Chosun Ilbo: Laura Ling and Euna Lee Were Lured into N. Korea

Let’s start with the claim, that North Korean spymaster Ryu Kyong recruited the mysterious guide who led Laura Ling and Euna Lee to that remote place along the Tumen River, then across to North Korea where guards were waiting. Subsequent reports fill in the rest — that Ling and Lee heard a commotion, ran back across the river into Chinese territory, and that the North Koreans pursued them across the river and dragged them back across and into captivity in North Korea:

Ryu, who served as the deputy director of North Korea’s State Security Department, obtained intelligence that Laura Ling and Euna Lee, journalists working for Current TV, were planning to visit the North Korean border as part of their report on defectors.

He then used his overseas operatives to bribe an ethnic Korean guide in China to lead the two women into the hands of their abductors. The guide took Ling and Lee to a point on the banks of the Duman (or Tumen) River, where they were dragged across the border into North Korea.

The abduction, which occurred just after U.S. President Barack Obama took office, prompted the White House to dispatch former U.S. President Bill Clinton to Pyongyang in August of that year. It also served as a propaganda coup for Pyongyang, which boasted that a former U.S. leader had to “bow before General Kim Jong-il and beg for forgiveness.” [Chosun Ilbo]

A big hat tip here to Paul Song, a long-time advocate for human rights in North Korea and the husband of Laura Ling’s sister, Lisa.

I’m tempted to gloat and savor the sweet vindication of my own pet conspiracy theory, one that I’ve inclined to from the very beginning, and which other media reports have since supported. But even if the theory is plausible — it fits well within the range of North Korea’s past behavior — the Chosun Ilbo doesn’t offer one scintilla of detail on its source for the story or why we should consider it credible. It’s interesting, however, to turn our wayback machine to what Laura Ling said about crossing the border:

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.

We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained. [L.A. Times]

In retrospect, you can still stand on your criticism that Laura and Euna shouldn’t have followed, although you can begin to understand their decision if you imagine yourself alone in a remote spot between two hostile states. All I can say is, it’s plausible that this was a lure/ambush. It always was. What I can’t say is that this report goes far to prove it. The fact that Paul forwards the story suggests that Ling believes it (doesn’t it?).

In the days before our capture, our guide had seemed cautious and responsible; he was as concerned as we were about protecting our interview subjects and not taking unnecessary risks. That is in part why we made the decision to follow him across the river.

We didn’t spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret. To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly, changing our starting point on the river at the last moment and donning a Chinese police overcoat for the crossing, measures we assumed were security precautions. But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today with dark memories of our captivity.

It would be nice to get at least that much eyewitness confirmation, and there are a lot of questions I’d like to be able to ask about that. The one person who isn’t ever going to sort all of this out for us is Ryu, who was later sent to the firing squad, possibly for unrelated reasons.

Incidentally — and stop me if you’ve heard this somewhere — North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for its tremendous strides toward complete, verifiable, irreversible nuclear disarmament, and quite possibly also some promises to never engage in the state sponsorship of terrorism again. Discuss among yourselves.

In somewhat related news, North Koreans continue to stream out of their homeland by any means necessary. ITN provides this video report on the rising flow of North Korean refugees into Thailand, and as you’ve no doubt heard by now, nine more North Koreans made it to the South by sea last week. When groups of North Koreans cross over to the South by boat, we often tend to hear later that some of them want to return, but not this time.

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Laura Ling Names Baby After Clinton

Inappropriate snickering will not be tolerated:

Laura Ling told CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford on CBSNews.com’s “Washington Unplugged” last Friday that while imprisoned in North Korea she remembered thinking that she would never be able start a family.

But last night, nearly a year removed from her capture, Ling and her husband, Iain Clayton, celebrated the birth of their first child. And according to People Magazine, as a tribute to former president Bill Clinton and his work in getting the journalist freed, the couple named the baby girl Li Jefferson Clayton. Jefferson is Bill Clinton’s middle name.

According to People, the baby’s first name is a tribute to Ling’s sister Lisa, who first reached out to Mr. Clinton. [CBS]

This post is dedicated to Kushibo.

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Laura Ling on the Today Show

I’m going to spend the next few days focusing most of my attention on the Cheonan incident and how we ought to respond to it, here are some links on the Ling sisters and their book promotion. You already know my ambivalence about this whole story, but to her credit, Laura Ling hasn’t forgotten why she went to the Tumen River to begin with, and I suppose more people will now hear that story on the Today Show than they might have on Current TV:

All of which makes any State Department apology to China about one U.S. state’s immigration policy all the more ridiculous, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

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Current TV Will Air Documentary on Ling-Lee Incident

You know, I was just thinking that it’s been a while since we’ve had a nice flame war over this.

The network announced Sunday that Laura Ling and Euna Lee will tell their story in a 30-minute episode that will kick off the fourth season of the documentary series “Vanguard” on May 19. The journalists, both staffers for the series, were held captive by the North Koreans for more than four months after they briefly entered the country by crossing a frozen river at the Chinese border in March 2009. They were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor before their pardon and release was negotiated with the help of former President Bill Clinton.

At the time of their capture, the women were working on a story about human trafficking. Their detention created a tense international incident that drew in top White House officials and sparked vigils around the country on their behalf.

The special, “Captive in North Korea,” features interviews with Ling, Lee and their producer, Mitch Koss, who have until now not spoken on camera about their experience. The episode, reported by fellow “Vanguard” correspondents Adam Yamaguchi and Mariana Van Zeller, will also include footage of their emotional reunion with their colleagues. [L.A. Times, Show Tracker Blog]

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Lisa Ling Writes to Kushibo

Lisa Ling has written to Kushibo, responding to his criticisms. Kushibo, obviously wanting to choose his next words carefully, will respond in the coming days.

For the record, I think Kushibo’s fury is motivated by the best of intentions, but I respectfully differ with him on this point. I criticize Lisa Ling for absolutely nothing. Laura Ling, in the course of trying to tell an important story, also with the best of intentions, made a foolish decision to cross into North Korea that might have gotten other people hurt or killed — we’ll probably never know for sure. Without knowing that, it’s difficult to answer the question of what Laura and Euna Lee can do to redeem themselves. That leaves me feeling deeply ambivalent about both of them.

Lisa Ling has taken much more justifiable risks to tell another important story about North Korea, and she and her husband Paul Song have long supported LiNK and the cause of ending Kim Jong Il’s brutality toward his subjects. Some have suggested that Lisa Ling’s “Inside North Korea” may have set back access for other humanitarian groups to get into North Korea, but the evidence doesn’t support this view. This regime has long manipulated humanitarian aid, has never allowed in much of it, and has recently rejected most offers of humanitarian aid to the extent of mass expulsions of American aid groups and canceling a 500,000-ton aid commitment from the U.S. government. Far better, then, for some intrepid journalist to help Americans understand the terrible nature of this regime so that they can know the futility of their own generosity. “Inside North Korea” was intrepid and, for many viewers, profoundly enlightening.

Some of the criticism of Lisa Ling, not necessarily Kushibo’s, has implicitly criticized her for using her fame to gain publicity. This strikes me as more envy than principled criticism. For one thing, the publicity itself brought needed attention to this regime’s brutality. For another, there is no inherent evil in being famous or, to drive to the real emotional focus here, beautiful. In saying this, I certainly don’t refer to Kushibo, but I don’t doubt that fame and beauty are objects of resentment for some. But this is irrational, and if I were fortunate enough to be famous and drop-dead gorgeous with a loved one in distress, I’d sure as hell go on CNN to appeal for her release. It would be different if Lisa Ling had counseled her sister to cross the border, but I’ve seen no evidence to support that. Lisa Ling and Laura Ling are different people. Isn’t it at least fair to judge each by her own actions?

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Euna Lee Gets Book Deal

In a statement on Thursday, Broadway Books said that Ms. Lee’s memoir, called “The World Is Bigger Now: A Memoir of Faith, Family and Freedom,” would detail “her 140 days of imprisonment, her ongoing interrogation and her efforts to protect her sources and the subjects of her reporting,” as well as the importance of her religious faith during this time. A publication date has not been announced. Ms. Ling is presently pitching her own book with her sister, the journalist Lisa Ling. [N.Y. Times]

Interesting that they’re pursuing their deals separately.

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Glamour Magazine Names Laura Ling and Euna Lee Two of Its “Women of the Year”

1103-euna-lee-laura-ling_at.jpgAll emphasis mine:

Current TV’s Laura Ling and Euna Lee went to Asia this spring to investigate a chilling situation: the plight of women who cross the border from North Korea into China to escape starvation, only to fall prey to human traffickers. Then, suddenly, the journalists became the story, arrested for stepping into North Korean territory and thrown into jail.

[….] “Laura and Euna’s commitment to expose a terrible situation led to their arrest,” says Clothilde Le Coz of Reporters Without Borders USA. “But we depend on women like them to make sure the truth gets told. And that truth is brutal. “Refugee women are sold like livestock,” forced into prostitution or to be the wives of peasants, says Lee. Adds Ling, “They’re trading one horror for another.

[….] I hope Laura and Euna’s experience propels people to address the humanitarian crisis of trafficking. Laura Ling wants no sympathy, just change: “To take risks to draw attention to these women is part of our job. It’s why I do what I do. [Glamour Magazine]

Risks to your own safety are one thing; I can’t accept such a glib justification for risks to the safety of the vulnerable people you’re reporting about. (And yes, how quickly we forget — it’s the governments of North Korea and China that are the real villains here, and if refugees died because of this incident, it’s because the North Koreans killed them with an assist from China.)

Maybe this isn’t the time or the place for another “sorry we endangered peoples’ lives.” The womens’ apology, the interest of the greater humanitarian cause, and the support both women have offered for LiNK since their release dictate that my criticism is probably counterproductive. My admiration for Lisa Ling is undiminished; I’d have done nothing differently if I found myself in her place and had a loved one in North Korean captivity. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over my deep ambivalence about Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

It’s good to see them bringing attention to the issue … but at what cost?

Hat tip to a friend.

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Did Bill Clinton Meet Kim Jong Il’s Double?

clinton-kim-ap-photo.jpegEven for North Korea, this would be the WTF story of the year:

A number of analysts here are convinced that not all the photos being released of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, are really photos of Kim Jong-il. Instead, they say, a look-alike has been standing in for him on some of the 122 trips he’s reportedly made this year to the countryside, factories, cultural events, military units, and all sorts of other venues.

Some observers say the North Korean leader is too ill to make all these appearances. One Japanese analyst claims President Clinton didn’t meet with Kim Jong-il in August ““ he met with a Mr. Kim double. [Christian Science Monitor, Don Kirk]

The evidence for this? None, really, although Kirk points out that Saddam Hussein kept a number of doubles, and North Korean defectors say the same of Kim Jong Il:

Ha Tae-young, president of Open Radio for North Korea, which broadcasts two hours a day via shortwave into North Korea, cites the word of one recent North Korean defector.

“He says he knows a girl whose father is the actor for Kim Jong-il,” says Mr. Ha. “Recently Kim Jong-il loses fat. He’s very skinny these days. The defector says, If Kim Jong-il looks skinny, the actor can do the same thing.”

Make of this what you will. I suppose it’s not implausible, but if it’s true, we can shelve the entire conversation about health and succession. After all, the supply of doubles is as infinite as the supply of plastic surgeons.

We can defer for another day the more complex discussion of who the real Bill Clinton is.

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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.

Update:
Liveblogging to start here.

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China: Ling and Lee Weren’t Seized on Our Territory

But they don’t say how the know, what they’re basing that conclusion on, or offer any further details to support that conclusion.

The journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee said in an article in the Los Angeles Times (http:/link.reuters.com/cug44d) that they strayed into North Korean territory in March when visiting a frozen river that marked the border with China. They said they rushed back to the Chinese side but North Korean guards chased them and dragged them into North Korea.

But the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu rejected their account. “According to the understanding of the relevant (Chinese) departments, they did not find the situation as you described it,” she told reporters in answer to a question about the two U.S. journalists’ account.

Jiang deflected repeated questions about how the two were seized, telling them that her meaning was plain enough. She did not give details of how China reached its conclusions, except to say that the investigation was carried out by local authorities on the border. [Reuters]

Obviously, the Chinese are humiliated by more exposure of the fact that they allow North Korean agents to operate on their territory and kidnap refugees (and the occasional foreigner) with impunity. We are again reminded of the near-certainty that the North Korean agents who kidnapped the Rev. Kim Dong Shik must have moved him through China and across its border with North Korea with the assent of Chinese officials.

Odds are, the Chinese are lying. Unless they were surreptitiously watching the whole scene play out and laughing into the palms of their hands, there aren’t many possible sources of evidence on which they’re basing their contradiction of Laura and Ling and Euna Lee, who insist they were kidnapped from the Chinese side of the river. Let’s consider the short list of possible sources:

– The North Koreans. Enough said.

– Ling and Lee’s video, which we still haven’t seen. I’ve been very critical of Ling and Lee’s decision to cross into North Korea — especially with cameras — but it sounds implausible to me that they were still filming as they were running away. Not likely.

– Chinese-Korean guide Kim Seong-Cheol, whom the Chinese arrested after the March 17th incident. There’s a big problem with Kim S.C.’s credibility, however — Ling and Lee suggest he was on Kim Jong Il’s payroll with instructions to lure them across the border. For what it’s worth, I believe Ling and Lee on this point. It makes sense, it’s consistent with what I’ve heard all along, and the timing was extremely convenient for Kim Jong Il. Even Chun Ki-Won, who introduced Kim Seong-Cheol to Ling and Lee, claimed in an interview that he warned Ling and Lee against crossing the border. Why, then, would a guide who was on Chun’s “white list” violate that warning unless he sold Ling and Lee across the river, as it were? Of course, you’d think that Chun himself would be a bigger prize for His Withering Majesty, but then again, Chun is probably a much tougher, craftier target than these naive Americans. But Chun wasn’t there, of course. The persistent rumors that this group of Americans was lured could only have come from the last remaining witness ….

– Mitch Koss.

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Laura Ling and Euna Lee Speak

Here are the paragraphs that answer the biggest question — where were they captured? Jodi had heard they were in North Korea. I had heard that they were in China. I’d assumed that we couldn’t both be right, but as it turns out, we both were:

When we set out, we had no intention of leaving China, but when our guide beckoned for us to follow him beyond the middle of the river, we did, eventually arriving at the riverbank on the North Korean side. He pointed out a small village in the distance where he told us that North Koreans waited in safe houses to be smuggled into China via a well-established network that has escorted tens of thousands across the porous border.

Feeling nervous about where we were, we quickly turned back toward China. Midway across the ice, we heard yelling. We looked back and saw two North Korean soldiers with rifles running toward us. Instinctively, we ran.

We were firmly back inside China when the soldiers apprehended us. Producer Mitch Koss and our guide were both able to outrun the border guards. We were not. We tried with all our might to cling to bushes, ground, anything that would keep us on Chinese soil, but we were no match for the determined soldiers. They violently dragged us back across the ice to North Korea and marched us to a nearby army base, where we were detained. [L.A. Times]

Technically speaking, this might qualify as an international abduction; as it turns out, however, the law isn’t very clear as to whether there is a right of international hot pursuit (the argument weakens in the context of two young women who present no legitimate threat to anyone’s safety). Ling and Lee’s decision to cross the border would be a mitigating factor, except that they should have been released immediately after the circumstances became apparent to Kim Jong Il, and the additional circumstantial evidence that they were lured by a man who must have been a North Korean agent:

In the days before our capture, our guide had seemed cautious and responsible; he was as concerned as we were about protecting our interview subjects and not taking unnecessary risks. That is in part why we made the decision to follow him across the river.

We didn’t spend more than a minute on North Korean soil before turning back, but it is a minute we deeply regret. To this day, we still don’t know if we were lured into a trap. In retrospect, the guide behaved oddly, changing our starting point on the river at the last moment and donning a Chinese police overcoat for the crossing, measures we assumed were security precautions. But it was ultimately our decision to follow him, and we continue to pay for that decision today with dark memories of our captivity.

Ling and Lee claim that they only filmed the face of one defector, in profile. They also claim that they attempted to damage videotapes and swallow papers after their capture. That suggests that they did in fact carry their tapes into North Korea, which is just inexplicable to me, but I do believe they’re sincere when they say this:

At the same time, though, we do not want our story to overshadow the critical plight of these desperate defectors.

Since our release, we have become aware that the situation along the China-North Korea border has become even more challenging for aid groups and that many defectors are going deeper underground. We regret if any of our actions, including the high-profile nature of our confinement, has led to increased scrutiny of activists and North Koreans living along the border. The activists’ work is inspiring, courageous and crucial. [….]

We know that people would like to hear more about our experience in captivity. But what we have shared here is all we are prepared to talk about — the psychological wounds of imprisonment are slow to heal. Instead, we would rather redirect this interest to the story we went to report on, a story about despairing North Korean defectors who flee to China only to find themselves living a different kind of horror. We hope that now, more than ever, the plight of these people and of the aid groups helping them are not forgotten.

So does this change my views? To a degree, yes, although I’m still deeply conflicted about this. The circumstances suggest that they were lured, that their crossing was brief and quickly reconsidered, and that the North Koreans crossed the border to grab them anyway. That doesn’t absolve Ling and Lee of some very poor judgment, which they admit. But their regret for having done what they did seems sincere, and if they briefly forgot whose story they were there to tell, they seem to remember now.

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Lisa Ling’s Husband Expresses Concern for Refugees; Mitch Koss, Laura Ling, and Euna Lee Remain Silent

The Wall Street Journal has published its own report on the scandal that is becoming a serious threat to (among other things) Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s public image as newsworthy victims. The Journal’s story adds fuel to suspicions that Ling, Lee, and producer Mitch Koss recklessly endangered the lives of refugees and activists by carrying video of them into North Korean territory, or otherwise failed to take measures to prevent that video from falling into Chinese and North Korean hands.

Paul Song, Laura Ling’s brother-in-law, speaking on behalf of the two journalists, on Sunday expressed his concern for the missionaries, human-rights workers and displaced North Koreans inside China. “The potential for increased crackdowns is a concern for all of us,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

Mr. Song stressed that Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee repeatedly took steps “to ensure the safety of all aid workers” both before and after their arrests. [WSJ, Gordon Fairclough and Jay Solomon]

You’ll see me quoted in the article as well; Solomon interviewed me last week. A point I stressed to Solomon but which didn’t make it into the final copy was that each risk must be weighed on its own merits. With perfect hindsight, it’s too easy and simplistic to say that no one should try to infiltrate past North Korean minders to bring us unofficial views of North Korea. I would emphatically disagree with such a proposition. Recently, some have criticized Lisa Ling’s undercover visit to North Korea with a team of eye surgeons, a criticism that wasn’t evident at the time her extraordinary documentary first aired. I strongly disagree with that criticism, and I defend Lisa Ling’s documentary because while it took substantial risks — mostly for Ms. Ling herself — the only North Koreans it endangered were her Bowibu minders. On the other hand, the result of Lisa Ling’s ruse was first-class journalism that drove home the cultish depravity, crushing poverty, and pervasive intimidation in which North Koreans must somehow survive. It informed the public by breathing life and authenticity into facts most viewers only knew vaguely. On balance, the information it provided us was worth the risks Ms. Ling took. I doubt it had much negative impact on other humanitarian operations in North Korea; after all, with the exception of trusted NGO’s like the Eugene Bell Foundation, which echoes the regime’s talking points in the American press, even to the detriment of the greater North Korean population, North Korea has never allowed many NGO’s in anyway, and probably only to help pre-selected loyal citizens with the right songbun. Around the time it seized Ling and Lee, North Korea ordered out all American NGO’s and rejected American food aid, almost certainly for unrelated political or diplomatic reasons.

Now contrast that with what Laura Ling and Euna Lee did. Of the risks, we’ve said plenty, and we eagerly await Ling and Lee’s side of it. But exactly what great hidden truth lay across that remote stretch of border? Video of huts and fields? I can’t imagine that these things were what enticed them to cross, and it’s why we need to hear much more about the Chinese guide who is widely rumored to have lured Ling, Lee, and Koss into crossing the border, whom the Chinese arrested last month, and whom they released shortly thereafter (see update). An obvious suspicion is that the guide is actually a North Korean agent who lured the three journalists into crossing just as Kim Jong Il was planning to launch an ICBM and test a nuke (and consequently, to test a new American president). This wouldn’t go very far to absolve Koss, Ling, or Lee, but it would dramatically alter the analysis of North Korea’s culpability.

If true, this would be fairly characteristic behavior for the North Koreans (as would stretching the boundaries of what is “characteristic,” even for them). After all, North Korea has kidnapped dozens of people from Japan, South Korea, and other countries. It agents, whom the Chinese allow to operate on its territory to drag refugees back across the border, kidnapped the wheel-chair-bound U.S. lawful permanent resident Kim Dong Shik in 2000, dragged him across the border (almost certainly with China’s full knowledge and assent), tortured him to death, and (according to Andrei Lankov) buried him in a shallow grave on a North Korean army base near Sinuiju. American protestations over Rev. Kim, including those from then-Senator Obama, proved to be as ephemeral as all other American protestations. What could be better than luring some reckless Americans into becoming their next hostages just as His Withering Majesty planned to provoke a global crisis? The arrest of the refugees would have been an unexpected bonus.

With all of that said, I’m conflicted because I’m glad Ling and Lee decided to cover this story to begin with, but also because of another fact you probably aren’t aware of. Paul Song, Lisa Ling’s husband, is a long-time supporter of the human rights of the North Korean people and flew all the way across the country two years ago to appear at a LiNK fundraiser. Ling and Lee probably undertook this story with the best of intentions. That may be why when Song asks us to keep our minds open, I’m willing to oblige to some degree. But if there’s any truth to this story at all, Ling and Lee need to speak out — promptly and vocally — for the refugees whose faces appear in those videos. Public pressure probably won’t change the way North Korea treats those in its prisons, but it could stop the Chinese from shipping North Koreans to its gulags, and it might force China to suspend bounty payments for North Korean refugees, or to restrict the actions of the North Korean agents who operate on its territory with China’s assent.

Song’s statement is a welcome expression of concern, but it doesn’t begin to put the kind of pressure on China that will be needed to stop China from jabbing wires though the noses of North Korean refugees, stringing them together, and dragging them back across the North Korean border to be tortured to death or shot in front of their neighbors:

China’s brutal and inhuman practices flagrantly violate the 1951 Convention on Refugees and its 1968 Protocol, both of which China signed. Our dismay with the actions of Ling, Lee, and Koss, shouldn’t cause us to lost sight of the fact that the real murderers here are Kim Jong Il and his Bowibu, and that China’s fascist dictatorship is both the accessory to and enabler of every atrocity that happens in North Korea today.

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The Winding Road to Redemption

It may be the ultimate case of paving someone else’s road to hell with good intentions.

You may have heard it reported that on a lark, Laura Ling and Euna Lee crossed into North Korea and were captured while carrying video showing the faces of refugees and rescuers, whom Chinese police duly rounded up to send back to a firing squad or worse in North Korea.  Intentional?  Of course not.  Reckless?  Yes, perhaps fatally; yet it’s damage that can’t be undone now, and perhaps Ling and Lee can redeem themselves in some way that can save others from the same fate:

One of the two TV reporters who were freed after being imprisoned in North Korea said Wednesday she hopes her story will lead to more public awareness of …

North Korean refugees?  Political prisoners?  The kids who starved and the women who sold themselves into slavery while Kim Jong Il bought himself yachts, luxury cars, and palaces?  The people (you might faintly recall them) you were doing your original story about?

… the plight of journalists held captive around the world.  [….]

She added that she hopes her ordeal would bring more attention to the plight of other journalists placed under arrest.

“Euna and I are two of the lucky ones whose story of captivity resulted in a happy ending,” she said. “But there are so many journalists imprisoned around the world whose fate is still undecided.”  [AP]

After all, the only people already willing and able to bring attention to those issues are sympathetic colleagues who buy ink by the barrel, plus Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, etc.  Seriously — hasn’t it occurred to you that the fate of some other people somewhere is still undecided?  Or that you might be responsible in some way for putting them in grave danger, however unwittingly?  Or that by drawing the eyes of the world to their Chinese pursuers and North Korean executioners, you just might still save them?

Shouldn’t you at least say, “Sorry ’bout that?”

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Claudia Rosett’s Modest Proposal

Over at Pajamas Media, investigative reporting legend Claudia Rosett — she broke the oil-for-food scandal — has a proposal for Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s book/movie rights, which I heartily endorse:

Though in light of the talk now circulating about a payola of book and movie deals, I have another suggestion. It would be entirely fitting for Laura Ling and Euna Lee to donate whatever money they make from their  story to some of the private charitable organizations whose staff — often at considerable sacrifice — dedicate themselves to genuinely helping the North Korean refugees whom these two women set out to write about.  [The Rosett Report]

Claudia also says some very kind things about this blog in her post.  Thank you, Claudia.  That was very nice of you to say.

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Whoa. That’s just cold.

article-1204518-05f5d449000005dc-27_468x422_popup.jpgI’d have to say that this is the nastiest thing I’ve read yet about Laura Ling and Euna Lee.  And that said, it contains much interesting information that may or may not be at all true.  This, for example:

Kim Jong Il has ruled it with absolute authority since 1994. He was born in the Forties, but his exact birthday is asecret. He wears platform shoes and a teased hairdo and is reputed to have had a string of lovers, both male and female.

I only regret that Outweek did not live to see this day.  And this:

As of last night, the bidding war for the first interview with the two heroines had reportedly reached “˜the mid six figures’. Book publisher HarperCollins is said to have offered a cool $1million for a “˜warts and all’ account of their life during 140 days “˜behind enemy lines’.

A movie deal will surely follow. Laura’s Scottish husband Iain Clayton, a 35-year-old mathematician turned financial analyst, told The Mail on Sunday from the steps of their modest ranch-style home in the less than salubrious suburb of North Hollywood: “˜I’m afraid I can’t say anything. No one is allowed to talk. We are in the process of doing deals and I don’t want to mess anything up. Everything is being handled by our media adviser.’

Funny, because the bidding for the bounties on the women whose faces appeared in Ling and Lee’s video probably capped out at 1,000 yuan.

The Mail on Sunday has spoken to a long-time Democratic Party insider, who is a confidant of Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, now President Obama’s Secretary of State.˜Laura is sweet but not very street-smart,’ said the insider. “˜She was sent to China to make a routine programme about refugees crossing the border from North Korea but, according to Kim Jong Il’s people, she was walking across the border and leaping about.

“˜The official North Korean report said Euna was holding the camera. Of course, there was speculation they were working for the CIA. Forget that. This has been a farce. It couldn’t be more embarrassing for Obama and the agency. No one hired these girls. No one in Washington had ever heard about them until they were captured by the North Koreans.

“˜From everything I have heard about Laura, she is a Valley girl who wanted to play in the big league.

I think she did this as a stunt to compete with her sister. Lisa Ling works with people like Oprah. Laura earns peanuts at a network no one has heard of. This was her big chance.’

The reporters weren’t kind to the Clintons, either:

The Clinton confidant said: “˜This wasn’t about the women ““ this was about a PR coup.Barack Obama may have defeated Bill’s wife but this is the Clintons’ revenge. The North Koreans are talking about nuclear disarmament but they say they will talk only to Bill. It’s a win-win situation for everyone except Obama.

Me, I’ve already wearied of the bloodsport about these two.  They did something dumb, and I pray to God that it didn’t get anyone killed or sent to a labor camp.  The damage they did to our foreign policy depends on how willing Obama is to take his promises (made under the duress of a hostage-holder, after all) as seriously as Kim Jong Il takes his.  I’ll say in no uncertain terms that we should renege on any promises or concessions we made to get these women home.  As for Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee, they can still redeem themselves, if they just get over the idea that this is all about Laura Ling and Euna Lee.At the end of the day, what do I take from this?  That Euna Lee’s daughter is cute.  Her mom is a fool, and I’m still glad she’s back with her little girl again.  And I don’t see the contradiction in that.

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Almighty God, Please Spare Us the Retch-Inducing Stockholm Syndrome Speeches (Updated, Bumped)

[Updated below]

Now that Laura Ling and Euna Lee are on their way home, I have a short list of things I do and do not want to hear from them, starting with any retch-inducing drivel about how well they were treated while they shouldn’t have been in captivity at all. Let’s make that the first thing on our list:

1.  Please spare us the Stockholm Syndrome at LAX.  Try to remember that you weren’t in North Korea to rob convenience stores, hide a dead hooker, or hand out boxer briefs infected with herpes.  If things were so wonderful at that cushy non-gulag guesthouse where you were held — unlike conditions for those North Koreans who offend His Withering Majesty — then go back.  This is not a misunderstood state that eventually made contact with its inner goodness by freeing you.  It’s a place that starves, terrorizes, tortures, and murders millions of non-famous North Koreans, including potentially everyone whose face appears in the video the North Koreans say they seized from you.

2.  The only things we want to hear at LAX are how you really got across the border and a few polite words of thanks for those who helped to free you.  Were you abducted, did you get lost, were you lured, or are you just imbeciles who were trying to cover a story you knew absolutely nothing about?  Then go home to your families and say nothing else for at least a week.

3.  When you emerge, remember why you were there.  You were there to tell the story of desperate people like this woman and tens of thousands more like her who will remain forgotten, unmourned, and unmentioned in all of the glowing, shallow, stupid press coverage that will soon follow.  They won’t be objects of hope for the great, false diplomatic breakthrough that your release from unjust imprisonment represents to unintelligent people of every race, color, creed, and political persuasion.  You can make those people minimally less unintelligent by taking a moment out of the first act of your book tour to remember the refugees and those who are dying in the real gulags.

4.  As a corollary to number 3, it’s not all about you.  Before you tell your own story, tell the story you went there to tell.

5.  As a corollary to number 4, if you actually got people killed by carrying video of them into North Korea, repent what you have done.  The ignorance and stupidity that killed them should weigh on you.  Telling their stories is a small token of the burden of repentance that you owe them.  I would much prefer, of course, that you truthfully clarify that you did no such thing.

6.  No Larry King.  Not tomorrow, not next week, not ever.  Larry King is a tool and a blight upon our society, and your support for him poisons a world in which my children will have to live.

7.  Please do not pretend that your experience has made you an authority on North Korea.  This doesn’t mean you can’t become one, it just means you aren’t one because of this.

8.  Please do not tell us what your release proves about diplomacy or policy, and do not humor anyone who is stupid enough to ask.  You’re not policy analysts or diplomatic correspondents.  You’re pawns.

9.  Please don’t try to redeem the cowardice of Current TV.  That is a lost cause.

10.  If you did cross the border voluntarily, mortgage your homes now and start writing checks to repay the taxpayers for whatever your ransom cost us.

Update:   Retch inducing:

Laura Ling’s sister says the two American journalists briefly touched North Korean soil before they were captured and detained for months in that communist country.

“She said that it was maybe 30 seconds and then everything got chaotic. It’s a very powerful story, and she does want to share it,” Lisa Ling told CNN Thursday.  [….]
Laura Ling told her family she was treated humanely, but meals were meager and her phone calls were monitored, Lisa Ling said.

“She had two guards in her room at all times, morning and night. And even though they couldn’t speak to her, somehow they developed a strange sort of kinship, Lisa Ling said. “She had some really lovely things to say about the people who were watching over her.   [AP]

It’s all about me, and I was treated well!   Tell it to the people who appeared on your confiscated video before the Chinese police poked wires through their wrists and dragged them back across the border to die in the gulag, or before a firing squad of onlookers.

Until now, I confess that I could not bring myself to believe that people could be this stupid, and wanted to extend Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee the benefit of any remaining doubts.  It looks like I was wrong.  This must be the most consequentially idiotic thing I’ve seen done in the five years I’ve been writing this blog — frankly, it borders on negligent homicide.  Is it any wonder why there’s so much awful journalism being written about North Korea today?

Related:   John Podhoretz isn’t thrilled with this pair, either:

[N]ow that they are out of jeopardy, Ling and Lee deserve to be held accountable, at least in the realm of public opinion, for the unthinkably bad judgment they displayed in their preposterous, vainglorious, and astoundingly naive venture. Possessing some fantasy about presenting an inside look at North Korea on an justifiably unwatched (because unwatchable) cable channel called Current TV, they thought they could sneak undetected into a Gulag state, film some footage with a DV camera, and then sneak back out to the hosannas of the Peabody Award committee. This is something they chose to do and were given license to attempt by their employers, and for which they paid a horrific, far too horrific, a price.

That must be the case as well for Al Gore and Joel Hyatt, the co-owners of Current TV, who have doubtless existed in a state of terrible “what have I done” anxiety about this since the arrests. But none of them can be simply excused for the way in which their foolishness has exacted a price from the government of the United States, which has been at a loss under administrations Democratic and Republican for more than two decades as to what to do about North Korea and its threat. The interpolation of this melodrama and its resolution have made this nation’s policy toward North Korea even more messy, though that hardly seemed possible, entirely due to a preventable error on the part of two amateurish journalists and their amateurish network.

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Upping the Ante

It is indeed good news to hear of the safe return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee after months of imprisonment in North Korea, but does this really signal an improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations? North Korea did, after all, use these journalists to get what it wanted (Bill Clinton in North Korea), and the U.S. did honor the regime’s request, although under the label of a “private” mission.

While the rescue is being hailed as a “success,” it’s too early to call this a victory or a thawing in bilateral relations. The real test will come the next time the U.S. finds itself at odds with North Korea. Only then, can we comment with certainty whether or not relations between the two countries have really improved and if this incident was the starting point for real change. For example, can we expect to see North Korea back at the negotiating table in relation to its nuclear weapons program? I doubt it, although here are a few possible scenarios that may unfold.

Let’s make no mistake about what happened this time around: Kim Jong Il used the two journalists to get what he wanted. By getting Bill Clinton to North Korea, Kim secured his legacy in the eyes of the North Korean people. As one American newspaper editorial said (sorry I can’t remember which one it was, I thought I bookmarked it but it turns out I didn’t), Clinton’s visit added to Kim Jong Il’s legacy in the eyes of North Koreans, maybe even helping him surpass that of his father’s.

So was it worth aiding in a little pro-KJI propaganda for the safe return of these two reporters? (I’m not sure if it’d be even possible to do something like this quietly.) And what will happen next time North Korea detains two of our citizens? As one OpEd I read said, in the past we’d just send off someone like Bill Richardson to negotiate their release. This time, however, we gave North Korea a former U.S. President and lots of media attention. Next time will they up the ante and ask for more?

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