by Julie G.
My heart is bursting with the news that journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee have been freed from North Korea. They had been sentenced in June for 12 years in a hard labor prison for the crime of "committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry." They were arrested at the country's border with China.
Their arrest, sentencing, and subsequent release was part of the on-going nuclear politics that has pitted North Korea against its cousin, Japan, and the U.S. Less ideologically framed worry emanates from China and Russia, although both responded with concern to N. Korea's May testing of a nuclear device (and have implemented sanctions against the country).
Clinton (Bill) was acting as "a private citizen" when he flew over on a jet owned and volunteered by a long-time Democratic Party supporter. He was requested by the North Koreans. He did this even after the North Korean foreign minister called Clinton's wife (who happens to be our Secretary of State) a "funny lady" who sometimes looks like a "pensioner going shipping."
There's a great deal of debate swirling about what promises Mr. Clinton made for the trade, although the Obama crew has been assiduous about making clear that this was a purely private affair.
As to North Korea, perhaps there is an opportunity for circumstances to become less fraught and that this "good will" gesture is a way to reach out with honor. Kim Jong-Il reportedly has pancreatic cancer and there are signs that the party oligarchy is splitting in a power struggle.
North Korea is, as far as I can tell, the only totalitarian regime working today — totalitarian in the political sciency sense of an ideologically based regime that endeavors to control all political, economic, social, and cultural life. They spend a great deal of time forcibly "re-educating" their population, 1984 style (think room 101). Distribution of banned books, the Bible, for example, is punishable by death. A woman was recently publicly executed for such a crime and her entire family sent to a prison camp the day after her execution. This is a regime that rivals those of Stalin and Mao for brutality (I do not engage in hyperbole when selecting those names). I imagine, if/when the country opens up and archives might be opened, we will be astounded by the death toll and fret uselessly about why we didn't even think about the crimes being committed for the literally decades they occurred. The Washington Post ran an astoundingly chilling article in the midst of the journalist debacle.
** posted by Julie G.