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January 13, 2014 at 12:52 PM

Forget Dennis Rodman’s tearful apology, shift attention to Kenneth Bae

A defiant and visibly emotional Dennis Rodman faced a throng of reporters after landing in Beijing over the weekend.

Watch the CNN video below:

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Regardless of his tearful non-apology apology, the former NBA player deserves to stay atop the “loser of the week” list a while longer. That’s what he gets for throwing fellow American Kenneth Bae under the bus. In a ridiculous CNN interview last week, Rodman suggested Bae deserved his 15-year sentence in a North Korean labor camp. Oh, that was just a drunken rant, he later said in a written statement, spurred on by the stress of realizing he’s the only guy in the room defending a brutal dictator.

The Worm’s style of “basketball diplomacy” is about as bad as his attempt to channel Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song. But at least the collapse of his latest goodwill efforts will remind the world that Kenneth Bae is experiencing serious health complications under the watch of Kim Jong Un’s prison guards.

Jack Ohman/Op Art

Jack Ohman/Op Art

Lucky for Rodman, Bae’s family in Washington state issued a statement last Thursday accepting his apology:

Our family accepts Dennis Rodman’s apology for his outrageous outburst about my brother, Kenneth Bae, who remains imprisoned in North Korea (DPRK).  As Rodman has stated, being drunk and stressed is not an excuse for what he said, but we acknowledge he is human and we all do make mistakes.

Our greatest concern remains the health and freedom of my brother Kenneth. We hope and pray that Rodman’s comments and ongoing antics have not further endangered my brother. Kenneth’s health and freedom are precarious.

The fact is Kenneth’s life is on the line. Though we understand Rodman enjoyed some laughs and smokes during a couple of basketball games in North Korea, to our family, this situation is no joke. This is not a game.

It seems Bae’s only path to freedom after 14 months in captivity is for the North Koreans to release him on humanitarian grounds. They’ve done this numerous times before with other American prisoners, including the freeing of 85-year-old Korean War veteran Merrill Newman just last month. With continued attention and encouragement from the rest of the world, they might do it again for Kenneth Bae.

Over the past year, The Seattle Times’ editorial board has published numerous editorials on Bae. (Click on this link to see an archive of news stories, editorials and blog posts related to Bae.)

It’s helpful for the family to see other pundits and newspapers joining the dialogue.

Here’s a partial roundup over the last few days:

Editorial by The Washington Post on Jan. 8:

Mr. Rodman happens to be the only American, and one of the few foreigners, with access to the young leader. Mr. Kim has partied repeatedly with the former Chicago Bull, but he has yet to meet a foreign head of state. Yet when Mr. Rodman was asked after a previous visit about whether he had raised Mr. Bae’s case with Mr. Kim, he said, “That’s not my job.” That was before his obscene rant about Mr. Bae on CNN Tuesday, which caused at least one of his fellow basketball mercenaries to express remorse for joining the tour.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the callow Mr. Kim were to conclude that, thanks to Mr. Rodman, he doesn’t need to free Mr. Bae in order to win good will in the United States. As the prisoner’s sister puts it, that is “no diplomacy”; it is “playing games with my brother’s life.”

Editorial by The Eugene Register-Guard on Jan. 8:

But before accusing Bae in a television interview, Rodman should understand that North Korea has never provided a shred of evidence that Bae was guilty of anything remotely resembling a hostile act against North Korea.

A devout Christian from Washington state, Bae ran a tour business and often visited North Korea to help the country’s orphans. At the time of his arrest in November 2012, Bae had pictures of orphans in his laptop that apparently angered North Korean officials. It’s also probable that Bae’s religious beliefs provoked authorities. (North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but no religious activities are tolerated.)

Bae is in poor health and is an innocent man who deserves to be set free, not wasting away in a North Korean labor camp and accused by Rodman of committing crimes against the North Korean people.

World Politics Review and Miami Herald Columnist Frida Ghitis for CNN Opinion on Jan. 8:

We all have a responsibility to speak up, to do what we can when weak people are so clearly victimized. For most of us, there are limited opportunities to help, and there are many issues competing for attention. Rodman, on the other hand, has a unique chance to at least try to make a difference.

Choosing to do nothing when you may have the ability to help is an even greater moral failing than ignoring a crisis when it is more difficult to intercede on behalf of the powerless.

Perhaps Dennis Rodman will have a moment of lucidity and do something meaningful. Perhaps he will surprise us. For now, behind his permanent sunglasses and shining lip rings, he is offering only weird entertainment, and an unintentional reminder that human beings have larger responsibilities.

Editorial notebook by Foon Rhee of The Sacramento Bee on Jan. 9:

While my family didn’t suffer as much as many during the Korean War, my father was imprisoned in a North Korean camp. He never really spoke of how horrific the conditions were for him. Before he passed away in 2001, my dad only told me how grateful he was to the American soldiers who liberated him…

Once he’s had his fun, Rodman will get on a plane and leave. Suffering North Koreans – and Kenneth Bae – don’t have that freedom.

Editorial in the Peoria Journal Star on Jan. 9:

American missionary Kenneth Bae is in a hard labor prison in North Korea, and Rodman’s implication in that interview that might be justified is offensive. (He has since apologized, blaming alcohol and stress.) Like Jane Fonda’s visit to Hanoi more than four decades ago, Rodman will forgive those who view his endorsement of that soulless place and its vicious regime — long known for human rights abuses and cold and calculated deprivation of their people, the polar opposite of Rodman’s life of excess — as proof only of his own, infinite ignorance.

ESPN interview with The Nation sports writer and Rodman defender Dave Zirin on Jan. 10:

How many people even knew the name Kenneth Bae before the news of the last week? I mean, that’s the first American in a North Korean labor camp since the Korean war! And yet now his name is on people’s lips. Whatever people think of Dennis Rodman, anything that provokes discussion has to be seen as a positive…

Kenneth Bae’s family and their outrage over his visit is also front-page news across the country and across the world. Once again,  how many people did not know who Kenneth Bae was before this?”

 Editorial cartoon and column by the Northeast Ohio Media Group’s Jeff Darcy in The Cleveland Plain Dealer on Jan. 13:

Rodman’s traveling clown show stopped being funny after he committed his umpteenth personal foul by saying the American missionary Kenneth Bae’s imprisonment in N. Korea was justified.    Rodman has since apologized to Bae’s family.  He should also apologize to the United States and all the subjugated, starving, North Koreans not eating birthday cake.  Right now, many of Rodman’s fellow citizens would applaud Rodman being traded to North Korea for Kenneth Bae and a political prisoner to be named later.

Editorial published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jan. 13:

It would be unwise for Mr. Rodman to intercede on behalf of Mr. Bae, who has been held in North Korea since November 2012. And the athlete’s remarks Tuesday implying that Mr. Bae was responsible for his own captivity were not helpful. (He apologized for them Thursday.)

Still, Mr. Rodman has a value to U.S. interests as an American to whom Mr. Kim can relate. Assuming he’s debriefed after his visits for insights to the dictator’s moods, Dennis Rodman is the closest thing the State Department has to an ear in Pyongyang.

Comments | Topics: Dennis Rodman, diplomacy, kenneth bae


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