In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, May 10th, three men arrived back on U.S. soil after having been held in prisons in North Korea. I am happy the men have been released and returned to their families, but I am disgusted by the way the situation was used as a political tool, so I had no intention of writing a post about it. However, a friend, rawgod, asked me a series of questions about the situation that I didn’t know the answers to, yet they were good questions, so I reversed my original idea and am writing this post to answer those questions and provide whatever other information I can.
How many Americans are currently in NK prisons? How many of those are political prisoners? How many foreign nationals are in NK prisons? How many of those are political prisoners?
Who are these three prisoners that were released? Are they poor people, middle class, or part of the American elite? What were their “crimes”? What were their sentences? Why were they chosen for release over those who were not chosen?
What did the Orange Trumphole give up in order to get these three people released? Was it a “good faith” showing from Kim, or was it a trade, or what. Was money involved in the negotiation? We’re arms involved in any way in the negotiation?
Who approached who to start this negotiation? Was the US negotiator the acter, or the reacter? Was there any other country involved in this negotiation? Who, and what part did they play?
First, let me start off by introducing these three men who, coincidentally all have the same surname, Kim, but are not related.
Kim Dong-chul is a businessman and naturalized American citizen from the Virginia suburbs of Washington. Arrested in October 2015, he had been sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in April 2016 after being convicted of spying and other offenses. He had confessed to committing crimes against the country and pleaded for mercy. In January 2016, he was allowed to do an interview with CNN, in which he said he used to run a trading and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone that North Korea operates near its borders with China and Russia. He also said he had begun spying on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” in 2013, by bribing North Korean residents to collect data about the North’s military and its nuclear program. He said he was arrested in October while he was meeting one of his local sources, a former North Korean soldier.
Kim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim) had just finished spending a month teaching accounting at a Christian-funded school, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when in April 2017 he was arrested as he boarded a plane for home. He was charged with “hostile criminal acts with an aim to subvert the country.”
Kim Hak-song was born in China near the North Korean border and emigrated to the United States in the 1990s. He later returned to China, and later settled in Pyongyang, North Korea. At the time of his arrest in May 2017, he had been volunteering at the agricultural research farm of the same school where Kim Sang-duk had taught.
These three were the last remaining hostages from the U.S. in North Korea. The only other foreign nationals still being detained in North Korea are four South Koreans. At least one had confessed to spying. Over the years, North Korea has detained several Americans on accusations of illegal entry or spying and other “anti-state” crimes. It has often permitted them to speak to outside news media in interviews or at news conferences in Pyongyang.
They invariably confessed to committing crimes and apologized, asking North Korea for leniency and urging their governments to facilitate their release. But some told reporters after their release that officials had coerced them into making such statements. I cannot say whether any of the three were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged, and I suspect we will never know for certain.
It does not appear that any concessions were exchanged for the release of the hostages. It seems to be an act of ‘good faith’ on the part of Kim Jong-un, but … I have a suspicious nature, and somehow I cannot help but wonder if Kim, not Donald, is the one doing the manipulating. The goals, I believe, that North Korea hopes to meet in his ‘summit’ with Trump in June are, a) to have the sanctions imposed by the U.S. lifted, and b) to have less U.S. involvement in the Korean Peninsula.
Pompeo clearly said that sanctions would not be lifted in a piecemeal fashion, but that Kim would have to fully de-nuclearize before sanctions would be lifted. In any case, neither Kim nor Trump have a history of honesty and integrity, so from either perspective, I would be leery. Seeing is believing. Based on the information I could find, the negotiations for the hostages were simply between Pompeo (acting at the direction of Trump, no doubt), and Kim. South Korean or Japanese leaders may have had input, but I can find nothing to indicate this.
And now that I’ve given you all the pertinent facts I can glean, please allow me to editorialize for just a moment here. I think it was crass, vulgar and in poor taste for Donald Trump to turn the hostages’ arrival back in the U.S. into a photo-opportunity, a back-patting (himself) session. It was 3:00 a.m. These men had been in-flight for hours, and before that had been in forced labour camps for between 1-3 years. I’m sure all they wanted was to see their families, but no, instead they were forced to be put on display like a performing animal in a circus, and to pander to a megalomaniac.
Trump credits himself with the hostages’ release, but in truth, he had little to do with it. He also said he had succeeded in getting them released, where Obama had failed. But two of the three were taken hostage under Trump’s watch, in 2017. Trump has also said he believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for getting the hostages released. Here is a list of hostages released from North Korea under the Obama administration:
Eddie Yong Su Jun
Arturo Pierre Martinez Kim Jong-un is a dictator and releasing the hostages was a means to an end. It was a display of good faith, if you wish to call it such, but on Kim’s part, not Trump’s or Pompeo’s. And it was not done out of kindness, but rather diplomatic negotiations.