American Matthew Miller Handed Six Year Prison Sentence in North Korea

Posted: Sep 15, 2014 2:30 PM

The DPRK has arrested, tried, and sentenced another American citizen for “hostile acts” against the Kim regime, the Washington Post reported.

Matthew Miller is now the second of three detained Americans to be convicted of subversion:

North Korea has sentenced Matthew Miller to six years of hard labor for committing “hostile acts,” after the American reportedly ripped up his tourist visa upon arrival at the Pyongyang airport in April. During a show trial that lasted 90 minutes, the Supreme Court found that Miller — who had no legal representation — had committed “acts hostile to the DPRK while entering . . . under the guise of a tourist,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported, using the official abbreviation for North Korea.

Analysts say that Pyongyang is using Miller and two other men as bargaining chips in its dispute with Washington over its nuclear program — but that the United States is preoccupied with the turmoil in the Middle East, where Islamic State extremists are not just capturing Westerners but also beheading them . KCNA photos showed Miller, looking pale and wearing a black turtleneck despite it being summer, in a courtroom decorated with a North Korean flag.

This is a strange case, in part because we don't really know what happened. What is clear, however, is that Miller organized a trip to the country on his own through a travel agency. Beyond that, it’s impossible to determine with any degree of certainty the circumstances which led to his arrest. For example, North Korea’s state-run media accuses him of intentionally defecting and being a spy. Miller himself admitted as much in an impromptu television interview several days ago with CNN. “I expected to be detained” he told reporter Will Ripley. But did he?

It's certainly possible. But I imagine it's also difficult to speak candidly and openly in an interview about your own arrest when your totalitarian captors are watching closely. At the same time, Miller made it abundantly clear in that interview that his situation was perilous, and that he had written government leaders urging them to intervene on his behalf:

Question: Did Miller knowingly and willingly defect, only to realize later this was a poor and stupid decision? Or did he have ulterior motives for traveling to North Korea in the first place? Interestingly, the AP reports that the state's High Court believes Miller first went to the country to "experience prison life so that he could investigate the human rights situation."

If that's true, this might explain why he was both arrested and expected to be arrested when he first arrived in Pyongyang. But that explanation doesn't necessarily address why, having voluntarily jettisoned his freedom and safety, he now wants to go home.