The release of three American prisoners — hostages, really — from North Korea is good news in its own right, and an optimistic sign in advance of President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who secured the release during his pre-summit trip to Pyongyang — deserve credit for making freedom for the three a summit precondition.
Although the decision is a positive signal from Kim, the North Korean leader does not deserve commensurate credit. After all, the Americans — Kim Dong-chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim — should not have been detained on what are widely considered improper charges in the first place. Nor should the other foreign nationals, mostly from neighboring nations, who should be immediately released, too.
Fortunately, the newly freed men — two of whom were seized during Trump’s tenure — seem “to be in good health,” according to a tweet from the president.
That was not the fate of another American. Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia college student sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster during a trip to North Korea, was returned home in a coma with severe brain damage after 17 months of maltreatment and he died soon afterward.
That kind of brutality befalls thousands of North Koreans languishing in gulags.
According to the State Department’s “2017 Country Reports on Human Rights,” innocent North Koreans are at times subject to “extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening and included forced and compulsory labor,” among other horrors.
For these and other crimes, “the government has made no known attempts to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity continued to be a widespread problem,” the report stated.
The world should not forget these North Koreans, just as Trump did not forget the three Americans who are soon to be reunited with loved ones and welcomed home in a country that respects human rights.