Sunday, September 14, 2003

One Beam of Light Couldn't Get Through the Butt Cracks of the
North Korean Defectors in Seoul

Chosuk in Korea... When the Nation's Traffic Triples and Rice Cake Consumption Quadruples

I haven't written in a while since this past week was Chosuk in Korea, which is Korea's version of Thanksgiving and the nation's biggest holiday. I went into the software company I'm consulting for, but didn't really think about blogging. I mainly thought about getting stuff done, so that I can play football during the afternoons of the holiday week (Wednesday-Friday were holidays with many people taking off Monday and Tuesday, so they can enjoy ten days straight of vacation time). People visit their families and pay respects to their ancestors and family members who passed away. Many people's hometown or core family members live outside of Seoul, so the traffic going out of Seoul becomes crazy. Four hour car rides become ten hours... and I use to complain about Chicago and Los Angeles traffic. This holiday is similar to Thanksgiving in the sense that you simply eat and eat and stuff yourself silly. Then you veg out, play GoStop (Korean hearts-type game), watch TV, or chill with your relatives.

Anyway, DJ Kim and Roh's continuation of DJ's policies are really disappointing since they are being hypocritical and counter to the democratic principles they proclaim. Freedom of speech is one of the most basic tenets of democracy which they continue to oppress and cover the voices of numerous North Korean defectors in the name of national security and fear of North Korea's 'what I don't know'. What do they have to fear? Or is it fear? Maybe it's more brotherhood, national destiny, or some other foolish notion they hold dear. Maybe it's not a foolish notion, but a real bond they feel with North Korea? Scary. Roh's wife is the daugther of a famous North Korean spy. Going down the conspiracy road with that statement... I crack myself up.

Gagged by the Sunshine Policy

Few would have been less surprised by the lack of substantive progress at the August 27-29 six-party talks in Beijing on the Korean nuclear crisis than North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop, once a personal tutor to Kim Jong Il.

Since in 1997 he became the highest-ranking defector in the North's history, Mr. Hwang remains the person with the most direct knowledge of the North Korean regime, its intentions and its dictator Kim Jong Il. He also served as the secretary of the Korean Worker's Party -- at the time, the sixth-highest ranking position in Pyongyang -- was a close confidant of the North's founder, Kim Il Sung, and a key architect of the juche ideology, North Korea's creed of self-reliance.

Yet, for the past six years, the one man who could shed light on North Korea's dictator and the inner workings of his regime has been sequestered in virtual isolation under heavy security by Section Five, the South Korean intelligence bureau that handles North Korean defectors. Except for those in intelligence circles, few know Mr. Hwang. Access to him by the media and visiting foreign delegations has been rare and always tightly controlled by the South Korean intelligence service.

Citing vague security concerns and unease about provoking the North, both the previous and current South Korean administrations have repeatedly refused requests by various humanitarian organizations and even members of the U.S. Congress to allow Mr. Hwang to travel to Washington. Contrary to statements by South Korean officials, it is not that Mr. Hwang does not want to come. In fact, he once managed to send a fax to former Sen. Jesse Helms in 2001 strongly stating his desire to come to the U.S., not only to talk about the North's nuclear ambitions but also about human rights and freedom for the North Korean people.

But as Mr. Hwang and others have discovered, South Korea today is a hostile place to talk about freedom and human rights. Like many, Mr. Hwang continues to be a victim of South Korea's official policy of detente with the North, the so-called "sunshine policy." First developed by the previous South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, and continued by his successor, Roh Moo Hyun, a policy that purports to encourage greater openness and dialogue with the North now amounts to nothing short of an official gag order. For those like Mr. Hwang who are not only willing but qualified to talk about the North, it is a policy that smacks of "speak no evil" as far as Kim Jong Il regime is concerned.

That policy is not only misguided but wrong. By preventing defectors and others from speaking out against the North Korea regime, the policy denies the U.S. and other nations the ability to enhance their leverage in any future negotiations with North Korea. More importantly, it denies policy makers access to information that could increase their ability to accurately assess the nature of the North's threat to international security.

Defectors like Mr. Hwang possess information that may prove crucial in the continuing efforts to combat terrorism, both in the U.S. and around the world. Given the kind of access that Mr. Hwang had, he may hold intimate knowledge of North Korea's relationships with nonstate actors such as terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations and other rogue nations that support such groups.

Connections have already emerged between the North Korean regime and criminal organizations engaged in drug trafficking, financial crimes such as counterfeiting, and highly sophisticated smuggling operations of missile parts. And in light of the Proliferation Security Initiative to interdict suspect North Korean vessels, which is being coordinated by the U.S. with 11 other nations, it makes sense to begin exploring the extent to which North Korea may have given material support to terrorist groups in Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The little that is known about the North today -- including the existence of concentration camps and Pyongyang's continuing violations of human rights -- comes from North Korean defectors who were willing to testify in hearings before the U. S. Congress. But as one who has held some of these hearings, getting the South Korean government's approval to allow North Korean defectors to travel to the U.S. is not easy. Every defector who has testified before Congress had to endure endless bureaucratic battles and harassment by elements within the South Korean government. Even the wife of one defector who had already testified before the U.S. Senate was harassed to such a degree she had to be hospitalized.

Earlier last month, Mr. Hwang's "special security" status was downgraded to that of "general protection" by the South Korean intelligence service and he was moved to a less restrictive safe house. Mr. Hwang has now been given greater freedom to talk to the press and to meet with representatives of foreign governments and humanitarian organizations. Yet he is still waiting for permission from the South Korean government to travel to the U.S., where all he wants to do is tell his story.

Time is running out. With each passing day, North Korea comes closer to having the potential for the mass production of nuclear weapons. With 37,500 American troops currently stationed in South Korea, the U.S. has a vested interest in ensuring it is able to accurately assess North Korean threats not only to the security of Northeast Asia but to international security around the world. We owe that much to the 36,000 American troops who died during the Korean War, including 415 from my home state of Kansas, and the millions who served in that war.

With 22 million people still enslaved by Pyongyang more than 50 years later, the war to liberate the Korean people remains a painful reminder of a mission yet to be completed. That is why Mr. Hwang must be heard on American soil, and why he must be heard now.

Sen. Brownback is chairman of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate.

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