After a top United States intelligence office secured their release from North Korea, 24-year-old Matthew Todd Miller and 46-year-old Kenneth Bae landed safely at Lewis-Mchord airport base in Washington State where they were greeted by grateful family members.
Both Americans had been held in North Korea for what most consider minimal crimes. Bae, a missionary from Lynnwood, Washington was arrested by the North Koreans in November 2012 and given a sentence of 15 years hard labor. Miller who is from Bakersfield, California was captured in April of this year and given a sentence of six years hard labor.
Bae exited the plane first and after being surrounded by family, he thanked President Obama but also the North Korean regime for allowing his release and return home. He added that while imprisoned, he went through a difficult time and knew his family had been tormented.
According to family members, Bae is in poor health. Reportedly, he has diabetes, back problems, and an enlarged heart. While held captive, he lost a lot of weight from being forced to work in the fields every day but he also felt the experience was an opportunity to learn and grow.
Just 10 minutes after leaving the plane, Miller followed although he gave no statement. Instead, he was hugged by his family as he reached the bottom step. In an earlier statement from North Korean officials, Miller, who tore up his tourist visa at Pyongyang airport and demanded asylum, wanted to experience prison life so he could covertly investigate the human rights situation in their country.
The release of Bae and Miller followed careful negotiations with the North Koreans, thanks to James Clapper, US director of national intelligence. Clapper was also onboard the flight with both men.
Although Clapper is being hailed for Bae and Miller’s safe return, basketball star Dennis Rodman claims to have played a key role in their release since he has become personal friends with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Rodman said he sent a letter to Kim Jong-un, asking for mercy pertaining to the two men held captive.
Because the actions of the North Korean regime are unusual, analysts weighed in on the reasons that Bae and Miller were freed. One analyst who studies the country intently believes the men’s release was a bid to ease pressure regarding North Korea’s record of human rights, which is known to consist of torture, forced labor, rape, and executions in prison camps.
Sue Mi Terry, former senior intelligence analyst believes North Korea was concerned that their leader, Kim Jong-un, would be accused in the International Criminal Court. Bruce Klingner, former CIA analyst agrees that putting attention on the country’s human rights record concerned the North Korean regime.
Regardless of why Bae and Miller were freed, family members and friends are thrilled to have both men back home where they belong.
In a White House statement, President Obama said this is wonderful for the men and their families. A high-ranking administration official confirmed that the mission was approved by Obama last week and that after Clapper met with North Korean security officials, not Kim Jung-un, the mission was a success.