May 20, 2010

Ling: Silence is an oath I can't keep

Posted: 10:26 AM ET

Editor's note: Laura Ling is co-author with her sister, Lisa Ling, of "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home" (HarperCollins)

Los Angeles, California (CNN) - On June 8, 2009, nearly one year ago, I stood before a judge in North Korea's Supreme Court and was sentenced to 12 years in one of the country's notoriously brutal labor camps, also known as death camps.

My legs wobbled in fear, and I grabbed the podium in front of me, fearing I would faint.

Three months earlier, I was on assignment for Current TV. I was repoting on the trafficking of North Koreans, most of them women, who escape to neighboring China, where they are used and exploited. Following a local guide we'd hired, my colleague Euna Lee and I did regretfully step foot into North Korean territory for no more than a minute.

As we made our way back to China, North Korean soldiers chased us onto Chinese soil and violently dragged us back into North Korea.

We were the first Americans tried in North Korea's highest court. Our sentence, two years for trespassing and 10 for "hostile" acts, shows where the North Korean government's real concerns lie. Leery about a negative portrayal of its regime, the North Korean authorities decided the documentary we were making would threaten their government. It was seen as a hostile act meant to weaken or bring down the country.

No country on Earth is more paranoid about its image than North Korea, which has maintained its firm grip on power in part because of its ability to indoctrinate its people. North Korea is one of the world's most closed-off societies, with little known about what goes on inside. Its citizens know little about the outside world.


Filed under: Larry King Live

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Matt   May 20th, 2010 12:28 am ET

Do you think it was coincidence that your were Asian and caught entering North Korea an Asian country? Is this as suspicious as say a caucasian or some other person of a different ethnic background entering north Korea?

john kurokawa   May 20th, 2010 12:34 am ET

Larry, "you need to interview Euna Lee." She reads and speaks fluent Korean. She would be able to give the public a better perspective on what happened in the prison in North Korea. What did she communicate with the Korean guards. Did they talk about life in North Korea? It was good to hear from Laura Ling. However, I would like to hear from Euna Lee

Van Nguyen   May 20th, 2010 12:54 am ET

I am living in the greatest country on earth! Only in America, would the President be sent to a country like North Korea to bring its citizens safely home. I am so proud to be a citizen of the "US of A".

Paul   May 20th, 2010 12:54 am ET

I do not understand why Americans continually transgress on the soil of foreign countries and are taken captive by soverign authoritives.Once this happens, the transgressors complain that they did not realize that they had trespassed on their territories. These Americans should stay at home; First Ammendment rights are not portable to foreign countries to support their missions as noble and illegal as they are.

People on these missions are naive to undertake such missions without rudimentary devices such as GPS to actually know where they are. How can they claim to not know their whereabouts when they cross rivers and other landmarks marking borders of other countries.

Stay home and mind your own business; you have no legitiment standing to argue that you did not know that you have vilolated borders. The US officials do not need the hassle of negotiating your release from the custody of foreign governments

Dodie   May 20th, 2010 1:21 am ET

@ Paul

Well Stated! You said it all! By the way, The river that separates China from the DPRK is large and deep when not iced. People in China know not to cross, I wonder why Americans do not have the same common sense!

Smith in Oregon   May 20th, 2010 1:36 am ET

Something which should be obvious ought to be pointed out here:

North Korea KNEW about the documentary that Lee and Ling were filming on the Chinese border of North Korea. As Ling states herself, North Korea wanted to discredit the documentary as that secretive country did not want more negative press and pressure placed on what many view as a despotic regime.

Obviously, Lee, Ling and their camera crew were actively being watched by North Korean agents, and the guide they 'hired' was likely a North Korean agent who used a carefully crafted story to lure them across the Chinese border into North Korea where soldiers were 'waiting' to intercept them. It was a setup and the wheels were greased as they say in the trade.

This can happen to anyone that is gullible or unwary to the potential dangers in such a environment. Lee and Lang don't strike me as overly gullible, however the camera crew and support staff should have seen this coming and even as it unfolded those watching Lee and Lang's back's should have stepped in and shut that plan down in its tracks.

I would urge Lee and Lang to be thankful that North Korea released them rather than kick sand in their faces for that act of compassion.

Kicking sand in the faces of the North Korean officials now would likely result in the next hapless American citizen to be grabbed by North Korea actually serving a 20 year hard labor sentence breaking rocks.

Dave   May 20th, 2010 3:18 am ET

Great, you are trying to blame crossing the border on your guide. You are a couple of real stand-up people.

Larry, how can you give these liars a forum to make money off of this?

Dave   May 20th, 2010 3:20 am ET

@ Van Nguyen

There's an American being held in N. Korea right now. Where's the entourage now? This guy probably isn't being held in a cushy guesthouse either. But America doesn't give a hoot about him. I've got no problem with that, but why the special effort towards these two girls? Quite a world we live in. And now they're trying to make a buck on it. Disgusting.

jacie   May 20th, 2010 3:23 am ET

gee Larry...why not interview a real hero?
don't you do any legitimate news and interviews anymore?

sounds like all these two gals want to do is sell a boo for doing something illegal.

We have so many truly heroic men and woman serving in the military and doing brilliant things? Why not tell their stories?

Why are you putting this self-promoting, criminal activity on tv, just so this criminal can sell a book while putting Americans in danger of getting tortured and killed because she broke the law - on purpose.

Can anyone just go recklessly behave to create their own "reality" show and write a book and sell it on the new tv commercial titled "larry king live" now?
Is that what this is now – just an hour long commercial for criminals?
No Thanks!

sasha   May 20th, 2010 3:28 am ET

Wow! I guess we can't trust Lisa Ling as a "journalist" now - both she and the husband both LIED and said they had no intent to cross into North Korea.
But, in fact, she did!

She defied the law, broke the law and committed a criminal act! Bunch of liars and criminals.
How selfish to put Americans at risk. Next time, a real innocent will be killed!!!
Thanks Lings....very UNAmerican of you. You should be extremely ashamed!
Extremely! Your lies are absolutely sickening!!

Smith in Oregon   May 20th, 2010 3:34 am ET

It seems the only person more Paranoid than the North Korean leader these days is none other than Rush Limbaugh. Earlier today on his talk radio show, Rush blamed the enormous BP/TransOcean/Halliburton heavy crude Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ON environmentalists!!!

Yep, in the paranoid mind of the foremost leader of the Republican and Tea Party members, Rush blames the environmentalists for the Oil Spill.

Thus far, not a single Republican and Tea Party leader, lawmaker, nor member has gone on the public record to dispute Rush Limbaugh's allegation that environmentalists are to blame for the Oil Spill, Go Figure!

Ying Ying   May 20th, 2010 3:49 am ET

I am no fan of North Korea. But in this instance, I would like to say that those two ladies had no right to knowingly transgressed into North Korean soil. They knowing entered North Korean soil illegally. What give them the right then to complain that North Korean soldiers entered Chinese soil in hot pursuit to catch them? They are accusing North Koreans of the same "crime" as the ones they themselves committed.
Their stupid action wasted a lot of American dollars and the time of a lot of people to help secure their release. Or maybe they were not really stupid and reckless, but maybe they were in fact paid by some agency to spy on North Korea? What else could have motivated their illegal entry into North Korea?

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 20th, 2010 4:36 am ET

It is a sorry tale and what a brave lady to risk all this to bring us these sad stories of the sufferings going on. Would have been a scary experience to go through.

My heart goes out to these suffering people........ and I hope and pray one day that they will all see better conditions. May God bless them all.

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 20th, 2010 5:13 am ET

They were very lucky that President Bill Clinton was able to get their release. Thank you President Clinton and God bless you. It was a risky business.

Some journalists are so driven that they will push the boundaries, I think.

NetsOne   May 20th, 2010 5:48 am ET

This is a really nice story if you think about it with a happy end! 🙂

Jessie from Auckland, NZ   May 20th, 2010 5:58 am ET

Wow, Laura Ling went back on her oath –

"In June, I stood before a North Korean judge and expressed my hope that the United States and North Korea might one day establish closer relations. That desire still exists.

I also promised that if released, I would never report on the issue of defectors or North Korean human rights abuses again. That is an oath I cannot keep as long as the people of North Korea remain silenced."

What an amazing lady. God bless her and her sister and her colleague.

Ted   May 20th, 2010 8:13 am ET

Here we go again, someone is selling a book on LKL!!

Those poor "girls", they illegally entered a communist country, were cought and sentenced and now cashing in on the work of our State Deparment, speak Hillary Clinton, President Clinton and a few more.
I wonder, how much did they cost the taxpayers and what was their true mission? I really doubt a simple journalist would had this kind of diplomatic activity in their favour and an ex President would take the trip to free them!
We have people in Iran right now who "accidentally" crossed the border and nobody is jumping out of their skin to help them.
Why those two women?

First Lisa enters North Korea, spies on their country and luckily able to leave without getting cought.
Now comes Laura saying, I can do the same as my big sister, enters the same country illegally, but she gets cought!!
Journalists supposedly are educated and intelligent people, did those two "girls" did not know that crossing international borders without a permit and spying is punishable by jail and sometimes with death, even in the USA??
They were not girls, but grown married women. Did Euna think of her daughter before this crazy adventure, or was the fame more important to her? Or a Pulitzer Price?

They should be requested to reemburse the taypayers for all expenses they caused from the profit their book earns.

yodi kern   May 20th, 2010 9:25 am ET

i am a bit skeptical as to how much did they want the sensationalism to promote themselves. in the year 2010, everyone is aware of the boundaries of other nations.
what person would even think to attempt to push the envelope in a communist nation? i would assume that with the intelligence out there we would know where to go and where to not go. even as a non-journalist i would stay behind the line and still report effective stories.
thank you

Cindy   May 20th, 2010 10:54 am ET

Well said.

Joe   May 20th, 2010 12:07 pm ET

These two so called journalist should have stay in North Korea longer and taste he North Korean hospitality. Now these two idiots want to write a book about their stupidity, and expect us to read their lies. No one should have gave them the time of the day to take advantage of the media to promote a book and make any kind of profit out of it. But than you can blame it on them, but their host.

carol   May 20th, 2010 12:17 pm ET

First these 2 went on Oprah to hawk their book. Now Larry, I will assume the View is next.

Please spare us anymore of their "Whoops I didn't know I was in North Korea..sorry."

We the tax payer bailed them out, & now we the tax payer are supposed to buy their self-serving book.

They have gotten enough of my money, they won't be getting anymore. I hope that book ends up in the discount bin where it belongs.

IKHAN   May 20th, 2010 12:24 pm ET


what you say makes one re-think.
The same advice would be valid for Americans thinking of traveling to places like Iraq or other trouble spots on vacation.

Also I'm still wondering why anyone hasn't said a word for a real act of courage in standing up to a repressive regime, playing out off the shores of Israel. Those brave people from Ireland,Sweden,Greece,Turkey & other countries struggling to do something which should prick the collective conscience of countries like ours which so loudly champion such causes otherwise.

Rose   May 20th, 2010 12:24 pm ET

@ Ted

Good points. I am glad the Ling sisters are safe. However for North Korea, the Lings were the equivalent of unwanted, unapproved citizens of an "enemy" country (the US) on their soil illegally.

It gave dictator Kim the chance to have a former American President come to North Korea. It's the sort of recognition Kim has been eager to have for more than a decade and which he ill deserves for his extreme brutality. He knew the Lings were "high value" captives as it resulted in Bill Clinton meeting with him. The manipulation of harsh sentences given to them to ensure the US would expedite matters.

A forced photo op with Clinton (the domestic propaganda usage of that is substantial for Kim) to release two people who should have known better than to cross such a problematic border.

Peter   May 20th, 2010 1:15 pm ET

All the money these girls earn from this book should go to pay back the resources we used to save their irresponsible butts.

I resent your having them on the show. It's disgusting.

NGal   May 20th, 2010 2:10 pm ET

Why has Al Gore, president of the company Laura Ling was working for, not commented on her situation? And why did we not see him interviewed while she was in North Korea?

Arturo L.A.   May 20th, 2010 2:12 pm ET

Why are we not making a huge deal for the guy the n. Koreans have now. But for this lying skirt we sent clinton. What a doubke standard. I respect the current prisoner, at least he was honest.

Anne D   May 20th, 2010 2:15 pm ET

It would be great if the many photos of these ladies posted here on LKL would be removed and they would be asked to peddle their wares elsewhere, preferably somewhere that will not yet again cost the taxpayers.

Dodie   May 20th, 2010 3:16 pm ET

@ Anne D

Always love your wit and humor! Take Care....

Welcome back, Amigo!

Dodie   May 20th, 2010 3:35 pm ET

@ Ted

Well stated and absolutely correct! The support for this type of behavior is indicative of our persistent arrogance. We continue to traipse around the world expecting other countries to abide by ‘our’ rules and throw a temper tantrum if the country decides to pursue their laws. For this reason, I will NOT purchase this book unless all the proceeds are donated to the original cause!!

Rose   May 20th, 2010 5:19 pm ET

Let's get this straight: The Lings' book is about one sister's captivity and other sister's efforts to get her home. Their captivity was NOT based on any heroic actions taken by them, NOR on dissenting against the regime, NOR due to any direct fight against oppression, NOR due to assisting or aiding others to freedom etc.

Their captivity was based on illegally crossing the border into North Korea while making a documentary. Yes – they were in a predicament of their own doing. No doubt they and their families suffered emotionally. They were not subject to torture. They were used by NK to extract a reaction from the US government. And it was delivered in the person of Bill Clinton.

The Ling sisters did not accomplish anything besides creating a lot of stress for themselves, their families and government. It would be far more interesting to hear about those individuals who are imprisoned due to their principles for freedom, defying oppression, academic teachings etc. The Ling sisters are previleged individuals with friends in high places who required rescuing and a trip home on a private plane.

The Oscar nominated documentary "Burma VJ" is the very real and dangerous plight of Burmese individuals who sought to show the world what is happening in that brutal and closed-off country. A far more serious and compelling story. No rescues by presidents, no book deals or sitting on Oprah's sofa for them.

Ted   May 21st, 2010 8:30 am ET

@ Rose, Dodie, IKAHN, Cindy

We just have to spread the news that Burma has large reserves of oil and before we can finish our morning coffee the US Army will land there to bring democracy to those poor people.

Afghanistan not only have large reserves of natural gas, but also copper, gold, lithium and other rare and precious metals. In addition, geologically it is right in the middle for the planned oil and gas lines to India, Pakistan and other countries and a good place to have military bases to control Iran.
No wonder the West is so busy to bring freedom to this country!

Chine already has the concession for the copper mines in the south, spending 3.5 billion dollars to develop it and build railroad lines.
Russia got the rights to develop the gas fields in the north, will build three large hydro-electric works and restart all other activities started during their occupation.
And the USA? We get all the opium, the white gold, we want.

This is the true story why we are killing people in that land, not what our government wants us to believe!
Why don´t we use agent orange to kill those poppy fields?
Because we would poison a bunch of CIA agents who are busy in the area buying and transporting that white gold.

Jason   May 21st, 2010 8:34 am ET

It's been a couple days and I'm still mad. There just isn't any justice in the world. These two evil broads deserve to be knocked down a few pegs, and do not deserve to further their careers.

I'm tired of people getting away with things. Kim Jong-Il kills innocent South Koreans, and kidnaps Japanese at his liking and never has to pay a price. The Lings somehow display no ethics while trying to profit from their selfish mistake.

And Sandra winning survivor???? Are you kidding me? Where's the justice in that?

Mitchell   May 29th, 2010 4:28 pm ET

When Larry asked Ling why N.Koreans don't cross to S.Korea instead of China which is only little different from N.K, she goes off lying that N.Koreans are sold into prostitution and other bad things. This is'nt true. I think she lied about this because that's what happens in China if they don't get sent back to N.K. I'm sure she lied to not embarass her motherland China which could'nt do anything to help her to her surprise. And the real reason they can't cross to S.Korea is because of D.M.Z. It's simple as that. Being a journalist, how can't she not know this? Why was'nt Euna there? Why do I have a feeling Ling crossed and got captured to get attention from the public? Was Euna used by Ling? One things for sure, if there was'nt Chinese intervention or did what Gen. MacArthur proposed, there would be no N.Korea. And next time Lisa/Laura should cover topic more close to her home. Like what happens to Tibetan monks in Chinese prison?

Mitchell   May 29th, 2010 4:36 pm ET

@ Jason

LMAO, I did'nt see your comment. Exactly. Nice one! Sandra has all the luck in the world!

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