Americans detained in North Korea, Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller, were released last weekend and reached the McChord Air Force Base in Washington at 9:00pm Saturday night.
Although the release was unexpected, it was the sole purpose of a visit to North Korea by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. Relations between the United States and North Korea have been cold and mutually disapproving ever since the regime’s small nuclear weapon testing, but such politics were not brought up. Leader Kim Jong Un is still young and doesn’t have extensive experience dealing with any president of the United States. Nevertheless, the US government received “very positive signals” that it would be likely that the two detainees would be freed in good condition if they pursued a visit, so Obama approved the mission for Clapper to go. The entire trip was kept very quiet until Clapper, Bae and Miller all returned together.
Kenneth Bae, 46, was in North Korea to work as a tour guide and missionary but was arrested November of 2012. Bae had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “unspecified hostile acts.” For the past two years he has worked eight hours a day, six days a week in a labor camp because the North Korea government claims he was a part of a Christian plot to overthrow the regime reports CNN. While being detained, Bae was once visited by his mother this October and was recently interviewed by a CNN reporter. Talk of Bae returning home seemed promising this past August but it was not completed. Over that past few months, Bae’s health was apparently beginning to suffer and he was in a hospital for issues related to diabetes, high blood pressure and back problems. In a press release upon reaching the states, Bae, according to sources present, thanked the country for all the prayers, all the hard work it took to get him home and for never giving up on him. He was actually able to joke during the press release saying to reports that he is happy that he “lost a lot of weight.”
Along with Kenneth Bae, Matthew Todd Miller was released. Captive since April, Miller, 25, was traveling to the country on a tourist visa and was planning to tour through a US-based company. According to some accounts, Miller ripped up his documents as soon as he got them. That and other alleged “unruly behavior” is what led North Koreans to sentence him to six years of hard labor. According to the New York Times, in his trial, arguments against him included that he journey to North Korea and purposefully acted out against the law to be put in a labor so he would have the opportunity to later write about the conditions first hand.
Sending a high-level official like Clapper to North Korea to negotiate releases is not an uncommon act—Obama sent former President Bill Clinton on the same mission a few years ago to make sure that two American journalists would return safely. The release of Bae and Miller has come shortly after Jeffery Fowle’s release from North Korea about a month ago. The two men were the last Americans to be held by the totalitarian state.