North Korea journos: respond to China by mattsteinglass
June 8, 2009, 12:13 pm
Filed under: China, Korea

With the news in that North Korea has sentenced Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two American journalists it kidnapped in March from just across its border with China, to 12 years in prison, one is tempted to throw up one’s hands in frustration. There’s little the US, Europe, or Japan can do to punish North Korea that they haven’t already done, and no proportional measure is likely to free the journalists anytime soon.

But it’s ludicrous and unacceptable to let North Korea have the idea that it can go around kidnapping people abroad. That’s simply beyond all bounds of behavior that the rest of the world can live with. The appropriate target for a response, therefore, is China. China was clearly allowing North Korean security agents to operate on its side of the border. It is China that allowed North Korea to kidnap these women and take them back to Pyongyang. The US needs to make clear to China that it can’t allow North Korea to do that anymore, period. There’s a similar situation near the Tibetan-Nepalese border, where Nepal allows Chinese plainclothes security agents to operate on the Nepalese side of the border, harassing journalists. That has to stop. It’s one thing for countries to establish repressive legal regimes and harass journalists and activists inside their own borders. But people simply cannot be expected to live in a situation where even when they are in other countries, they may be kidnapped by secret service agents of a country they are reporting on and then accused of violating the laws of a country they never set foot in. This, among other things, is something the US should have been conscious of when it started applying “extraordinary rendition” policies.


14 Comments so far
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Sooner or later, the world’s powers will finally see that the cost of keeping North Korea afloat is more than letting it fall. By then, the cost of letting it fall will have grown so much, that it’ll likely result in the collapse of the South’s economy – as they will be expected to the bulk of the efforts to rehabilitate the North.

When a people have been shown that risk has no rewards, that humanity has no place in society, that family has no worth except that defined by the state (for multiple generations as in PRNK), it’ll take generations to reinstill the normal human traits found in the rest of the world. Given this, one has to examine the following question warily and hopefully find a better way of dealing with the eventual fall of PRNK:

“They shoot horses, don’t they?”

Comment by Chris

My heart goes out to Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and I don’t really have a view on whether or not China is complicit. But the last two sentences of Matt Steinglass’s original post are a non sequitor, and are off the mark.

In certain circumstances a person can and should bear responsibility for crimes in a jurisdiction he has never entered. Osama Bin Laden is just the most obvious example. If Bernie Madoff Jr. specifically targets people in Texas and Arkansas without ever leaving the 17th Floor of the Lipstick Building in Manhattan, you can bet that he will have violated a bunch of Texas and Arkansas laws and that those state governments will want to throw him in jail.

Texas Rangers aren’t going to storm into Manhattan looking for Madoff Jr., but that’s because the NYPD will do the job and then extradite him to Texas. But what if the “home jurisdiction” is unwilling or unable to do the job? We can’t go into Pakistan and go after Osama Bin Laden? Even though it’s quite certain that he’s not playing shuffleboard in a retirement community?

Extraordinary rendition is a different kettle of fish, and I won’t defend it. But I believe that the relevant principle is the same as that stated above, with respect to OBL and Bernie Madoff, Jr. These were people suspected of planning attacks on the US, who were taken into custody by the US (or handed over to the US). The fact that they might not have voluntarily brought themselves into the US, in the same way that Steinglass is assuming that Euna Lee and Laura Ling did not voluntarily put themselves in NK territory, is irrelevant.

To the extent that US policy is relevant to the Lee/Ling situation, it’s relevant because US policy promoted torture and/or allowed other countries to torture (extraordinary rendition). I think that, in some case, that will lower any inhibitions of other countries to torture Americans who fall into their hands.

Comment by James

I was thinking of cases where the US has kidnapped people in third countries — such as the Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr case in Italy — who were accused of being associated with terrorist organizations. It would be one thing for such people to be arrested by Italian police on an Interpol warrant based on concrete charges from the US. Analogously, if North Korea were to file warrants for the arrest of American journalists working in China for the crime of slander against the North Korean Communist Party, and China were to indicate that it would honor such warrants, then journalists would know where they stood and stop reporting on North Korea from China. The difference, it’s true, is that terrorism is a crime in Italy, while criticizing Kim Jong-Il isn’t a crime in China. But my general sense is that US activity over the past 9 years has contributed to governments’ sense that their agents can run around the world kidnapping their enemies in third countries.

Comment by mattsteinglass

I think you’re stretching here. The Mossad did exactly this to Adolf Eichmann in the 1950s – they went to Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial for a collection of heinous acts but in fairness acts that couldn’t possibly have been committed in Israel because there was no Israel at the time he committed them. This far predates any US policy of extraordinary rendition. And I’d say there aren’t many people who disagree with the result.

Those of us who criticize have an extra duty to be accurate. You seem to have missed the mark here. Your post is well-founded and your point is strong, and you’d seem to be on firmer ground just to say that what the North Korean government and agents did was wrong in and of itself. No need to tie it back to US policy, no matter how heinous that policy may have been, when that connection is tenuous.

Comment by Sharpedo

I’m with Hannah Arendt: I don’t think Israel should have kidnapped Eichmann, but it’s debatable. But it’s a different world today. In today’s world there’s no way that a country like Argentina wouldn’t honor an extradition request for well-founded charges of genocide. In today’s world there are few places for people guilty of serious war crimes to hide once they’re no longer running their own countries, and there’s no need for kidnapping.

Comment by mattsteinglass

In my opinion it’s a non sequitor to use OBL as an example of what makes “extraordinary rendition” acceptable. To my knowledge we’ve used rendition for hundred’s of captives, none of whom were Osama bin Laden. How do we know that none of these renditions were of an innocent person, or even if that person had committed some offense that it did not meet the level of “planning an attack?” This is simply an unacceptable lowering of ethical principles to the level of those with whom we strongly disagree and has hurt our country in innumerable ways.

While my heart goes out to these reporters and their families, who are we to now condemn the actions of N. Korea or China for these atrocious actions? From what soapbox of flimsy principles do we have the gall to call out others who act as unethically as we have? We, in the name of fear, trampled on human rights and treated the law as something which we could summarily rewrite to make the unacceptable acceptable and it will be biting us in the ass for years. Dick Cheney and his puppet Bush are directly responsible, as is any underling who agreed to what the Dark Lord demanded. Obama, by not declaring explicitly that we lost our moral grounding and will return immediately to being a country that abides by the laws has allowed the stain to remain, and is thus indirectly responsible as well.

I am deeply disappointed and ashamed in the behavior of our country since 9/11 and have no qualms about calling anyone out who is willing to make excuses for our actions. We could have done everything necessary to protect our country while holding on to our values, instead we have acted like our enemies, and in the process endangered every American soldier and person who dares leave our soil.

Comment by rat bastahd

I agree w/your point on China. But this is also payback by the North Koreans on the Ling family for Lisa Ling’s embarrassing National Geographic show on the dismal state of North Korea today.

Comment by KMF

[…] like Bush’s America to me. Matt Steinglass relates China’s role in facilitating the capture of the two sisters and invokes an inconvenient truth […]

Pingback by North Korean treatment of its prisoners « Later On

[…] then North Korean agents kidnapped them in a foreign country, raising questions of why China was unwilling or unable to protect individuals on its side of the border from foreign […]

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Wow. fair point about the US extraordinary renditions… talk about setting a good example…

Comment by georgemc1

[…] Should Be Pressured To Free Laura Ling and Euna Lee? Matt Steinglass thinks it’s China: It is China that allowed North Korea to kidnap these women and take them back to Pyongyang. The US […]

Pingback by Who Should Be Pressured To Free Laura Ling and Euna Lee? « Musings of a Warderro

Hi Matt. I don’t know the specifics of the Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr case, so I won’t defend that. But again, what if the “host” jurisdiction is unable or unwilling to bring the terrorist to justice or at least keep him from doing further harm? Is it okay, in that case, for the US to go into a the host country and apprehend them? I think it is. Obviously it will be unwise policy to do it in all or perhaps even most cases, but I think it is completely justified.

The “know where you stand” argument is a non-starter, in my view. We agree that Lee and Ling shouldn’t be in NK right now. But that’s because they didn’t do anything wrong. Again, let’s go back to terrorists. Should they know where they stand? I don’t think so. To the extent that they know they’re standing in a safe haven (see paragraph above), that’s a bad thing.

You write: “In today’s world there are few places for people guilty of serious war crimes to hide once they’re no longer running their own countries, and there’s no need for kidnapping.”

I think this is naive. Perhaps it’s true when it comes to former dictators, but so what? It’s manifestly untrue when it comes to non-state actors and lower level terrorists. There are plenty of places to hide. Again, many states are unable or unwilling to bring these people to justice or at least prevent them from doing further harm.

Rat Bashtahd, you write: “While my heart goes out to these reporters and their families, who are we to now condemn the actions of N. Korea or China for these atrocious actions? From what soapbox of flimsy principles do we have the gall to call out others who act as unethically as we have?”

So the government should just let them rot in a NK jail for the rest of their lives? Is that really what you’re advocating? I totally agree that in the past 8 years the US has totally lost any moral authority that it had. So what? That doesn’t make the North Korean government’s actions right, nor does it mean that Lee and Ling have ceased to be human beings who are worthy of support. One doesn’t need to be a saint to act rightly.

You write that it’s a non-sequitor to use OBL as an example of what makes “extraordinary rendition” acceptable. I would agree, if I were defending its use in all or even most cases. But I wasn’t doing that. Rather, I was responding to Matt Steinglass, who was making categorical arguments in his original post.

I agree that the use and misuse of many tactics by the Bush administration has hurt our country in innumerable ways. I was only arguing against Steinglass categorically ruling certain things out. – James

Comment by James

Sorry, please let me clarify one thing. In my first post, I wasn’t defending extraordinary rendiction. I actually specifically said I wasn’t defending it. Again, my first post was a response to the last two sentences in Steinglass’s original post.

Extraordinary rendition may be wrong, period, whatever is going on at any given time with OBL.

Comment by James

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Comment by Grover Buege

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