WASHINGTON -- Former President William Jefferson Blythe Clinton has returned from Pyongyang, North Korea, with Al Gore's employees Laura Ling and Euna Lee. The two women, reporters for Gore's Current TV operation, were seized by North Korean border guards March 17 along the frozen Tumen River -- the border between North Korea and China. On June 8, following a five-day "trial," Pyongyang's Central Court convicted the women of "committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry" and sentenced them to 12 years' hard labor.
On Tuesday, Aug. 4, Mr. Clinton, accompanied by a doctor and his former chief of staff John Podesta, arrived in Pyongyang aboard real estate mogul, Hollywood producer and Democratic Party donor Stephen Bing's private jet. On arrival at Pyongyang's nearly deserted Sunan International Airport, they were met by Kim Kye Gwan, North Korea's longtime senior nuclear negotiator. Twenty hours later, after what the North Korean media described as "exhaustive" talks with "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, the 68-year-old dictator issued a "special pardon," and Mr. Clinton headed home with Ling and Lee.
It is good that the women are reunited with their families and loved ones. Their release is being hailed by the White House as a "great gesture," and kudos is being showered on Mr. Clinton for his "initiative." The Obama administration maintains that North Korean press reports that Mr. Clinton conveyed a message from Mr. Obama "expressing apologies ... profound thanks ... and ways of improving the relations between the two countries" are untrue. Though the Clinton aircraft was refueled at U.S. Air Force bases in Alaska and Japan, the O-Team insists that the former president and party were on a strictly "private humanitarian mission" and that "there was no quid pro quo" for the release.
We all know better. The smile pasted on Kim Jong Il's face in the "official photographs" taken with Mr. Clinton tell the story. A price was paid. The North Koreans know what it is. The Obama administration knows what it is. But the American people don't -- and we won't unless transcripts of the Clinton-Kim Jong Il "conversations" are released. Don't count on that happening soon. The administration that promised to be "the most transparent in history" has made secrecy in foreign affairs a way of life.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.