Detained Americans: Not-So-Innocents Abroad



As we are digesting the aftermath of the Rodman visit to Pyongyang, CNN has provided an interesting list of some other Americans who have been detained abroad. The list focuses on political systems in which the detentions are suspect: Cuba, Egypt (the NGO worker saga), North Korea and Venezuela. The chronology of the prior North Korean cases is appended below but omits Robert Park for some reason; he was imprisoned and tortured in North Korea as well.

A closer look at the list reveals a disturbing pattern: many Americans appear unaware of the fact that they are in authoritarian countries not known for the integrity of their legal systems. Surprise, surprise! You are not innocent. Another pattern visible in the cases is extortion; three American hikers swept up by the Iranians appear to have paid $500,000 each for bail and money features in a number of the other cases as well.

In Obama and China’s Rise, Jeff Bader offers up an acid assessment of the headaches these cases create for American diplomats. Speaking of the Euna Lee and Laura Ling case, he writes:

“We all felt a sense of relief that the journalists, who had been mistreated, were safe and sound. We also felt considerable irritation at American innocents abroad who stumble into such situations as if they were in downtown LA and then expect to be saved, without regard to the damage they do to US national security interests. The possibility of repeat performances by other gullible or misguided Americans, putting us in a similar box, worried us, and rightly so, although subsequent incidents did not involve as 'valuable' a prize as Ling and Lee were.”

A final note: I actually agree with the Worm on Kenneth Bae (for the record, my colleague Marc Noland doesn't). Yes, it is embarrassing that Rodman’s “friend for life” didn’t do him the solid he asked for, and rather dissed Ambassador Bob King immediately following Rodman’s interview on The Huffington Post live (North Korea talk starts at about 15:00). And its even more embarrassing that Kim Jong Un is Rodman's "friend for life," and just a "really good guy." But is it Rodman’s job to get stray Americans released? The only issue at the moment is whether Rodman's basketball diplomacy effort should go forward. The prospects of some breakthrough are slim; look at the New York Philharmonic initiative. But the costs strike us as low too; we don't see anything else on the horizon.

Aijalon Gomes

January 25, 2010 - Aijalon Mahli Gomes, of Boston, is detained in North Korea after crossing into the country illegally from China. He had formerly taught English in South Korea.

April 7, 2010 - He is sentenced to eight years of hard labor and ordered to pay a fine of 70 million North Korean won or approximately $600,000.

July 10, 2010 - Gomes is hospitalized after attempting to commit suicide.

August 25-27, 2010 - Former President Jimmy Carter arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea, with hopes of negotiating for Gomes's release.

August 27, 2010 - Carter and Gomes leave Pyongyang after Gomes is granted amnesty by Kim Jong Il for humanitarian purposes.


Euna Lee and Laura Ling

Prior to this event, no Americans had ever been tried in North Korea's Supreme Court.

March 17, 2009 - Journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling cross into North Korea, are apprehended by North Korean soldiers, and charged with illegal entry to conduct a smear campaign.

June 4, 2009 - They are sentenced to 12 years hard labor in a North Korean prison with no forgiveness and no appeal allowed.

August 4, 2009 - Former President Bill Clinton travels to Pyongyang on a private humanitarian mission to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to help secure their release.

August 5, 2009 - The women are pardoned and released after 140 days in captivity.

May 18, 2010 - Laura Ling and sister Lisa Ling's book, "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home", is published.

September 28, 2010 - Release date for Euna Lee's book, "The World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness".


Eddie Yong Su Jun

April 12, 2011 - An American man has been detained by North Korean authorities, State Department officials tell CNN. A diplomatic source familiar with the case says the man entered North Korea in November.

April 14, 2011 - The KCNA news agency reports that U.S. citizen Eddie Yong Su Jun was arrested in November 2010 and has been under investigation for committing a crime against North Korea. No details are provided on the alleged crime.

April 2011 - North Korean says Yong Su Jun has admitted his crime. The specific nature of the crime has not been revealed.

May 27, 2011 - Following a visit from the American delegation which includes the special envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Jon Brause, to North Korea, detainee Eddie Yong Su Jun is released.


Kenneth Bae

December 11, 2012 - U.S. officials confirm that American citizen Kenneth Bae has been detained in North Korea for over a month.

April 30, 2013 - North Korea's Supreme Court sentences Bae to 15 years of hard labor for "hostile acts" against the country.

August 27, 2013 - The State Department says that Ambassador Robert King will travel to Pyongyang at North Korea's invitation and ask for Bae's pardon on humanitarian grounds.

August 30, 2013 - North Korea rescinds its invitation for King to travel to North Korea and try to secure the release of Bae.

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