In the wake of Bowe Bergdahl’s release, why aren’t we doing more for Kenneth Bae?

Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).
Korean American Kenneth Bae before his imprisonment (left) and after a year in a North Korean labour camp where he is being held captive as a political prisoner (right).

Earlier this week, the Obama Administration secretly secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US serviceman still listed as missing-in-action in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Bergdahl was held captive for 5 years by the Taliban under unknown conditions, and is currently in hospital under medical supervision; the long-lasting psychological and emotional scars of his imprisonment are even more unclear. What we do know is that Bergdahl’s release was initiated in part due to concerns that he would likely die if he remained with his Taliban captors.

In order to negotiate Bergdahl’s release, President Obama agreed to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. This deal is being widely criticized by Republicans for bypassing Congress and for emboldening terrorists through negotiation. They argue that Bergdahl was a deserter,who did not deserve US intervention on his behalf. They criticize that this deal legitimized the Taliban.

But I fail to understand the alternative — to allow a man to die because we are willing to declare war on a terrorist organization but cannot recognize them across a negotiation table?

Regardless of the circumstances of his capture, Bowe Bergdahl is a US citizen and serviceman and I believe that the US government has a moral responsibility (if not necessarily the legal one, as I learned from Snoopy this morning) to advocate on behalf of its citizenry when their lives are unlawfully at-risk overseas. In this case, the US government had the means by which to save the life of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, and they took it.

What I want to know is this: if the Obama administration is willing to take steps to secure the release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl from the hands of the Taliban, why have they still done so little to help free Kenneth Bae, a US citizen and civilian who has been illegitimately imprisoned in a North Korean labour camp for nearly two years — an innocent American citizen who is likely being held under conditions so deplorable they violate all contemporary definitions of human rights?

If President Obama will save Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, why won’t he save Kenneth Bae?

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