During an interview this week on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo, retired basketball hall of fame legend Dennis Rodman went wild when asked if he would use his current visit to North Korea to request the release of an American missionary sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the country.
The interview, televised on Tuesday, featured ten men who had traveled with Rodman to play a basketball game against a North Korean team per the invitation of the DPRK. Former NBA player Charles Smith begins by explaining that the team was not present to engage in political matters, but to “put smiles on people’s faces.”
“None of us are here to talk any sense into any politician,” Smith says. “Other than basketball diplomacy, which I feel is about utilizing the relationship with others in an accommodating way through basketball, which we did today with the North Korean team, that’s what we’re here for.”
“Do you really think that the leaders here will listen to what we have to say?” he asked. “And we’re not here to do that.”
Minutes later, Cuomo directly asks Rodman if he would speak out for the ailing missionary if he had the chance.
“Are you going to take an opportunity—if you get it—to speak up for the family of Kenneth Bae to say, ‘Let us know why this man is being held. This is wrong; he is sick,’” Cuomo inquires. “If you can help him, will you take the opportunity?”
Rodman begins to show agitation, but responds calmly at first.
“Watch this. The one thing about politics, Kenneth Bae did one thing. If you understand—if you understand what Kenneth Bae did—Do you understand what he did in this country?” Rodman asks.
“What did he do?” Cuomo inquires. “You tell me.”
“No, no, no, no! You tell me! You tell me!” declares Rodman. “Why is he held captive?”
“They haven’t released any charges,” Cuomo replies. “They haven’t released any reason.”
Rodman, who reiterates the reason why the men came, then begins yelling at Cuomo and using profanity, telling him that he doesn’t care what the news anchor thinks.
“They came here!” he exclaims, referring to the American basketball team, his voice still elevated. “They came here!”
“You just basically were saying that Kenneth Bae did something wrong,” Cuomo replies calmly. “We don’t even know what the charges are.”
“You can hide behind the mic right now,” Rodman asserts, holding a cigar. “We are the guys here doing one thing. We have to go back to America and take the abuse. Do you have to take the abuse? We gonna take it.”
As previously reported, Kenneth Bae, who operates a tourist company in Washington state, was arrested not far from the city of Yanji in November 2012, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees. It is stated that Bae has made a number of trips to North Korea to assist orphaned children.
While the exact reason for his charges of committing “hostile [and religious] acts to bring down the government” has not been made known, some organizations speculate that Bae may be in trouble for taking pictures that the government found threatening. Others opine that perhaps he took photographs of prisoners being executed or other similar human rights concerns. One report claims that Bae was found with a disc that had potentially sensitive information.
A video released by CNN in August showed Bae allegedly admitting to violating North Korean law, but some are skeptical about the admission.
Bae, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor, has been reportedly struggling with his health, and his family has made several pleas for his release. The White House has also issued statements urging the North Korean government “to grant [Bae] amnesty.”
North Korea has been listed for several years as the most dangerous place to live as a Christian on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.