Activism Human Rights Ling/Lee Incident Media Criticism

Lisa Ling to Appear at LiNK Benefit Gala Tonight

[Liveblogging below. Paul Song is speaking, and Laura Ling will appear at the gala.]

lling.jpgWonderful. And you can watch it all here, live at 6 p.m. Eastern.

For all the understandable criticism of Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and Mitch Koss for crossing into North Korea, a sentiment I’ve never understood has been the hostility by some toward Lisa Ling, whom to my eyes is guilty of nothing whatsoever here. Some have even appeared to criticize her for using her access to the media to bring her sister home, something that any of us would do if we found ourselves in the same circumstances. For years, Lisa Ling (along with her husband, Paul Song) has been a supporter of the North Korean people, and she has taken risks — risks I’m prepared to defend as justifiable — to tell that story in a way that made many thousands of people think about the plight of the North Korean people on a deeper, more emotional level than they had before.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the unjust duration of Laura and Euna’s detention was, in part, North Korea’s retribution for that.

If this means that Laura and Euna will also seek redemption for their mistakes by bringing more attention to this issue, I’m one who will be ready to welcome that, despite the many conflicts and complexities in my own thoughts on this subject. Let’s begin by introducing a few cold-blooded practicalities into this discussion, starting with the fact that the refugees who were caught because of Ling and Lee’s capture are just a few of the many — the number is almost certainly in the thousands — who die trying to cross that border every year, or who are repatriated to die in places like Chongo-Ri. Year after year, the mass murder goes on, and each year, the fascist regime in China ships thousands of innocents back to the slaughter as a willful accessory to it. The murder goes on because the world isn’t paying attention, and because most of those in the media don’t see this as one that advances their narrative and therefore, don’t give a damn. Whoever can make the world pay attention at last could potentially save millions.

As impossible as I find the actions of Ling, Lee, and Koss to defend, I also believe that the crimes of Kim Jong Il (which could not go on without Hu Jintao abetting them) merit far more criticism than the recklessness of these three reporters. Yet in my comment threads alone, I’ve seen more vitriol directed against Laura Ling and Euna Lee than against Hu Jintao and Kim Jong Il. On reflection, I have been just as guilty of this as anyone. It seems undeniable that the terrible judgment that Ling, Lee, and Koss exercised unwittingly endangered dozens. But for all the terrible consequences of their foolish decision, they did not kill anyone — the Chinese and North Korean regimes did. Hu and Kim are culpable for killing thousands and millions of North Koreans, respectively. How many of those who are calling for a boycott of Ling and Lee’s book will spend that money on products made in China instead? Again, this is not a case for absolution. It is an argument for sorting our disapproval and our outrage appropriately.

Certainly I’m not one in a position to offer forgiveness. Certainly Laura Ling, Euna Lee, and Mitch Koss have not yet begun to earn it. I can only acknowledge sincerity if and when I see it. But if Laura Ling and Euna Lee can raise the profile of the human rights issue now — as Lisa Ling seems willing to do — that might happen just in time to constrain the Obama Administration from shifting its policy in a way that abandons the North Korean people to prolonged misery and genocide, and which makes the crimes of North Korea and China toxic to investors, policy-makers, and opportunistic politicians. The effect, on balance, would outweigh what harm they have done.

Liveblogging to start here.

Shin Dong Hyok is speaking now. Shin claims to be the only person to escape from Camp 14. Actually, however, another former prisoner of Camp 14, Kim Yong, escaped from the contiguous Camp 18.

David Hawk is just coming on now. He calls the North Korean camp system a clear crime against humanity under international law, and discusses some of the updates in the upcoming The Hidden Gulag II. There are now hundreds of survivors of the camps, meaning we have much more information about them.

Adrian Hong: I can’t help thinking that this is someone who could have succeeded professionally and financially in any number of fields. He gave years of his life to building LiNK instead, and that has been a different kind of success, but certainly a sacrifice, too. Adrian speaks of “momentum.” I don’t doubt that the organization has grown, but the momentum hasn’t translated into enough political influence to affect policy. The State Department still does whatever it wants, and still pays only token attention to this issue.

One thing that’s evident — LiNK has become a more diverse organization.

The chat comments say that LiNK’s focus has shifted from political advocacy to grassroots advocacy. Yes, that’s evident, although LiNK’s presence in the advocacy arena is missed.

A troll named “moot,” an avowed supporter of the North Korean regime, is online claiming that there is no diversion of food aid in North Korea. For those seeking a more objective analysis of the problem of food aid diversion, go here, here, here, here and here. The evidence of diversion of overwhelming, and the denial of it is a lie. My refutation of the apologist argument for the famine, here.

Oh, and this is Christine Ahn.

7:39: The gala starts, and Rep. Ed Royce speaks. Royce and Brownback are the two most stalwart members of Congress on this issue.

7:44: As Royce speaks, a commenter says that he disagrees with Royce on other issues, but admires his stance on this one. So why is this cause left to Royce and Brownback to advance? There are liberals, libertarians, and moderates who are interested in this issue at the grass roots level. But in Congress, this issue is left to conservatives by default.

Great quote by Royce: “History is full of examples of regimes that were oppressive at home and aggressive abroad.”

From a LiNK chatroom moderator: Last year, the Chinese government was paying a 2000 yuan for turning in a North Korea refugee. Man at his best. So how much is 2000 yuan? About 30 pieces of silver, by my calculation.

8:22: I suppose hip-hoppy video and music tend to attract young, energetic people to a good cause, but I just get a sense of cognitive dissonance from this. Or maybe it’s techno. Or maybe I’m comfortable with my unfashionable self.

8:37: Waiting for Lisa Ling to speak. Anyone expecting a detailed account of the events of 3-17 is in for a big disappointment, and frankly, this just doesn’t seem like the time or the place for that. Laura showed up, and that itself means something. It means that she knows the story isn’t her. That’s the first step toward trying to make things right. And I don’t think it’s right for us to get in the way of that.

9:15: Shin Dong Hyok is talking. I just find aspects of the story troubling. How did he find rice unguarded in a starving country? How did a guy who had never handled money know how much to sell it for? How did he travel without a pass? How did he know how to bribe a border guard? This is a guy who spent his whole life in a concentration camp, knowing nothing about North Korean society. I don’t doubt he’s been through many terrible things, I just can’t put his story together in a way that makes sense to me.

9:16: Lisa Ling introduced.

9:19: Paul Song speaks first. His grandfather was a mayor of Seoul? And opposed Syngman Rhee? Quietly, I’d guess. But that’s an impressive background, and he does seem very decent and sincere.

9:21: Lisa Ling thanks Ed Royce, Yong Kim, Adrian Hong, and Hannah Song for helping to bring Laura home. Classy. “You were the voice we couldn’t be.” Royce apparently helped motivate Secretary Clinton. The implication is that she needed to be motivated.

9:23: Described NK as “the one place on the planet I wanted to visit the most,” described how she went into NK with the Nepalese eye surgeon. Went to P’yang, Pyongsong, and Sariwon. They had eight minders(!). The team performed 1,000 cataract surgeries. One patient was 10 years old. She speaks of her astonishment that the people rushed to thanks the portraits of the Dear Leader. Lisa seems to think those emotions are real, the result of indoctrination. Me, I suspect fear of the minders may have had more to do with it.

9:27: Must not let Lisa’s radiant hotness jar my objectivity. But my God. She was made “persona non grata” in NK after the docu, she says. Not a surprise. She makes the key point that most of Laura’s sentence was not for the border crossing but for committing the crime of journalism.

9:29: Ling says some positive things have come of Laura’s error (ouch). She then goes on to speak of Clinton’s claim that Kim Jong Il sounded positively vivacious and will be calling the shots for years. She says this will raise awareness of the humanitarian issue. But whatever good that was came at a terrible, terrible price.

9:31: Sen. Sam Brownback given the Light of Liberty Award, but couldn’t appear in person. He sent a video message instead.

9:42: Jared Genser speaks. I’ve heard many good things about Jared from Chuck Downs, but haven’t met him yet. Jared was rumored to be on the short list to replace Jay Lefkowitz as Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights. Hearing him speak, I can see he’d have been good at it. Good enough for the State Department to torpedo him.

10:00: Hannah Song, ferocious as she is compassionate, closes the gala. That also concludes this post.


  1. The silent man in the middle, Mitch Koss – who seems to have done more damage to North Korean refugees by running to the Chinese camera-footage seizing side – is the one who should get the humanitarian ball rolling. After all, he wrote an Op Ed in the L.A. Times way back in 2003 that brought attention to the plight of those fleeing across the North Korea-China border.

    His active involvement in some sort of ongoing promotion of this cause, or support of an organization already working on this front, would be a great way to make it up to himself, the Lings, etc.


  2. During’s Laura and Euna’s detainment, Lisa Ling said on TV (Today show and Larry King) that the only people who know what really happened at the border on March 17 were Laura and Euna. This is a lie because Mitch Koss is also a key eyewitness as well as the local guide.

    I would like to get these 2 sisters (Laura and Lisa) in one room and ask Laura if she had any communication with her sister while in Yanji. (Lisa said on TV that the last time she communicated with her sister before her arrest was while Laura was in Seoul.) While in Yanji, did Laura ever hint at the idea that she might cross the Tumen River into North Korea for the purpose of conducting an interview?
    Wouldn’t Laura assume that her sister might have some insight into such a caper? Laura said the guide had tried calling his “associates” the previous day to arrange an appointment in North Korea. Shouldn’t Laura have called Lisa that same day to arrange a consultation? Was this something that Laura didn’t intend to tell her sister about and opted for a foot massage in the hotel instead? If Laura had hypothetically made such a call from China, would Lisa have told her dear sister on the phone that she is totally out of her mind and to stay away from the dangerous border area?

    If I had a brother who did a documentary inside Myanmar 2 years ago and I wanted to cross the border from China to Myanmar to report on the current situation there, do you think I might at least seek guidance from the man I call “my best friend in the whole world” before embarking on such an adventure?


  3. I am copying and pasting this from the LiNK link above regarding tonight’s show:

    7:35pm – 9:00pm: Gala Programming (Hear live from Lisa Ling, Congressman Ed Royce,
    Senator Sam Brownback and our North Korean friends)

    Our North Korean friends? I assume this refers to either refugees or defectors.


  4. Thanks for live-blogging this, Josh. I tried tuning in this morning, but I only caught the tail-end of an interview, the Nomad video you humorously mention at 8:22, and a whole lot of downtime during which the guests ate. Had to leave before before the program resumed.

    So to that end, does anyone happen to know if the video of the speakers and interviews will be available on the web?


  5. I liked this sentence the most: “She makes the key point that most of Laura’s sentence was not for the border crossing but for committing the crime of journalism.


  6. About the sentence: 10 + 4 = 12. Can anyone reconcile the “KCNA Detailed Report on Truth about Crimes Committed by American Journalists” with Laura’s and Euna’s statement “Hostages in the Hermit Kingdom”?

    KCNA says the court determined 10 years according to Provision 69 of the Criminal Code and 4 years according to Provision 233 and sentenced them to 12 years according to Provision 44.

    Laura and Euna say they were sentenced to 2 years for trespassing and 10 years for hostile acts.

    Did Provision 44 somehow remove half of the sentence for illegal entry? While all you grown-ups have been discussing the substantive issues, this trivial point has been bothering me for three months.


  7. Glans:

    I noticed that too, in the non-English/more detailed version of the KCNA Ling-Lee trial report. Based on the fact that Lisa Ling, Laura et al all refer to 12 years total, seems to have just been one hell of a typo or mistaken adding of Ling and Lee’s 2 + 2 together. After all, don’t think family members would be reducing the sentence from their end.


  8. You get the feeling some of the people attacking Lisa Ling (along with her sister and Euna Lee) couldn’t really care less about North Korean refugees.

    I also watched the LiNK benefit gala and enjoyed it, and it was nice to see Laura show up, I agree.



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