OVER THE past couple of days, President Trump has made a number of false statements regarding North Korea and his summit meeting with its leader, Kim Jong Un. Some of these may be harmless. Some may be justifiable in the context of a nascent diplomatic process. One, however, is obtuse, offensive and harmful.
“His country does love him,” Mr. Trump said, speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”
Yes, you see the fervor, because anyone in North Korea who does not display fervor for their leader may end up in a concentration camp. No one in North Korea may criticize Mr. Kim and expect to survive. If someone is suspected of disloyalty, his or her entire family is liable to be imprisoned or killed. Between 80,000 and 120,000 people are kept in these political concentration camps, and almost none survive or are ever released. Rape and forcible abortion and infanticide are the policies of the camps.
“The people of North Korea faced egregious human rights violations by the government in nearly all reporting categories,” the State Department said in its 2017 human rights report, “including: 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; . . . arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; denial of the ability to choose their government; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; . . . domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system.”
Or, as Mr. Trump himself summarized it just seven months ago: “The horror of life in North Korea is so complete that citizens pay bribes to government officials to have themselves exported abroad as slaves. They would rather be slaves than live in North Korea. . . . Leaders imprison their people under the banner of tyranny, fascism and oppression. . . . Citizens spy on fellow citizens, their homes are subject to search at any time, and their every action is subject to surveillance. In place of a vibrant society, the people of North Korea are bombarded by state propaganda practically every waking hour of the day. North Korea is a country ruled as a cult.”
Did Mr. Trump not believe or understand those words he read in his speech in Seoul last November? Has he forgotten them, now that he has looked the cult leader in the eye? Or does he know his latest statement is hogwash?
We have no idea. Here’s what we do know: There are thousands of people in North Korea who will learn of Mr. Trump’s latest statement. Thousands of people who had looked to America and its democratic allies to stand for their dignity and freedom as human beings will feel a bit less hopeful about their future. They will feel betrayed. They will be right to feel that way.