There is apparently little mystery about the arrest of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two Current TV journalists captured, tried and sentenced by Kim Jong-Il’s brutal and secretive regime.
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Two legitimate reporters…doing a story on the North Korean border about refugees…grabbed and jailed by the DPRK (North Korean military). How awful. Moreover, there was then a secret one day trial, with the result an outrageous 12 year prison sentence in a notorious North Korean labor camp, noted for their brutality and abuse. It all seems so clear…so evil…so ugly…so unfair. Well, it might be – probably is all of those things – but it is more. And the more you investigate this event, the more it becomes like an onion as you peel back each layer, with added mysteries.
Let’s start with why these ladies were even in, or near, North Korea in the first place – a country noted for its aggressive behavior and dangerous moves. Ostensibly (a mystery in itself), they were there to report and film refugees crossing from North Korea into China, a rather common occurrence in order to escape a brutal regime. The journalists were located on the Tuman River, an important venue as you will soon see. There have been reports that the two journalists were warned several times about crossing into North Korea. Were they captured on North Korean soil, or did the DPRK cross into China to grab them? Most recently, they “admit” they were filming in North Korea, and are charged with “slandering the regime”; but “admissions” in these cases are suspect. So, that remains a mystery, but one layer of the onion is gone. What is clear, by reporting on or even near North Korean soil is absolutely playing with fire; knowing how the North Korean’s act. Remember what mom said about playing with fire.
Now as to the Tuman River, it has been used for years by North Korean refugees defecting across the Chinese border. Most refugees from North Korea during the 1990s famine crossed over the Tumen, and most recent refugees have also used it. Because of that, the Tumen is heavily patrolled by armed guards of the DPRK. The river is considered the preferred way to cross into China because, unlike the swift and deep Yalu River which runs along most of the border between the two countries, the Tumen is shallow and narrow. “It is easily crossed in spots on foot or by swimming,” according to a 2006 article in The New York Times. Given this, did Ling and Lee repeatedly move back and forth across the border to get their story despite the warnings and patrols? If so, why, knowing the risk and danger? Or, was there possibly a hidden agenda? On Meet the Press June 14, Vice President Joe Biden twice said “no comment” when asked about the capture, instead of a vigorous defense. Another mystery.
Thirdly, as reported by the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) an international non-partisan organization: “There seems to be a trend recently involving young, highly educated female journalists getting in trouble in the world’s most scandalous countries and political regimes. In late 2008, CBC’s National correspondent Melissa Fung was captured in Afghanistan, and rescued weeks later in what was alleged to be a prisoner’s exchange. Just last month, the world heard about the release of the American-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi who was sentenced to 8 years in Iranian prison on charges of espionage. Saberi was released on May 11 when her jail term was reduced to a two-year suspended sentence after numerous interventions by the U.S. diplomats.”
CPJ itself wonders if, “The boldness with which these young women dive into the world of investigative journalism is unprecedented. But is it because doing so is the only way for these young females to prove themselves in the world of ‘real’ journalism? Do they feel like they have taken on the extra risks to really prove themselves as tough, conscientious journalists?”
So now we get down to the core of the onion, and here’s why (while I have the utmost sympathy and support for these two women) I am angry at their actions. In a sense they have badly compromised their country’s negotiations with one of the most difficult and dangerous regimes in the world. Secretary Clinton has assiduously tried to characterize this event as a “human rights” issue. Good luck. There is no doubt that Kim Jong-Il will tightly connect it as a bargaining chip in our efforts to get the North Koreans to halt their expansion of nuclear weapons and long range missiles. And even if Clinton should succeed in separating the two negotiations, we as a nation will have to kowtow to an insane dictator who frankly is a nut! Moreover, even if diplomatic efforts should succeed, it will likely end with a massive amount of taxpayer dollars paid to a cash-starved, paranoid dictator as ransom. Probably in the many millions. All because two journalists took risky chances in getting a refugee TV story.
Indeed, regarding the compromise at hand, Kim Tae-woo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis (KIDA) said, “The journalists considerably weakened their government’s leverage against the North,” in ongoing negotiations over the DPRK’s nuclear program. KIDA is a comprehensive defense research institution (with over 200 staffers) that covers a wide range of defense-related issues for the Republic of South Korea (ROK).
That this is a tragedy is incontrovertible, mostly because even with a worst case scenario any civilized regime would give the offenders a slap on the wrist…send them home…and probably tell them to never darken their borders again. But North Korea is not civilized; and Ling and Lee knew that full well. Instead they treaded into dangerous territory, putting not only their lives at risk, but those of their families as well (Lee has a young daughter) – and to further compound the tragedy, they harmed and compromised their country.
A fairy tale ending would have the two presumably innocent ladies fined and set free (possible, but not likely)…negotiations on nuclear weapons proceeding…and North Korea abandoning its aggressive behavior. Unfortunately, that is not the fairy tale Kim Jong-Il lives in – he resides in “Through the Looking Glass” where the world is made up of many mirrors, everything is opposite, and time runs backwards.