Strengthening cooperation between the U.S. and Japan on the abduction cases

An American citizen may have been abducted

Throughout the heart wrenching history of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, the United States’ assistance to Japan has been more significant than publicly known. Now the United States is faced with the probability that an American citizen, one of its own, also may have been abducted and taken to Pyongyang by agents of the same North Korean regime. This turn of events brings a new dynamic to the U.S.-Japan coalition. For both the United States and Japan, there is added incentive to use their combined leverage against North Korea for resolution of the issue of their missing and abducted citizens.

David Sneddon, an American student possibly abduted by North Korea
David Sneddon, an American student possibly abduted by North Korea

The United States has a long track record of concern about the North Korean regime’s violations of the human rights of foreigners who disappear into the depths of its grip, beginning with hundreds of U.S. and other foreign soldiers of the United Nations forces which fought the Korean War in the 1950’s. Therefore it should not be surprising that the United States was quick to acknowledge the concerns of the Japanese families of North Korean abduction victims and to contribute to Japan’s efforts to recover them.

President and lawmakers meeting victims’ families

In February 2001, only weeks after President George W. Bush took office, senior officials in his Administration in Washington warmly received eleven members of the Japanese abduction victims’ families and scholars from their support group. Members of Congress also met with and encouraged the victims’ families in their quest for repatriation of their loved ones to the Japanese homeland from which the North Korean regime had abducted them. At the time, the Japanese government was apathetic about responding to North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens. As a result, the victims’ family members were first heard and consoled not by their own government, but by the government of the United States. Considering the void of official support in which the families had been struggling, the American government’s goodwill was greatly appreciated.

A year later, President George W. Bush denounced North Korea in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech, calling the rogue regime part of the “Axis of Evil” for its terrorist activities, including the abduction of foreign citizens, and declared international pressure would be increased against it. His administration designated North Korea as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” listing the abductions as an example of the regime’s terrorist actions, thus strengthening international criticism. These moves by the United States intensified international pressure on and isolated the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-Il, driving him to try a new initiative, turning to Japan for possible economic assistance.

 

The widely-held view among leading international observers is that it was this American pressure that prompted Kim Jong-Il in September, 2002, to finally admit the abduction of thirteen Japanese citizens beginning in the 1970’s and apologize to then-visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Kim hoped to overcome some of the American-led pressure on his regime and to secure the promise of Japanese economic assistance by allowing five of the Japanese abduction victims to return to their country.

Later, in April, 2006, the U.S. House Committee on International Relations invited Sakie Yokota from Japan to testify as a witness on the abductions of Japanese at a public hearing on North Korea’s human rights violations. Sakie’s daughter, Megumi, was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977, by North Korean agents operating near her home in the city of Niigata. She was only 13 at the time. Sakie’s compelling testimony visibly moved members of Congress and has helped to galvanize American lawmakers’ continuing attention to the regime’s outrageous violations of international law and norms.

Shortly thereafter, Sakie was invited to the White House for a free-talking meeting with the President. Several times in the months and years following, President. Bush spoke about their meeting, describing it as “one of the most moving meetings I ever had as President.”

Congress taking up the case of David Sneddon

This decades-long American support for resolution of the issue of North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens and other human rights violations is now entering a new stage as the U.S. Congress takes up the case of its own missing citizen, David Sneddon.

David Sneddon was a 24-year-old American university student fluent in the Korean language when he disappeared in Yunnan Provence, China, after hiking in the renowned Leaping Tiger Gorge. Following a decade without progress while relying upon diplomatic efforts, American concern about North Korean involvement in his disappearance was articulated in a Concurrent Resolution introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress last February.

Led by Utah Congressman Chris Stewart and Senator Mike Lee, the resolution, titled, “Expressing concern over the disappearance of David Sneddon, and for other purposes,” was co-sponsored by all members of the Utah Congressional delegation and by the Senators for Nebraska, the states where the Sneddon family has lived. They were soon joined by others, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, pushing the total number of bi-partisan co-sponsors up to 16.

The resolution recites reasons why North Korean involvement must be considered in David’s case and directs the U.S. Department of State and intelligence community to continue investigating “all plausible explanations for his disappearance,” including the possibility that he was taken to Pyongyang.

The facts showed that David did not fall into the river and drown as local Chinese government officials first attempted to claim, but instead disappeared after safely finishing his hike through the gorge. A number of circumstances at the time suggest North Korean involvement in his disappearance and cannot be ignored.

(1)The area near Tiger Leaping Gorge has been on an underground escape route sometimes used by North Korean defectors. North Korean agents were actively operating in the area at the time, with the acquiescence of Chinese officials, detaining North Korean defectors and supporters;

(2)Charles R. Jenkins, a U.S. soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and taught English while held captive there, left North Korea one month before David’s disappearance. David’s proficiency in English and Korean would have been appealing to North Koreans.

(3)Japanese specialists on North Korea affiliated with the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) obtained information from sources in China that an American student largely matching David’s description was taken from China by North Korean agents in August, 2004.

Congressional sources say that the reason for introducing the Concurrent Resolution 11 years after David’s disappearance is the State Department’s passivity on locating him. The State Department’s excuse is familiar ? they say there is no decisive evidence proving North Korea abducted David Sneddon.

In the background of Congress’ recent move, however, there is another significant factor. It is the appeal by a Japanese political leader, Keiji Furuya. He is the current Chairman of Headquarters for North Korean Abduction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former Minister in Charge of North Korean Abductions in the Abe government. Concerned that the United States would make the same mistake of inaction on the Sneddon abduction that Japan had made in the 1990’s, in early 2013 he decided to take the case directly to his American counterparts on a lawmaker-to-lawmaker basis. Since then, he has visited members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives many times and, beginning with members of the Utah delegation, David Sneddon’s home state, personally urged many members of Congress to take action on the Sneddon case.

Mr. Furuya’s objective is to broaden support for U.S.-Japan cooperation to resolve the North Korean abduction issue for all abduction victims. If the U.S. Congress succeeds in spurring a more serious investigation of the Sneddon disappearance, there would be new and powerful incentive for both allies to confront the rogue nation together on the abduction of Japanese, Americans and other foreigners, and bring home the victims.

cooperation between the U.S. and Japan on the abduction cases

Throughout the heart wrenching history of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, the United States’ assistance to Japan has been more significant than publicly known. Now the United States is faced with the probability that an American citizen, one of its own, also may have been abducted and taken to Pyongyang by agents of the same North Korean regime. This turn of events brings a new dynamic to the U.S.-Japan coalition. For both the United States and Japan, there is added incentive to use their combined leverage against North Korea for resolution of the issue of their missing and abducted citizens.

The United States has a long track record of concern about the North Korean regime’s violations of the human rights of foreigners who disappear into the depths of its grip, beginning with hundreds of U.S. and other foreign soldiers of the United Nations forces which fought the Korean War in the 1950’s. Therefore it should not be surprising that the United States was quick to acknowledge the concerns of the Japanese families of North Korean abduction victims and to contribute to Japan’s efforts to recover them.

In February 2001, only weeks after President George W. Bush took office, senior officials in his Administration in Washington warmly received eleven members of the Japanese abduction victims’ families and scholars from their support group. Members of Congress also met with and encouraged the victims’ families in their quest for repatriation of their loved ones to the Japanese homeland from which the North Korean regime had abducted them. At the time, the Japanese government was apathetic about responding to North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese citizens. As a result, the victims’ family members were first heard and consoled not by their own government, but by the government of the United States. Considering the void of official support in which the families had been struggling, the American government’s goodwill was greatly appreciated.

A year later, President George W. Bush denounced North Korea in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech, calling the rogue regime part of the “Axis of Evil” for its terrorist activities, including the abduction of foreign citizens, and declared international pressure would be increased against it. His administration designated North Korea as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” listing the abductions as an example of the regime’s terrorist actions, thus strengthening international criticism. These moves by the United States intensified international pressure on and isolated the regime’s leader, Kim Jong-Il, driving him to try a new initiative, turning to Japan for possible economic assistance.

 

The widely-held view among leading international observers is that it was this American pressure that prompted Kim Jong-Il in September, 2002, to finally admit the abduction of thirteen Japanese citizens beginning in the 1970’s and apologize to then-visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Kim hoped to overcome some of the American-led pressure on his regime and to secure the promise of Japanese economic assistance by allowing five of the Japanese abduction victims to return to their country.

Later, in April, 2006, the U.S. House Committee on International Relations invited Sakie Yokota from Japan to testify as a witness on the abductions of Japanese at a public hearing on North Korea’s human rights violations. Sakie’s daughter, Megumi, was kidnapped on her way home from school in 1977, by North Korean agents operating near her home in the city of Niigata. She was only 13 at the time. Sakie’s compelling testimony visibly moved members of Congress and has helped to galvanize American lawmakers’ continuing attention to the regime’s outrageous violations of international law and norms.

Shortly thereafter, Sakie was invited to the White House for a free-talking meeting with the President. Several times in the months and years following, President. Bush spoke about their meeting, describing it as “one of the most moving meetings I ever had as President.”

 

This decades-long American support for resolution of the issue of North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens and other human rights violations is now entering a new stage as the U.S. Congress takes up the case of its own missing citizen, David Sneddon.

David Sneddon was a 24-year-old American university student fluent in the Korean language when he disappeared in Yunnan Provence, China, after hiking in the renowned Leaping Tiger Gorge. Following a decade without progress while relying upon diplomatic efforts, American concern about North Korean involvement in his disappearance was articulated in a Concurrent Resolution introduced into both chambers of the U.S. Congress last February.

Led by Utah Congressman Chris Stewart and Senator Mike Lee, the resolution, titled, “Expressing concern over the disappearance of David Sneddon, and for other purposes,” was co-sponsored by all members of the Utah Congressional delegation and by the Senators for Nebraska, the states where the Sneddon family has lived. They were soon joined by others, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, pushing the total number of bi-partisan co-sponsors up to 16.

The resolution recites reasons why North Korean involvement must be considered in David’s case and directs the U.S. Department of State and intelligence community to continue investigating “all plausible explanations for his disappearance,” including the possibility that he was taken to Pyongyang.

The facts showed that David did not fall into the river and drown as local Chinese government officials first attempted to claim, but instead disappeared after safely finishing his hike through the gorge. A number of circumstances at the time suggest North Korean involvement in his disappearance and cannot be ignored.

(1)The area near Tiger Leaping Gorge has been on an underground escape route sometimes used by North Korean defectors. North Korean agents were actively operating in the area at the time, with the acquiescence of Chinese officials, detaining North Korean defectors and supporters;

(2)Charles R. Jenkins, a U.S. soldier who deserted to North Korea in 1965, and taught English while held captive there, left North Korea one month before David’s disappearance. David’s proficiency in English and Korean would have been appealing to North Koreans.

(3)Japanese specialists on North Korea affiliated with the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) obtained information from sources in China that an American student largely matching David’s description was taken from China by North Korean agents in August, 2004.

Congressional sources say that the reason for introducing the Concurrent Resolution 11 years after David’s disappearance is the State Department’s passivity on locating him. The State Department’s excuse is familiar - they say there is no decisive evidence proving North Korea abducted David Sneddon.

In the background of Congress’ recent move, however, there is another significant factor. It is the appeal by a Japanese political leader, Keiji Furuya. He is the current Chairman of Headquarters for North Korean Abduction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and former Minister in Charge of North Korean Abductions in the Abe government. Concerned that the United States would make the same mistake of inaction on the Sneddon abduction that Japan had made in the 1990’s, in early 2013 he decided to take the case directly to his American counterparts on a lawmaker-to-lawmaker basis. Since then, he has visited members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives many times and, beginning with members of the Utah delegation, David Sneddon’s home state, personally urged many members of Congress to take action on the Sneddon case.

Mr. Furuya’s objective is to broaden support for U.S.-Japan cooperation to resolve the North Korean abduction issue for all abduction victims. If the U.S. Congress succeeds in spurring a more serious investigation of the Sneddon disappearance, there would be new and powerful incentive for both allies to confront the rogue nation together on the abduction of Japanese, Americans and other foreigners, and bring home the victims.

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