The brutal treatment meted out to North Korea’s political prisoners has been well-documented, but a new report coming out Thursday, based on satellite images, portrays the extensive network of “reeducation” camps for less severe violations of Pyongyang’s penal code.
These camps are situated throughout the country, both on the outskirts of cities and in huge compounds in the mountains. Conditions are severe but come with the possibility of release.
The camps are run not by the secret police, who operate a separate system for political prisoners, but by the Ministry of Public Security. They are an important pillar of the regime of Kim Jong Un, a means by which the North Korean population is kept permanently cowed.
The world is transfixed with the nuclear threat from Kim’s regime, but it is ordinary North Koreans who suffer every day, said Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which compiled the report.
A ground invasion of North Korea is the only way to locate and destroy, with complete certainty, all components of leader Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons program, according to a Pentagon official.
"It is the most bleak assessment," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday.
Two House Democrats, in a letter to the Pentagon, had asked about casualty assessments in a possible conflict with North Korea, and Rear Adm. Michael J. Dumont of the Joint Staff responded on behalf of the Defense Department.
Dumont noted that the United States is evaluating North Korea's ability to target heavily populated areas of South Korea with long-range artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles. He pointed out that Seoul, the South's capital with a population of 25 million, is just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.
The amount of casualties would differ depending on the advance warning and the ability of U.S. and South Korea forces to counter these attacks, he told Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.
"A classified briefing would be the best place to discuss in detail the capability of the U.S. and its allies to discuss capabilities to counter North Korea's ability to respond with a nuclear weapon and eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons located in deeply buried, underground facilities," Dumont said. He also mentioned the possibility that chemical and biological weapons might be used by the North in case of a conflict.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s difficulties in understanding the efficacy of missile defenses has been on my mind recently. First, there was his dangerous comment in mid-October that two U.S. ground-based interceptors—each with a laughably high probability of hitting an ICBM of “97 percent”—would definitely be able to protect the United States from a North Korean ballistic missile.
Now, new reporting, citing multiple sources, suggests that Trump said Japan should have attempted to shoot down the North Korean Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile launches that flew over Hokkaido on August 29 and September 15. The Wall Street Journal‘s account suggested that Trump may have been joking, but Japan’s Kyodo news agency has a different take, including that the “U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles.”
Senior North Korean official Ri Yong Pil warned the U.S. to take Pyongyang's threat of setting off a hydrogen bomb "literally," telling CNN the country "has always brought its words into action."
"The foreign minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader, so I think you should take his words literally," Ri told the network, referring to North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho's threat last month to drop a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific.
The foreign minister's threat was made in response to President Trump's debut speech on the floor of the United Nations, in which he threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea.
The comments come amid increasing tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.
The threat of nuclear missile attack by North Korea is accelerating, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday, accusing the North of illegal and unnecessary missile and nuclear programs and pledging to repel any strike.
In remarks in Seoul with South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo at his side, Mattis said North Korea engages in “outlaw” behaviour and that the U.S. will never accept a nuclear North.
The Pentagon chief added that regardless of what the North might try, it is overmatched by the firepower and cohesiveness of the decades-old U.S.-South Korean alliance.