To free an American prisoner

Tonight at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, two women with Snohomish County ties, Terri Chung and Myunghee Bae, will be seated in the visitors’ gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives.

They will sit, they will rise, they will sit again, riding the crest of Obama’s applause lines. They may fix their eyes straight ahead, quietly praying that the president of the United States mentions the name, “Kenneth Bae,” their brother and son, respectively.

There’s a remote chance Obama will highlight Bae, a U.S. citizen and the longest-serving American prisoner in North Korea in more than 60 years. He was convicted of trying to overthrow the government and sentenced in April to 15 years in prison.

That Bae still is behind bars is a travesty. That he was showboated in prison stripes, confessing to make-believe crimes, is emblematic of a totalitarian regime with its own mad lineage: a 31 year-old dictator, Kim Jong-un, son of the late Kim Jong-il (known as “Dear Leader”) and grandson of Kim Il-sung (known as the “Great Leader.”) There was Uncle Jang Song-thaek, vice-chairman of the Defense Commission, who was executed by his less-than-adoring nephew in December, and now word that all of Jang’s blood relatives have been murdered.

In diplomatic vernacular, it’s a wackjob regime that would be less menacing were it not for its immense army and nuclear arsenal.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is playing an active, behind-the-scenes role to secure Bae’s release. He and New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, a decorated Korean War veteran, gave their gallery tickets to Bae’s family.

“North Korea’s publicity stunts aside, we continue our call on North Korea to grant Kenneth a pardon and special amnesty so he can come home to his family,” Larsen said. “I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Kenneth’s family and the U.S. State Department as we work together to ensure his safe return home.”

The subtext through the thick, North Korean filter is that it wants something in return for springing Bae. There’s zero chance of that, and the State Department isn’t one to negotiate through the press. The frightening variable is a highly unpredictable Kim Jong-un (see uncle’s fate, above.)

Today, Bae’s relatives will meet with the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights issues, Robert King, and likely with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. History looks promising for Bae — Americans are used as propaganda, compelled to make nonsense statements, and later released.

Let’s hope for a straightforward resolution. Bae’s release can’t come soon enough.

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