Even if after the time of this writing, Al Gore managed to cajole the ever-increased madman Kim Jong-Il to release reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee from a North Korean labor camp, the damage we can’t always see may have already begun. Other than being in war, or trapped alive during a terrorism attack, the ultimate nightmare now has to be imagining one’s self being run through a sham trial in an enemy nation and placed in their particular tortuous prison for an interminably long time. At least we’ve seen evidence in history of the human mind successfully living through all three of the above scenarios. But as we’re seeing with vets returning from the war in Iraq, a psychological storm is going on under the surface in the form of the expected yet still misunderstood post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the realm of prison camps, it’s arguably as horrific when psychological torture is employed.
We have to base the evidence that North Korea is doing just that to Ling and Lee on a case from the mid 1990’s when Al Gore was residing in the Vice Presidential mansion. The name Evan Hunziker is probably forgotten now in the annals of recent history, yet he still stands as the first male taken prisoner in North Korea after the Korean Conflict of the early 1950’s. How he got there is a circuitous story. His story after he was brought back home is one resembling something close to the mental duress seen in the movie classic “The Manchurian Candidate.”
The only difference was that Hunziker took his own life rather than being brainwashed to take the life of someone else.
Perhaps it’s easy to say that Hunziker took his life because he was already a troubled soul from the time he was a young kid. With an alcoholic father who happened to marry a South Korean woman while serving in the Korean War, Hunziker’s life was a combination of familial torture and international culture. Both of those turned into a unique combination that, perhaps through genetic memory, took Hunziker on somewhat of the same path as his father. Fortunately, Hunziker didn’t have to go to war like his father did and face something similar to the still little-told hells of battle in Korea from 1950-53. Soldiers then would have given anything to have sardonic characters from “M*A*S*H*” around.
The formation of Hunziker’s path took place in the Northwest United States–namely Tacoma, WA and later Alaska where he lived and went to school through the 70’s and 80’s. Because his parents divorced during an impressionable time, nobody can say that divorce won’t make a person mentally confused. Despite the divorce, Hunziker seemed destined to do well when entering high school back in Tacoma. After good grades and gaining a scholarship, the divorce and the demons of his father’s alcoholism finally manifested into something nefarious while attending college.
When those problems made college impossible to focus on, his South Korean mother, who he was living with most of the time, figured that love would be the only thing to conquer his torment. What she didn’t know was that hooking him up with a young South Korean woman would ultimately create a different kind of torture and a journey to South Korea that would instigate an American incident with North Korea for the first time in the modern era.
Marrying a South Korean woman in America didn’t prove to bring Hunziker peace. His alcoholism troubles became worse and were compounded with sideline drug use that brought on a divorce from the same woman and eventual jail time for various skirmishes. However, having Korean ties in his blood seemed to bring a compulsion to visit there for the first time in his life to find something giving meaning to his life. After being released from jail, Hunziker was one of the few from those environments to become a newfound Christian and decided that the best uses of that would be back in his mother’s home country in South Korea.
As he was to find out, any dream to find peace in another country that’s close to troubled territory means strong chances of getting embroiled in that turmoil yourself. Especially because Hunziker still had a tendency toward alcoholism, becoming inebriated near enemy territory can increase the chances of the enemy taking advantage of the situation. And so it happened when, after living in South Korea for a year where he taught English and Christianity to young Koreans, he became drunk one fateful afternoon. Spending time near where Ling and Lee were at the China/North Korea border, his inebriation compelled him to swim across the nearby Yalu River after a friend of his dared him to.
To prove how sycophantic the North Korean people already were to their young, new ruler, Kim Jong-Il, even farmers in the area didn’t hesitate to report Hunziker hanging out near the border. When the N. Korean military arrested Hunziker, they thought he was a spy and hence spread across the American news wires that one of our own was the first captive under the untested sword of Kim Jong-Il who was then Chairman of the Defense Commission and a year away from being declared ruler of the country. We learned for the first time that any American so much as coming feet from touching North Korea’s border would be automatically branded whatever the country so chose in their kangaroo trials.
After reports that Hunziker could potentially be kept in a North Korean prison for the rest of his life, his parents plead with D.C. to do something. In stepped an interesting source who eventually ran for President himself. In 1996, Bill Richardson was still just a New Mexico congressman before working for Bill Clinton in his second term as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and later Energy Secretary. Yet Richardson was the go-to guy in those days for negotiating the release of Americans arrested in countries who didn’t love us.
In-between all the negotiations that eventually brought Hunziker home after three months in captivity, speculation was rampant on how the North Koreans were treating Hunziker. Reports were that he was getting treatment akin to mental torture–namely coercion in admitting guilt as a spy as just one torment. Other indirect evidence was made available later that showed other possible physical torture, despite Hunziker saying otherwise earlier in letters sent to his home.
After Hunziker came home, those close to him noticed he was acting strangely and never talked with anyone about the incident. By the end of 1996, he killed himself via a gunshot wound to the head; a mere four months after possibly experiencing unknown torture that should have been analyzed if not our government providing mental treatment for the man. Yet the arguments were that his suicide was more the result of arrest warrants pending in Alaska.
It’s this case that makes Ling and Lee’s probable long stay in a North Korean labor camp a sign that the country is experimenting with psychological torture that may not always be physical, but nonetheless tantamount to any violence imparted by Al Qaeda to their prisoners-of-war or Guantanamo Bay. In the event Al Gore (or even Bill Richardson again) manages to bring Ling and Lee home, the Hunziker case will remind what’s really going on over there when Americans become their pawns. Ling and Lee may not want to talk about it openly once home, but D.C. should provide them psychological help when the deep-seeded nature of this brand of torture later brings dangerously subtle changes to a person’s psyche.