong with Bill Clinton's actions to achieve the safety of two Americans, albiet that it was done with out a principled understanding of the moral nature of the situation.

This is contrasted with Ayn Rand's comments regarding the North Korean's imprisonment of US sailors during the USS Pueblo incident. In Jan. 1968, the North Koreans surrounded a small US Navy Vessel in international waters with torpedo destroyers, submarines, and MiG fighters. The DPRK attackers chased the American ship and eventually fired on the Pueblo with 57 mm cannon, killing an American crewmember. The defenseless ship then surrendered and the North Koreans boarded the ship and took the crew (83 men) prisoner. They were taken to NK where they were starved, tortured, and forced to confess (the North Koreans threatened to kill the entire crew in front of the commander if he didn't sign a confession) in writing and on film that they had committed a crime, violating North Korean waters, and that the US was basically an evil, imperialist, oppressive nation, and that the conditions inside North Korea were good.

The US issued an official apology for the ship violating North Korean waters, agreeing that we were responsible and the aggressors and asked for their release, promising not to spy on the DPRK in the future. They were released shortly afterward, and the US immediately retracted its apology and all subsequent statements. The American commander was condemned as a coward and recommened for a military court-martial for his actions by a Navy Court of inquiry, which prompted Ayn Rand to comment. The court-martial recommendation was eventually dropped with the rationale being "he has suffered enough."

Ayn Rand disagreed with the condemnation of the commander and thought he should be awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor. She stated that the official policy of America toward captured soldiers should be that which the government practiced, in principle, toward obtain the release of the 83 men: say whatever, sign whatever, and lie if that will bring the men home.

There is no moral dilemma in judging that case. Commander Lloyd M. Bucher has been called, correctly, "a hero among heroes." He should have been given the Congressional Medal of Honor first, and been questioned afterward.

If there are any questions of national dishonor -- and there are -- it was brought on us by the authors of our disgraceful foreign policy with its grotesquely irrational state of cold war or hot peace. Our armed forces today are given more instructions on how "not to provoke" the enemy than on how (and when) to defend themselves. If a miserable little savage country like North Korea attacked a giant like the United States, what was it counting on? On exactly what happened and is happening now: on the moral disintegration of U.S. political leadership, which would push appeasement so far as to abandon the men of the Pueblo under fire, without arms, assistance or instructions, then attempt to make Commander Bucher the scapegoat on the grounds of an immoral and irrational military code.

That code ignores the difference between a voluntary statement and a forced statement, thus endorsing the moral premises of thugs who regard torture as a legitimate method of inquiry.

We recognize the difference in our criminal law -- see the Supreme Court decisions which invalidate the confessions of criminals, if obtained by pressure. Yet we do not grant the same consideration to the protectors of our country when they are in the hands of savage killers.

When we ascribe validity to the "confessions" of men imprisoned by communist governments (Russian, North Korean, North Vietnamese or any other) -- when we do it in spite of the fact that the unspeakable atrocities practiced by such governments are a matter of record -- we endorse and invite the atrocities.

This endorsement has been the moral crime of the West -- ever since the "trial" of Cardinal Mindszenty -- this evasive tolerance which grants the status of a trial to the spectacle of dazed, tortured victims reciting extorted "confessions."

Allow me to suggest a simple way to put an end to that particular kind of outrage.

Let the U.S. government publicly order our armed forces to say, sign, admit or confess anything demanded of them when they are seized by an enemy (i.e., communist or totalitarian) power. (This would not apply to divulging actual military secrets, but only to lying about political-ideological issues.) Let the government declare to the world that we will not accept as true, valid or meaningful any statement extorted by force, i.e., any statement made by an American prisoner in a foreign country -- and that all such statements are repudiated in advance, in his name, by his government.

This would re-establish the moral meaning of freedom and of truth. It would put an end to the martyrdom of innocent victims, to the kind of ordeal Commander Bucher and his men had to endure.

In principle, this was the policy adopted by our government to obtain their release. Let this become our official policy, to be practiced by individual prisoners -- as a proper expression of contempt for the social systems ruled, not by reason, but by brute force.

If Commander Bucher is penalized in any way whatever for the proper moral choice he had the courage to make, thereby saving 82 young lives, then this country will be truly and totally dishonored. But I trust that the American people (including our Congress and our new Commander-In-Chief) will not permit this to happen.

How does that situation differ from the current one, in which Bill Clinton basically did the same thing? Why shouldn't he have gone to Pyongyang and said whatever it takes to garner the American's release?

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How does that situation differ from the current one, in which Bill Clinton basically did the same thing? Why shouldn't he have gone to Pyongyang and said whatever it takes to garner the American's release?

The one difference is that these people were not agents of the US government. But as I said, I don't think what Clinton did is immoral. These people work for his buddy Al Gore, so he went and lied through his teeth to bring them back. (what amazes me is that, as I was watching the press conference at their return, both Al and Obama managed to get their faces on TV again, while President Clinton, who came up with the whole thing, managed to shut up)

It remains to be seen what Obama and Hillary Clinton's role was in all this, and whether they made any secret promises beyond fake apologies Bill delivered to Kim.

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Yaron Brook recently said during a a discussion on Pajamas TV that the US lost prestiege and the mission did more harm than good. He also stated that "millions more people die as a consequence of this act" of appeasement and compromise. I really don't understand this. I fail to see how lying to a bunch of savages in order to get them to release two hostages peacefully is somehow not worth it.

http://www.pjtv.com/v/2295/

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I fail to see how lying to a bunch of savages in order to get them to release two hostages peacefully is somehow not worth it.

You get more of what you sponsor. As a consumer, and as a country. Bargaining with savages signals acceptance of their actions and their nature.

Edit: That does not mean people should expect the support of their government if they willingly travel to places such as NK. That is idiotic.

Edited by L-C
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  • 2 months later...
I think that the best solution here is to either put major pressure on N. Korea by stating that if they aren't freed then we will retaliate militarily, or to go in and get them commando style. I can't really think of a downside to taking some military action against N. Korea...

There's 20 million people in Seoul within 45 km's from the border. There is a massive amount of North Korean artillery lined up on the border with a range of 50 km's. I lived in Seoul this year, and soldiers would practice stacking sandbags for cover on my apartment grounds on the South side of the Han River (which divides Seoul) operating under the premise that the DPRK could quickly roll through the Northern portion of Seoul (which may be about 2/3rd's the population) until they reached the river.

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Edit: That does not mean people should expect the support of their government if they willingly travel to places such as NK. That is idiotic.

You cannot willingly travel into North Korea from the side they were on. They were filming somewhere near the border and were taken hostage.

The only way to travel into North Korea is through a guided tour out of South Korea, on a bus where they close all the curtains. That is, unless you have an invitation from the state, then sometimes they fly people in from Beijing, where the plane comes in twice per week.

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You cannot willingly travel into North Korea from the side they were on. They were filming somewhere near the border and were taken hostage.

Sure you can. I've seen documentaries of people being smuggled in and out of NK. There's a long border there, and they could've been in China or NK, when they were arrested. There is no way that you know for a fact that they were in China.

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Sure you can. I've seen documentaries of people being smuggled in and out of NK. There's a long border there, and they could've been in China or NK, when they were arrested. There is no way that you know for a fact that they were in China.

Sorry, I mean you can not legally travel in that area. You can actually even cross the DMZ if you wanted to risk the land mines. I did not mean to say that it is not possible, just that there are fences and security alongside the border that isn't divided by the Amnok river. Of course, that isn't the case along much of Baekdu-San and the mountain range in that area.

If you can recommend the names of some documentaries, I would love to watch them.

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