Last night, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), a state-run North Korean news outlet, announced that a second American citizen — Jeffrey Edward Fowle — has been detained in North Korea. Fowle entered North Korea on April 29 with a private tour group but was arrested from his group for “perpetrat[ing] activities that violated the laws of [North Korea’s] republic”, according to KCNA. CNN cites Japanese news agency Kyodo reports that Fowle was arrested for leaving a bible in his hotel room, citing anonymous sources. That report has not been confirmed elsewhere.
Kenneth Bae was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after taking pictures of starving North Korean orphans — the North Korean government alleges Bae was also using his North Korean tourism company to support the country’s network of underground Christian churches and as part of an “underground railroad” to help refugees flee the country. According to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, North Korea views Christianity as a “serious threat” that subverts the totalitarian regime of the government.
Bae has been languishing since November 2012 in a North Korean prison camp where he is likely suffering starvation, abuse and torture, leading to a significant deterioration in his health.
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?