The United States said Monday that a US consular official and two doctors last week visited in a Pyongyang hospital an American serving hard labor in North Korea for an illegal border crossing.Given that there have been reports of Mr Gomes attempting suicide and he may still be in a hospital because of that, there is reason for concern about his health and well-being. On the other hand, if the suicide attempt has kept him from hard labor (as he was sentenced), then perhaps it's a cause for optimism. We won't know until he is released whether he really was put into a regular prison camp or he was put up at the Pyongyang Palazzo.
"We requested permission to visit Mr. (Ajalon) Gomes. That permission from the North Korean government was granted," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
Crowley said a translator accompanied the consular official and doctors on the visit, adding: "I believe they visited him in a hospital."
He said the team was in Pyongyang from August 9 through August 11.
"The basis of the trip was simply our ongoing concerns about Mr. Gomes's health and welfare," Crowley said.
At any rate, even if his release is not pending (Pyongyang is no doubt hoping to use him as a bargaining chip, though I don't know if Mrs Clinton and the Obama Administration are willing to let that happen), it is a good sign for those who hope to see him released that US consular officers and medical staff have access to him. It means, at least, that they're probably not using him for bayonet practice or a punching bag.
I just wonder what Pyongyang will try to get for his release, and if they'll get it or something halfway. This dilemma, of course, is one of the reasons I've been so critical of the walkabouts of Robert Park and Mr Gomes: At some level it does hamstring Washington's ability to operate with a free hand. Joshua at One Free Korea seems to believe that North Korea was kept off the State Sponsors of Terror list as a means to get Robert Park out of the DPRK, while an argument can be made that a post-Ch'ŏnan reinstatement of North Korea on the list can't easily occur until after Mr Gomes is released.