Yonhap and The Washington Post are reporting that North Korea’s official “news” agency, the Korean Central News Agency or KCNA, has expressed its support for an extremist’s slashing of U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert yesterday, calling it “a just punishment.” You won’t find those words in the English version of KCNA’s report, whose headline is a dry, “U.S. Ambassador Attacked by S. Korean,” although you will see that KCNA spelled the Ambassador’s name “Report.” The Korean-language headline of the same article, however, translates to something like, “Act of just punishment for war-crazy America.” Here’s a screenshot of the original Korean.
KCNA has as bad a reputation for malware infections as Tijuana has for infections of other kinds, but if you’re willing to risk it, here’s a link. You’ve been warned.
The linguistic disparity looks like another case of KCNA code-switching for Korean- and English-speaking readers, in the same way it chose not to translate its most racist attack on President Obama. KCNA must assume that English speakers won’t notice, and that Korean speakers won’t care (which says a lot about what kind of Korea KCNA believes in). I’ve pasted the full English-version KCNA article below the fold. Here are some excerpts:
Kim Ki Jong, representative of the Uri Madang, a civic organization demanding peace against war, suddenly stormed with a knife Mark, shouting the south and the north must be reunified and he is opposed to a war. [….]
He didn’t stop shouting slogans opposing war and the U.S.-south Korea joint military exercises, being walked away by police.
Because you can’t really say you love peace unless you’ve slashed a diplomat’s face for it.
KBS, CBS, MBC and other broadcasting services of south Korea reported the news, screening Mark shedding blood from his face and wrist. The AP and other foreign news agencies promptly aired the breaking news.
This is my cue to remind you that the AP is a business partner of KCNA, through two memoranda of agreement that the AP refuses to disclose. According to leaked drafts, however, the AP agreed to “serve the purpose of the coverage and worldwide distribution of policies of the Worker’s Party of Korea and the DPRK government.”
CNN, quoting south Korean media as reporting Kim was opposed to the joint military exercises, said that his remarks were prompted by his anti-American feelings.
The puppet police are strictly guarding U.S.-related facilities allegedly to cope with emergency.
The recent case amid mounting anti-Americanism reflects the mindset of south Korean people censuring the U.S. for bringing the danger of a war to the Korean peninsula through the madcap saber-rattling. -0-
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. The Obama Administration’s official view is that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a Korean Airlines flight in 1987.” Discuss among yourselves.
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Ambassador Lippert’s wounds were ghastly:
Surgeon Jung Nam-sik of Yonsei University Hospital, speaking at a televised briefing, said 80 stitches were needed to repair Lippert’s facial wound, which was more than four inches long and one inch deep. The cut did not affect his nerves or salivary gland, the surgeon said. Lippert also suffered significant knife wounds to his left wrist while apparently struggling to push off his assailant.
The ambassador is expected to be able to use his hand after four weeks of treatment, but due to tendon damage, a more complete recovery will take longer because of the loss of sensation in his little finger, his doctors said. [N.Y. Times]
According to the doctors, “it will take several months for Mr. Lippert to recover full use of his injured fingers.” If there’s anything fortunate about this ugly incident, it’s the fact that it happened in the world’s plastic surgery capital. It’s never a good thing to have your face slashed by a knife-wielding extremist, but if it happens, there’s no better place to get reconstructive surgery than Seoul. The attack must have been horrifying for Lippert and his wife. That Pyongyang would support this openly tells you plenty about its easy, casual embrace of crimes that cause human suffering.
The attack will mean the end of Lippert’s brave walks through Seoul without bodyguards, but if anyone in the State Department reads this, I hope they’ll encourage the Ambassador to go right back onto the streets, scars and all — with bodyguards — as a vivid reminder of what Kim Ki-Jong’s ideology stands for. As soon as he feels well enough, of course.
Kim sounds like the sort of left-nationalist whose ideology was at its apex when I was in Korea, as I described it in my congressional testimony years ago. That sentiment has since ebbed, although latent extremism is a hard thing to poll. South Korea wants us to see this as an isolated incident, which, strictly speaking, it is today.
[Kim Ki-Jong at a protest at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, one year ago]
That wasn’t always the case. In 1989, left-nationalist thugs occupied U.S. Ambassador Donald Gregg’s residence, occupied the U.S. Information Service building in Seoul, and tried to burn down the U.S. Cultural Center in Gwangju. In 2006, others blocked former Ambassador Sandy Vershbow from going to an interview.
There is a small-but-significant constituency in South Korea that agrees with Kim Ki-Jong’s sentiment, if not necessarily his methods. Some commenters at the far-left, U.S.-based Minjok Tongshin are expressing their support for the attack. (Yes, I’m assuming that some of them are South Koreans.) One even compares Kim Ki-Jong to Yun Bong-Gil, who orchestrated an anti-Japanese bombing in 1932, and who is considered a national hero in South Korea. The intersection of nationalism and socialism is an especially ugly place.
Other commenters disagree with Kim’s violent methods. Overall, the vast majority of Koreans will be repelled by the attack.
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Having established that the reports of North Korea’s support for the attack are accurate, let’s examine the legal significance of that support. Under Section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, the Secretary of State may designate a state as a sponsor of terrorism if he finds that the state has “repeatedly provide[d] support for acts of international terrorism.” There are no authoritative definitions of “support” or “international terrorism” for purposes of a SSOT listing, but we can get a good idea of what those words mean from the various definitions of “terrorism” scattered around the U.S. Code, and in the case of “support,” from other, less authoritative sources.
We’ll take the simpler question first. Was the attack international terrorism? Based on the facts reported so far, pretty clearly so. It was a premeditated, violent, politically motivated attack by the head of a violent, extremist subnational group (it calls itself Uri Madang) against a noncombatant target. The attacker knew where and when Lippert would be speaking and may have had a hand in inviting him to breakfast. His political motive was to protest annual U.S.-Korean military exercises. Targeting an ambassador makes the attack international terrorism. As such, it would meet the definitions at 22 U.S.C. 2656f and in the Criminal Code, at 18 U.S.C. 2331(1). It would also meet the definition of “terrorist activity” in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which is the definition the State Department uses to designate Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Also, Kim reportedly told the police, “Today I committed a terrorist act.” So there’s that.
The question of “support” is the harder one. Although KCNA’s statement certainly fits one plain-usage meaning of “support,” as far as we know, the support was only post-hoc, verbal support. There’s no evidence that KCNA has ever referred to Kim Ki-Jong or “Uri Madang,” the group he led before today. On the other hand, Kim had visited North Korea six times, which is pretty rare for South Koreans who aren’t involved in some kind of cross-border business venture. Kim even tried to build a Kim Jong-Il* monument in Seoul. It seems unlikely that the North Koreans could have failed to take an interest in him by his third visit, but that’s just my speculation.
By itself, KCNA’s statement of support doesn’t prove that North Korea encouraged, facilitated, or planned the attack. But what does “support” mean, legally? The answer isn’t clear. There are only two places where anyone wrote anything in official sources approximating a definition. One of them is a (non-binding) 1989 congressional report, quoted here. That report lists some categories of conduct that would qualify, including providing materials, money, training, sanctuary, or planning or directing attacks. KCNA’s post-hoc verbal support isn’t any of those things, but that list isn’t exclusive.
A more authoritative source is this section of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989 (the same section that defines “international terrorism,” as codified in Title 22). It doesn’t, strictly speaking, define “support” — no statute does that — but it does describe conduct that the State Department is required to report in its in annual Country Reports on Terrorism. That conduct includes political support. That suggests Congress wanted State to consider conduct that falls short of material support, but which nonetheless encourages terrorism. And a fair reading of KCNA’s reaction to the attack on Ambassador Lippert would be, “More like this, please.”
Did the North Koreans say anything before the attack that could be viewed as inciting it? Well, read this and this from Pyongyang’s Rodong Sinmun from a few days ago and ask yourself how Kim Ki-Jong would have interpreted it. For example:
The whole Korean nation and the peace-loving people all over the world are required to resolutely check and frustrate the anti-DPRK nuclear war drills by the U.S. and south Korean puppet group that harass the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.
Rhetoric like this is common in North Korean propaganda. We have no way of knowing whether Kim Ki-Jong even read this, of course. It’s technically illegal to read the Rodong Sinmun in South Korea. Regardless of whether you believe Pyongyang incited this attack, however, it pretty clearly means to incite the next one.
Is there any precedent for the State Department considering the mere incitement of attacks to be the state sponsorship of terrorism? There is. State’s 1991 Country Reports on Terrorism cited Saddam Hussein’s call for “all of his terrorist allies to attack coalition targets, frequently through announcements on Iraq’s Mother of Battles radio.” The 1997 report (among others) cited the Ayatollah Khomeini’s offer and broadcast of a bounty for the first guy to kill Salman Rushdie for writing “The Satanic Verses.” The 2009, 2010, and 2012 reports cited Syria’s hosting of al-Rai radio, a pro-Baathist radio station that “transmitted violent messages in support of terrorism in Iraq.” So there’s ample precedent for State to consider incitement of violence as the state sponsorship of terrorism. And it’s certainly not above Pyongyang to directly incite the very sort of act that Kim Ki-Jong committed:
Could State re-list North Korea as an SSOT because of its approval of an attack on a U.S. Ambassador? The legal standards are vaporous, but yes, it could. There isn’t much evidence that Pyongyang actually caused this incident or intended for it to happen, although its statement today encouraged more like it. The incitement of terrorism was enough to justify the SSOT listings of Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It could justify a re-listing of North Korea.
Should State re-list North Korea as a SSOT for expressing its support for this attack? No. State should re-list North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism because of its multiple attempted or completed assassinations of activists and defectors in China and South Korea. It should re-list North Korea because of its long relationship with Hezbollah, in which North Korea helped Hezb dig a tunnel system, and was caught shipping it two boatloads and one plane-load of weapons, including MANPADS. It should re-list North Korea because of its threat against audiences for “The Interview,” right here in the United States. It should re-list North Korea for the kidnapping and murder of the Reverend Kim Dong Shik, for which Barack Obama personally promised, in writing, to oppose removing North Korea from the list to begin with.
All of those things meet any reasonable interpretation of what “support for international terrorism” means. Of course, if none of those things was enough for our State Department, I don’t suppose this will be, either.
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* A previous version of this post said Kim Il-Sung. Since corrected.