Video: Blaine Harden Discusses Retractions by North Korean Prison Camp Survivor Shin Dong-hyuk
Video: Author Blaine Harden (L) speaks with Jonathan Karp on a March 24 panel about North Korea at Asia Society Northern California. (7 min.)
In 2012, author Blaine Harden published the book Escape From Camp 14, based on the testimony of North Korean defector Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in a political prison camp where he was routinely tortured until escaping at age 22. The story depicted harrowing events inside the camp, including when Shin turned in his mother and brother for planning an escape, and subsequently watched their executions. The book became an international bestseller that was translated into 27 languages and even formed the basis of a UN inquiry into North Korean human rights abuses. But then, this January, Shin changed his story.
At a March 24 Asia Society Northern California panel discussing North Korea, Blaine Harden addressed Shin's recanting of certain details. “The word truth is very hard to deal with for someone who grows up born in a political labor camp and spends most of their life there, is tortured there, and also betrays his mother and brother and watches them die there,” Harden said. “Most people who study trauma — and since Shin changed his story I’ve talked to a lot of them — say that a coherent linear story from someone who has suffered torture particularly, but also severe trauma, is very very unusual.”
In the above video clip, Harden details the significance of Shin's retractions, but stresses that the crux of his story has been consistent. Harden displays photos of Shin’s scars as evidence that he was indeed tortured, adding that on a recent trip to Seoul, he met a former guard who had worked for the political police at four different North Korean prison camps. "[The guard said] that he has talked to almost all of the camp survivors from North Korea, and Shin is more scarred than any of them, and he also says the scars are the signature scarring of the techniques that he was taught to use."