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A Path to Free North Korea’s Political Prisoners

Courtesy of Scott Savage/Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This article was originally published by the World Policy Institute on 20 June 2017.

Circumstances are ripe for South Korea, the United States, and the international community to adopt a fresh approach to address the North Korean crisis. High-ranking officials in North Korea are disaffected to an unprecedented degree, and granting amnesty to them may ultimately lead to the removal of Kim Jong-un.

In an April 6 analysis, Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, listed ways President Donald Trump could attempt to deal with North Korea, which included conventional strategies such as intensifying sanctions, increasing pressure on China to enforce sanctions, and even preventive military strikes. However, he concluded saying that the safest option would be to negotiate “a peaceful end to the 60-year-standoff on the peninsula” by providing the North Korean elite with an alternative to their “murderous and unstable leader.” He added that such an approach “could be the safest and most realistic way to sheath North Korean nuclear weapons and safeguard the American people.”

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Prisons and Profit

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Wallens Ridge State Prison /Photo: dombrassey, flickr

Once upon a time, prisoners used spoons stolen at lunch to dig their way to freedom. Today’s prisoners seem to have found more comfortable methods. They prefer private helicopters to fly elegantly to freedom, as did one of Belgium’s most dangerous criminals, Ashraf Sekkaki, together with two other inmates. Apparently the aircraft was in the prison courtyard for five minutes without even encountering a guard.

Since the procedure was not as cheap as old-school methods, the trio was probably in dire need of money: Only a week after their escape, the three were suspected of having robbed a bank, a gas station and two storage facilities – all within two hours.

Their helicopter escape was not an original idea though. It seems to be a general trend in Europe, with 14 cases in the last eight years, mostly in Belgium, France and Greece. The three Belgian fugitives add to 36 others in their country alone – since the beginning of this year.

European prison services blame not only lax controls at tourist chopper rentals, but also their lack of funding at correctional facilities. There’s not even enough money to erect simple iron cables to stop choppers from landing.

Policymakers could be tempted to look across the Atlantic for money-saving, and even profit-making, solutions. With more than 2 million prisoners (more than 1 percent of the adult population) the US has found a way to create a recession-proof multimillion dollar industry out of incarcerations.

Reuters last week reported that the share price of Corrections Corporation of America has more than doubled since March. The company, which provides about half of America’s private ‘corrections solutions’ (or prisons, as they were once called) and has 77,000 beds on offer, cuts a profit of about $22 per inmate per day. Incoming CEO Damon Hininger says he would “love the opportunity” to take some of the 40,000 prisoners that must be transferred from overcrowded California prisons.

In other cases, the industry has taken a more direct approach to increasing its client base:

The Guardian reported that “[T]wo judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2,000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.” Some of the offenses were “so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes.”

With such worrying prospects, I hope that Belgian prison services will find other ways to deal with their lack of funding.

Turkey’s Deep State Re-Visited: “The Case of the Century”

This January, Gareth Jenkins shared his observations on the Turkish “Deep State” in a prolific ISN Security Watch article. Not only did he shed light on the history of “Ergenokon,” a clandestine ultra-Kemalist guerilla organization with obscure links to NATO’s covert stay-behind network “Gladio,” but also raised a momentous question: Is the Turkish military, hitherto the staunch and “ultimate guardian of the traditional interpretation of secularism in Turkey,” discrediting itself with its more than likely involvement in planning a coup d’état, thus losing ground to Erdoğan’s Islamist AKP in the struggle over the future of Turkish secularism?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's mausoleum / Photo: carolinebeatriz/flickr

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s mausoleum / Photo: carolinebeatriz/flickr

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