OUR seizure of a North Korean vessel, MV Jin Teng, last March 5, raises questions. We enforced a UN directive that just entered into force (hours?). Fair? What are we to do with this elephant in the room? So far, no report that the NoKors are aiming missiles or nuke warheads at us. Do we have a Nokor Desk in the DFA? As Talleyrand warned, “above all, no zeal.”
Here is a blast from the past. The USS Pueblo, with three Pinoys on board, was attacked and captured by North Korean forces on Jan. 23, 1968, in what is known today as the Pueblo incident; this matter we took up in Harvard Law at that time under Negotiation Guru Roger Fisher. In our very first meeting, in a small seminar room. Solve the crisis, we were asked to brainstorm, ha, ha.
The seizure of the US Navy ship and its 83 crew members, one of whom was killed in the attack, and the abuse and torture of its crew during the subsequent 11-month prisoner drama became a major Cold War incident. There was a dispute as to whether the ship was in international waters at the time of the incident, to begin with.
Since early 2013, the ship has been moored along the Botong River in Pyongyang, and used there as a museum ship at the Pyongyang Victorious War Museum. Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to POW camps. The crew reported upon release that they were starved and regularly tortured while in custody. This treatment allegedly turned worse when the NoKors realized that crewmen were secretly giving them “the finger” in staged propaganda photos.
Commander Lloyd M. Bucher was psychologically tortured, such as being put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the NoKors threatened to execute his men in front of him, and he relented and agreed to “confess to his and the crew’s transgression.” Bucher wrote the confession since a “confession” by definition needed to be made and written by the confessor himself. They verified the meaning of what he wrote, but failed to catch the pun when he said “We paean the DPRK [North Korea]. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung”. (Bucher pronounced “paean” as “pee on.”)
Following an apology, a written admission by the US that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the US would not spy in the future, the NoKors decided to release the 82 remaining crew members, although the written apology was preceded by an oral statement that it was done only to secure the release. On Dec. 23, 1968, the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south one by one across the “Bridge of No Return”. The US then orally retracted the ransom admission, apology, and assurance.
Bucher and all the officers and crew subsequently appeared before a Navy Court of Inquiry. A court-martial was recommended for the CO and the OIC of the Research Department, Lt. Steve Harris, for surrendering without a fight and for failing to destroy classified material, but the Secretary of the Navy, admirably Pusong Mamon John Chafee, rejected the recommendation, stating, “They have suffered enough.”
Commander Bucher was never found guilty of any indiscretions and continued his Navy career until retirement. In 1970, he published an autobio account entitled Bucher: My Story. He died in San Diego on Jan. 28, 2004, at the age of 76.
The USS Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In late 2012 Pueblo was moved again to the Botong River in Pyongyang next to a new addition to the Fatherland Liberation War Museum.
As for the crew members, they did not receive full recognition for their involvement in the incident until decades later. In 1988, the military announced it would give out Prisoner of War medals to those captured in the nation’s conflicts. While thousands of American POWs were awarded medals, the Pueblo crew did not receive them. Instead, they were classified as “detainees.” It was not until Congress passed a law overturning this decision that the medals were awarded; the crew finally received the medals in May 1990.
Perhaps we should be hearing from PNoy, the AFP, the DFA, Jojobama, Mar, Grace, Digong and Miriam on how to deal with Jin Teng?
In legal philosophy, no punitive measure may be implemented without giving one affected a fair chance to know the new edict.
This paper recently republished an account of Pueblo; among its crew were three with Filipino roots, Storekeeper First Class Policarpio Polia PP Garcia, Steward Rogelio P. Abelon and Steward Rizalino L. Aluague. Two of them were harshly treated, accused of spying.
But, the cruel NoKors allowed the captives a nice Easter Week and let them reunited with their loved ones for Christmas.