A senior US foreign policy official fears North Korea could set a “price” for returning home a US soldier who defected to the country.
Travis King, a second class corporal in the US Army, was facing disciplinary action for a series of alleged crimes in South Korea as he stormed past the demilitarized zone into the communist country last Tuesday.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, now says North Koreans could capitalize on the defection of the 23-year-old from Wisconsin.
“I’m sure he’s not being treated very well,” McCaul told ABC This Week’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday. “I think it was a serious mistake on his part and I hope we can get him back.”
“We see that with Russia, China, Iran: when they capture an American, especially a soldier, they charge a price,” he continued. “And that’s what I’m worried about.”
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Sunday he feared the North Koreans could demand a “price” to return a defector to the US army
Travis King, a second class corporal in the US Army, was facing disciplinary action for a series of alleged crimes in South Korea as he stormed past the demilitarized zone into the communist country last Tuesday
Discussing King’s decision to enter the communist country, McCaul implied that he was “running away from his problems.”
“He was facing disciplinary action and wanted to get a flight back to the United States,” McCaul said.
That plane would have taken King to Texas, where he would face a hearing to end administrative segregation measures over foreign convictions after serving 47 days in a South Korean detention center.
“Instead, he didn’t board the plane, but went to the DMZ with a tour group and then ran across the border,” McCaul said. “It’s something you just don’t do.”
King’s flight to the country comes amid heightened tensions between the US and North Korea. Officials there have complained in recent weeks about a US nuclear submarine docked in South Korea.
When asked about the consequences of the sub being so close to the authoritarian country, McCaul said it was important for the US to show strength.
“It’s a show of strength that we need now to deter aggression,” McCaul said of the USS Kentucky.
“We’re seeing a very aggressive one – not just North Korea and the missiles launched in the Sea of Japan – but also the aggression that we’re seeing from China.”
“North Korea needs to know that we are there, that we are superior to the nuclear submarines,” McCaul said.
“We need to get inside her head and [Chinese] Chairman Xi [Jinping]I think there will be consequences if you act militarily aggressively.
King (circled) is pictured during the tour just before crossing the border into North Korea
King was scheduled to board a flight back to the United States to face a disciplinary hearing
According to US officials, King had been fined for assault while stationed in South Korea and held for more than a month before being escorted by the US military to Incheon International Airport for a commercial flight to Dallas, Texas.
After clearing security, he told flight attendants at the departure gate that he had lost his passport and returned to the terminal, an airport official said on condition of anonymity.
King then took part in a civilian tour of the Panmunjom Armistice Village as he stormed across the military demarcation line that has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War ended in a 1953 armistice.
A tourist on the border tour captured King in a photo just before he fled to the secret communist state.
Wearing a black T-shirt and cap he bought at a gift shop in the DMZ, King peered across the border into the mysterious communist country.
Witnesses said he laughed hysterically as he made the mad dash after fleeing his military superiors and joining the tour.
Tourist Sarah Leslie from New Zealand, who witnessed King’s crossing and took the picture of the soldier, said she initially believed it was a stunt “for TikTok”.
The group left Seoul by bus early in the morning, and Leslie noted that King was traveling alone and did not appear to speak to others on the tour. At one point, she said, he bought a DMZ hat from a gift shop.
The tour was drawing to a close on Tuesday afternoon – the group had just exited the building and were busy taking photos – when they saw King running “very fast”.
“Initially, I assumed he had a buddy who filmed him doing a really stupid prank or stunt, like doing a TikTok, which is the stupidest thing you can do,” Leslie said. “But then I heard one of the soldiers yell, ‘Get this guy.'”
King had been fined for assault while in South Korea and jailed for more than a month
His escape comes amid rising tensions with North Korea, which has spoken out in recent weeks about the docking of the USS Kentucky ballistic-missile submarine in South Korea
So far, North Korean officials have remained silent about King’s condition in the communist country, although Biden administration officials have been in touch through “multiple channels”.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said US Army Intelligence and US forces in South Korea are currently investigating what prompted King to make this puzzling decision.
Singh declined to answer directly when asked if the Pentagon believed King was still alive. She said the US military could not provide any information on King’s status.
“We do not know his condition.” We do not know where he is being held. “We do not know his medical condition,” Singh said, describing his formal status in the military as “AWOL” or “unlawfully absent.”
Meanwhile, King’s mom, Claudine Gates, said she just wanted her son back.
“Bring my son home, bring my son home and pray.” “Pray he comes back,” she told local television station WISN.
She also said she was “so proud” of her son, adding, “I just want him to come home, back to America.”
Gates, of Racine, Wisconsin, added, “I can’t imagine Travis doing anything like that.”
Other family members suspected that King couldn’t think straight when he fled to North Korea.
“As far as I know, I just heard that he probably had a fight with some Koreans,” his uncle Myron Gates said.
“And it was pretty hard to believe in, too. Somebody had to push him because he’s not a violent person.”
Myron and Carl Gates, King’s grandfather, said they were both confused and concerned for King’s well-being.
‘I was really surprised. I found out about it from my little niece, she sent me a link and I read his name, Travis King. I think right? “It just freaked me out,” Myron Gates said.
“I think there’s something wrong with him.” He’s not thinking straight. I don’t think he would just run away like that. “I can’t see that,” Carl Gates said.
At her home in Racine, Wisconsin, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, expressed her desire to have her son back and urged people to pray for his well-being
“Somebody had to push him because he’s not a violent person,” said Myron Gates, uncle of American soldier Travis King
Court documents show King pleaded guilty to assault and destruction of public property in connection with an October incident. On February 8, the Seoul Western District Court fined him 5 million won ($4,000), according to a copy of the verdict verified by Portal.
Two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the soldier faces disciplinary action from the US military. It is not clear if the disciplinary action is related to his conviction for damaging the police vehicle.
A Seoul court ruled on September 25 last year that King repeatedly slapped a man in the face at a club but the case was settled.
Two weeks later, on October 8, police officers responded to a report of another altercation with King and attempted to question him. According to the court document, he continued his “aggressive behavior” without answering questions from the police.
Police put him in the back seat of their squad car, where he shouted profanities and insults against Koreans, the Korean army and the Korean police, the verdict said.
During his tirade, he kicked the vehicle’s door multiple times, resulting in about 584,000 won ($461) in damage, the verdict said.
The court said the defendant admitted the allegations, had no criminal record and paid 1 million won ($790) to have the vehicle repaired.