North Korea’s Horrific Gulag – Phil Brennan,

North Korea’s Horrific Gulag

Phil Brennan,
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2003

Women undergo forced abortions, newborn babies are beaten to death, children are used for slave labor, and thousands every year are brutally murdered or worked to death.

The gulag is alive and well in North Korea, teeming with hundreds of thousands of brutalized human beings condemned to a blood-drenched existence so horrific it is almost impossible for civilized people to imagine.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famed Russian author, described the Soviet Union’s “Gulag Archipelago,” a vast collection of slave labor camps in frozen Siberia where the prisoners were routinely tortured, starved and forced to work under the most inhuman of conditions. That gulag vanished when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Today, another gulag – one perhaps far more brutal than its Soviet counterpart – exists in North Korea, where an estimated 200,000 political prisoners pay the terrible price for having offended the communist dictatorship in even the most minor of ways.

In an extraordinary exercise of investigative journalism, NBC News exposed the horrors of these torture and slaughter pens, interviewing former prisoners, guards and U.S. and South Korean officials. The network revealed “the horrifying conditions these people must endure — conditions that shock even those North Koreans accustomed to the near-famine conditions of Kim Jong-il’s realm.”


“It’s one of the worst, if not the worst, situation — human rights abuse situation — in the world today,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who held hearings on the camps last year.

“There are very few places that could compete with the level of depravity, the harshness of this regime in North Korea toward its own people.”

According to NBC News:

ñAt one camp, Camp 22 in Haengyong, 50,000 prisoners toil each day in conditions that U.S. officials and former prisoners say result in the death of 20 percent to 25 percent of the prison population every year.

ñShockingly, products made by prison laborers may wind up on U.S. store shelves, having been “washed” first through Chinese companies that serve as intermediaries.

ñEntire families, including grandchildren, are incarcerated for even the most bland political statements.

ñForced abortions are carried out on pregnant women so that another generation of political dissidents will be “eradicated.”

ñInmates are used as human guinea pigs for testing biological and chemical agents, according to former prisoners and U.S. officials.

“All of North Korea is a gulag,” one senior U.S. official told NBC News, noting that as many as 2 million people have died of starvation while Kim has amassed the world’s largest collection of Daffy Duck cartoons.

“It’s just that these people [in the camps] are treated the worst. No one knows for sure how many people are in the camps, but 200,000 is consistent with our best guess. We don’t have a breakdown, but there are large numbers of both women and children.”

Screaming Newborn Kicked to Death

One former gulag inmate, Soon Ok Lee, spent seven years at a camp near Kaechon in Pyungbuk province. She told the network: “I was in prison from 1987 till January 1993. [The women] were forced to abort their children. They put salty water into the pregnant women’s womb with a large syringe, in order to kill the baby even when the woman was eight months or nine months pregnant.

“And then, from time to time there a living infant is delivered. And then if someone delivers a live infant, then the guards kick the bloody baby and kill it. And I saw an infant who was crying with pain. I have to express this in words, that I witnessed such an inhumane hell.”

Soon watched 50 fellow prisoners dying excruciatingly painful deaths when they were used as human guinea pigs in biological warfare research.

“I saw so many poor victims,” she recalled. “Hundreds of people became victims of biochemical testing. I was imprisoned in 1987 and during the years of 1988 through ’93, when I was released, I saw the research supervisors — they were enjoying the effect of biochemical weapons, effective beyond their expectations — they were saying they were successful.”

Horrifying Experiments

Soon told NBC News about one instance when about 50 prisoners were taken to an auditorium and given a piece of boiled cabbage to eat. Within a half hour, they began vomiting blood and quickly died. “I saw that in 20 or 30 minutes they died like this in that place. Looking at that scene, I lost my mind. Was this reality or a nightmare? And then I screamed and was sent out of the auditorium.”

Kang Chol-Hwan, a journalist with Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most important newspaper, and author of “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” the first memoir of a North Korean political prisoner, spent almost 10 years in the gulag. He was imprisoned because his grandfather had made complimentary statements about Japanese capitalism.

He was just 9 years old when he arrived at the Yodok camp. His grandfather was never seen again, and prison conditions killed his father.

“When I was 10 years old,” Kang recalled, “we were put to work digging clay and constructing a building. And there were dozens of kids, and while digging the ground, it collapsed. And they died. And the bodies were crushed flat. And they buried the kids secretly, without showing their parents, even though the parents came.”

‘Eyeballs Taken Out by Beating’

Ahn Myong Chol, a guard at the Haengyong camp from 1987 through 1994, told the network, “I heard many times that eyeballs were taken out by beating.”

“And I saw that by beating the person the muscle was damaged and the bone was exposed, outside, and they put salt on the wounded part. At the beginning I was frightened when I witnessed it, but it was repeated again and again, so my feelings were paralyzed.”

Beating and killing prisoners, Ahn said, was not only tolerated, it was encouraged and even rewarded.

“They trained me not to treat the prisoners as human beings. If someone is against socialism, if someone tries to escape from prison, then kill him. If there’s a record of killing any escapee, then the guard will be entitled to study in the college. Because of that, some guards kill innocent people.”

NBC’s investigation found that North Korea’s State Security Agency maintains a dozen political prisons and about 30 forced labor and labor education camps, mainly in remote areas in the north.

“The worst are in the country’s far northeast. Some of them are gargantuan: At least two of the camps, Haengyong and Huaong, are larger in area than the District of Columbia, with Huaong being three times the size of the U.S. capital district,” the network explained.

Lim Young Sun, a former North Korean army officer who fled the North 10 years ago, told NBC News, “The degree of punishment has become more severe.”

Lim, director of investigations for the Commission to Help North Korean Refugees, said: “Executions in public have decreased, but within labor camps it has increased. The situation especially within those camps is getting much worse.”

Evil Indeed

It was his knowledge of the gulag and its horrors that led President Bush to include North Korea in his “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address.

“I loathe Kim Jong-il,” Bush told Bob Woodward during an interview for the author’s book “Bush at War.”

“I’ve got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people. And I have seen intelligence of these prison camps — they’re huge — that he uses to break up families and to torture people.”

The Bush administration is finally curbing Bill Clinton’s disastrous policy of pandering to and providing massive aid to Pyongyang. The regime’s theft of tens of millions of dollars in food aid, intended for the starving populace but diverted to the military and the political elites, prompted the U.S. on Tuesday to delay further aid.

The U.S. is “going to be darn sure that if we tell you where the food is supposed to be and you give it to someone else, then we’re going to wait, and we’re going to be darn sure that our food is getting through to the right people,” said Tony Hall, U.S. ambassador to U.N. food agencies.

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