Here at OFK, we collect small bits of North Korea trivia, such as the fact that President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, and the related fact that the State Department’s official position is that North Korea has not sponsored acts of terrorism since 1987.
In other news, the official North Korean “news ” agency, KCNA, has just published a call by the North Korean government for the extradition of former South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and the former head of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service to Pyongyang, where it has been decided, in absentia, that they are to receive “capital punishment” over an alleged plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un.
1. We declare at home and abroad that we will impose death penalty on traitor Park Geun Hye and ex-Director of the puppet Intelligence Service Ri Pyong Ho and their groups, criminals of hideous state-sponsored terrorism who hatched and pressed for the heinous plot to hurt the supreme leadership of the DPRK.
Further on, I’ll examine how North Korea defines terrorism, but it may be helpful to begin with a more rigorous and predictable definition. For an act to be terrorism under U.S. law, it must —
- be unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed;
- involve a violent act; an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; or a threat of such an act;
- be perpetrated by a subnational group or clandestine agent;
- be directed against a noncombatant target; and
- appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government.
Although this definition is based on American law and precedent, most civilized nations define the term in similar ways. (Good luck finding an internationally agreed definition of terrorism, for reasons that should be obvious.) Also, that Ms. Park has been found guilty and sentenced to death in absentia without so much as prior notice of a trial might raise a procedural concern or two for the extradition hearing.
Just as I predicted, as Pyongyang perfects its nuclear capability, it is growing more aggressive and more extraterritorial with its threats (in this case, through the use of journo-terrorism).
IS men, to say nothing of Park Geun Hye and Ri Pyong Ho group, can never make any appeal even though they meet miserable dog’s death any time, at any place and by whatever methods from this moment.
The south Korean authorities should hand Park Geun Hye and Ri Pyong Ho group, organizers of the hideous international terrorist crimes, over to the DPRK without delay under international convention and laws and regulations.
The south Korean authorities have to judge themselves what adverse effect their act of shunning this crucial demand related to the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK will have on the future north-south relations.
But KCNA does not stop here. It also threatens to “ferret out” Park and Ri “wherever they might be on the earth” and “mercillessly cut their dirty bodies to pieces.”
The supreme leadership of the DPRK is a symbol of the dignity and might of the DPRK and it represents the life and destiny of the army and people of the DPRK.
It is the resolute will of our army and people regarding it as their life to safeguard the headquarters of the revolution to ferret out those keen on hurting the security of the DPRK supreme leadership wherever they might be on the earth and mercilessly cut their dirty bodies to pieces.
Clearly stipulated in the DPRK Criminal Code is that all those who organized, took part or pursued state-sponsored terrorism targeting the supreme leadership of the DPRK are subject to criminal prosecution irrespective of nationality and that no statute of limitations is applicable to such crime.
Just to be clear, then, Pyongyang is threatening to send its agents to South Korea to murder and dismember the former president of the Republic of Korea. And as you know by now, because you’ve stopped to read the links with which I’ve laboriously braced this argument, North Korea has sent assassins to commit murders in the South before. They’ve been caught and pled guilty in South Korean courts.
We officially declare that if the U.S. and the south Korean puppet forces again attempt at state-sponsored terrorism against the supreme leadership of the DPRK, we will track down those who organized, took part in and pursued the plot and carry out the summary execution of them without advance notice under wartime law.
But at least Pyongyang is only threatening those who take part in or plot “attempt[s] at hideous state-sponsored terrorism targeting the supreme leadership of the DPRK.” Except that on further research, we soon learn that North Korea has defined “terrorism” and “state-sponsored terrorism” to include everything from parody to criticism to legislation to the enforcement of UN sanctions. My search of news reports, the S.T.A.L.I.N. archive, and the excellent KCNA Watch Twitter feed yielded the following examples:
- In 2014, Pyongyang accused the United States of “agitating terrorism” for allowing Seth Rogen to make “The Interview,” a stupid movie parodying His Porcine Majesty.
- In July 2016, it accused South Korea of terrorism for granting asylum to the Ningpo 12, as it was obligated to do under the Refugee Convention.
- In March of this year, it accused Seoul of terrorism for alleged surveillance and blacklisting of its domestic political opponents — something that would be authoritarian and worthy of condemnation by someone with more stature that the government of North Korea on such topics, but would not qualify as terrorism (the acts are not violent, and to not appear to be intended to influence the conduct of civilians through intimidation).
- In May, it called defensive military exercises and sanctions (presumably including those approved by the U.N. Security Council) terrorism.
- In June, it accused the CIA and the South Korean National Intelligence Service of “state-sponsored terrorism” for allegedly planning preemptive strikes against North Korea (which would be an act of war by uniformed, conventional forces and a catastrophically terrible idea, but not terrorism).
- At other times, it’s hard to tell what Pyongyang is even calling terrorism.
My guess, however, is that the specific pretext for Pyongyang’s latest threat is its claim from May 13th, that the CIA and the NIS “hatched a plot to commit a state-sponsored terrorism targeting the supreme leadership of the DPRK by use of bio-chemical substance.” Now, to state the obvious, I am … skeptical of this claim. I could cite many examples of Pyongyang lying flagrantly, but the most obvious one is its claim that the NIS kidnapped the Ningpo 13 (because that claim was tested in court and rejected, or so we can safely assume despite the confidentiality of the proceedings, because the women were granted asylum). The alleged modus operandi also sounds suspiciously like Pyongyang’s own assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, news of which spread rapidly inside North Korea and shocked even North Koreans. Now, with the rising reaction to the death of Otto Warmbier, Pyongyang might be projecting to change the subject.
For the sake of argument, however, let’s assume that Pyongyang’s allegation is true. If so, a plot to slime His Porcine Majesty with some toxin might qualify as terrorism under certain circumstances. The North Korean allegation suggests a violent act that could only be perpetrated by clandestine agents, so assume we meet those elements. If the alleged attack was meant to disrupt a military command structure during hostilities it would not meet the intent element, but let’s assume that this was to be a political murder by stealth. This might qualify, except that Kim Jong-Un isn’t a noncombatant; he’s the commander of North Korea’s military junta. So the merits of the “terrorism” claim would depend on whether this alleged plot was to be carried out for strictly political purposes or to disrupt military command and control as part of an armed conflict. (Suspend your disbelief that North Koreans would be terrorized, as opposed to ebullient, as the demise of His Porcine Majesty.) Of course, as peace treaty advocates point out unceasingly, North Korea is technically still at war with both the United States and South Korea. As they tend not to point out so unceasingly, Pyongyang itself as repeatedly repudiated the 1953 Armistice.
For the same reason, it wouldn’t be terrorism (but would be an act of war) if Pyongyang assassinated Moon Jae-In for the purpose of disrupting South Korea’s military command structure in the course of armed hostilities. It would certainly be terrorism if Pyongyang made good on its threat to assassinate Park Geun-Hye, who is now a private citizen, in her own home. Furthermore, it is also terrorism to threaten to assassinate Ms. Park, and it’s most likely terrorism when Pyongyang says this:
Whether such crime is committed within the territory of the DPRK or outside it, we will mercilessly carry out the punishment in the name of our people in field by our style merciless punishment measure.
We make it clear once again that those who dare challenge the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK should never hope of staying alive under the sky.
We do not hide that should the U.S. and the south Korean authorities defy this warning and challenge our resolute measure, they will be made to pay a dear price in an irresistible physical way.
Those dare challenging the sun of the sky can never evade divine punishment.
Pyongyang appears to be claiming the right to kill any person in any place of its choosing, for conduct that it defines broadly enough to cover anyone from a stoner filmmaker to the Secretary of Defense to a human rights activist to the Chairman of a Committee of Congress. What it all sounds like more than anything else is a pretext for the next unconscionable, murderous outrage Pyongyang is already premeditating, and that it will subsequently get away because it always gets away with everything. As Professor Lee and I predicted before and after the Sony cyberterrorist threat, our failure to respond to North Korea’s attacks on our freedom of speech would draw more and bolder attacks on our freedom of speech. That prediction is coming true. To a small but growing degree, we are all living under the shadow of Kim Jong-Un’s censorship. In that small, yet profoundly disturbing way, we are all North Koreans now.
And so, I am left to ask this: if North Korea holds our political system in contempt and means to disrupt it, why don’t we show more determination and creativity in disrupting North Korea’s own political system? With North Korea’s refusal to negotiate or coexist peacefully, and the madness of war, our options for averting nuclear war in Korea increasingly narrow down to empowering the North Korean people to end Kim Jong-Un’s misrule. What else is even remotely plausible now? And whatever the cost, if Kim Jong-Un must die so that freedom of speech can live, I know what choice I’d make.