North Korean officials said months ago that American prisoner Kenneth Bae would not be used as a political pawn. Their latest action suggests they’ve changed their mind.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced Sunday that North Korean officials had rescinded a second invitation for a special American envoy to fly to Pyongyang to meet with Bae. According to this Associated Press news story, the cancellation “signals an apparent protest of upcoming annual military drills between Washington and Seoul and an alleged mobilization of U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 bombers during training near the Korean Peninsula. North Korea calls the planned drills a rehearsal for invasion, a claim the allies deny.”
North Korean leaders would be wise to let Bae — imprisoned for 15 months now — return to his family before his health deteriorates any further. Bae is not a public official or representative of the U.S. government. He entered the country numerous times as a tour operator before he was detained in November 2012. He is a father, husband, son and brother, and a man of faith who has apologized (possibly under duress) to the North Korean regime for whatever crimes they claim he committed.
The Seattle Times editorial board has published numerous editorials in support of a humanitarian release for Bae. Below is video of CNN’s social media campaign, launched last Friday, to raise awareness about Bae’s plight.
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The former Lynnwood resident’s family says he has been transferred from a hospital back into a labor camp to continue a 15-year sentence. Here’s an excerpt of their latest public statement:
We are also distressed to learn that Kenneth was sent back to the labor camp on Jan. 20, which gives our family renewed urgency to bring him home. Kenneth suffers from chronic medical conditions that require treatment, including severe back pain. We remain gravely concerned that the stress Kenneth endures at the labor camp will be too much for him. We do not know whether his body will be able to withstand the strains of hard labor, eight hours a day, six days a week.
Last week, President Obama referenced Bae in his annual remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. On Friday, CNN launched a Twitter-focused campaign (using the Twitter handle @bringbaeback and the hashtag #BRINGBAEBACK) to help the family keep Bae’s name in the media. The family and State Department officials say noted civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has offered to go to Pyongyang to help.
What now? U.S. officials cannot read the mind of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. His regime has been vague, signaling at different times that it might be willing to release Bae. They should show some humanity and outline exactly what it would take to do so.