It’s hard not to feel good about the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a U.S. citizen, from a North Korean prison. But I don’t feel entirely good about it: It’s a victory for a cruel regime that, once again, has used a former American president for a picture op in exchange for a prisoner.
Here is a description of what happened from the Washington Post:
North Korea’s state-run news agency described the pardon as “a manifestation of [North Korea’s] humanitarianism and peace-loving policy.”
According to the news agency, Carter apologized for Gomes’s behavior. In January, Gomes illegally entered North Korea from China. He was fined $700,000 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor.
U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement that “we welcome the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes and are relieved that he will soon be safely reunited with his family. We appreciate former President Carter’s humanitarian effort and welcome North Korea’s decision to grant Mr. Gomes special amnesty.”
Crowley added that “President Carter’s trip was a private, humanitarian, and unofficial mission solely for the purpose of bringing Mr. Gomes home.”
Does anybody believe that even a wild card like Carter would have gone without the administration’s sanction? I want the U.S. to fight for its citizens, but with the Carter visit, we just increased the likelihood that we become valuable, pr-rich targets for capture by rogue regimes.
Sometimes really, really bad things happen. Mr. Gomes’s misadventure was one of these really, really bad things. I’d hate for a U.S. citizen to spend eight years in a prison in North Korea. But for citizens of North Korea, except for a favored few, daily life is like being in a prison.
Jimmy Carter just bolstered that regime.