In the fall of 2004, I began to hear rumors that North Korea was using poison gas to kill selected political prisoners. As a founding senior official of an institution bearing the name of Simon Wiesenthal z”l and everything he stood for, I felt compelled to go Seoul, South Korea, and personally debrief three North Korean defectors involved in such activities.
The oldest of the three was more interested in bragging about the quality of counterfeit $100 U.S. bills he made. Pressed to confirm his role in killing the human guinea pigs in gas chambers, he shrugged matter-of-factly “…those (political) prisoners were as good as dead anyway…”
The second defector was a man possessed. He tearfully admitted how he and his colleagues in white coats took copious notes in front of a glass-encased gas chamber, monitoring how long the poison gas took to suffocate a father, mother, and young child. Every detail, including the desperate efforts of parents to breathe oxygen into the lungs of their dying child, was duly noted and forwarded for further analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gasses. Some of those exports would find their way to Assad’s massive arsenal- originally stockpiled to threaten Israel, but ultimately unleashed against his own civilians.
The youngest defector haltingly described his team’s involvement in experiments carried out on live specimens — animal and human…
Where did these victims come from and why should we care?
For decades, North Korea has been the most controlled society and its regime among the most repressive. Taking a page from Stalin, Pyongyang maintains a Gulag — a series of punitive forced labor camps — where as many as 200,000 “enemies of the state” languish, accused of criminal activity or merely of having the wrong neighbor or parent. Inmates have virtually no rights, no knowledge of the outside world, and little hope of getting out. Nuclear families are difficult to maintain and some of the few escapees describe a system where the jailers choose which inmates can co-habitate and when or if they can have children who then also live in captivity.
As a rogue regime, Pyongyang has always given top priority to developing WMDs (weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological), often directly cooperating with Israel’s implacable enemies— Syria and Iran. Indeed, in 2007, Israel destroyed a nuclear facility being built with North Korean help in Syria. Iran and North Korea are reportedly working together on extending long-range missile capabilities.
This New Year, North Korean youthful leader, Kim Jong Un has a problem. He’s been getting some negative press for having Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and mentor, arrested, publicly humiliated in front of the country’s ruling elite, called out as a traitor, put on trial and executed — faster than an NBA All-Star fast-break. There are reports that scores of his uncle’s family have been disappeared into the gulag. Suddenly, Kim’s carefully nurtured image of a youthful, vibrant, basketball-loving, Swiss-educated 21st leader is taking a beating.
As with all totalitarian regimes the power of imagery and photo-ops, are critically important in North Korea; often auguring changes, large and small.
It is interesting to note the many photos of Kim Jong-un in the company of children that have appeared in the tightly controlled State media since he took became the leader. They are eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s carefully nurtured public image in the 1930s.
And North Korea’s old guard, including now deceased Uncle Jang, may have missed an ominous signal, when the official newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, published photos of Kim scolding senior officials, all of them old.
How does this tyrant rebound from bad PR?
Enter buddy Dennis Rodman, an ex-NBA defensive specialist, who these days helps whitewash the brutal reality of Kin Jong Un’s regime.
When he landed in Pyongyang on December 21st, Rodman wasted no time in redirecting the media’s narrative. “You know, a lot of people want me to come over here and do some special things, but that’s not my problem,” Rodman said, “I can’t deal with that, I’m not, I’m not an ambassador.” He came to train North Korean basketball players for next month’s exhibition game with former NBA players. Rodman told the Associated Press that if after the 12 former NBA players go home they say, “some really, really nice things, some really cool things about this country,” then he has done his job.
“North Korea has given me the opportunity to bring these players and their families over here, so people can actually see that this country is actually not as bad as people project it to be in the media,” Rodman added.
You can be sure none of the ex-NBA players desperate for the money to play an exhibition game on the Kim Jon Un’s birthday, January 8th, will ever see the real North Korea!
On his last birthday, Kim Jong Un reportedly may have given out copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and other sources asserted that Kim was heard saying that North Korea’s Ministry of Public Security should be a force even stronger than the Korean People’s Army, “similar to the Gestapo.”
Whether he uttered those exact words or not, no one should be fooled by the photo-ops Dennis Rodman provides for his brutal friend. The missile-rattling, nuclear-armed novice in Pyongyang-with friends in in Tehran and Damascus- should deeply concern any rational person in South Korea, Japan, China, the U.S., and Israel.