North Korean detainee wanted to get off plane in Alaska because he 'hadn't seen daylight in a very long time'

  • A US citizen detained for years in North Korea asked to get off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's plane as it refueled in Alaska "because he hadn't seen daylight in a very long time."
  • One of the freed detainees said he had been doing hard labor in North Korea, which is known to be brutal and inhumane.
  • President Donald Trump thanked North Korea's Kim Jong Un, "who really was excellent to these three incredible people."
  • Pence described the incongruity between the smiling freed US citizens and the brutal conditions in North Korea as "diplomacy."

Vice President Mike Pence shared a heartbreaking detail about one of the three US citizens freed from North Korean prisons early Thursday. His anecdote provided a glimpse into the brutal nature of hard labor and human rights abuses led by Pyongyang. 

"It's heartbreaking to think of it," Pence told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, referencing the US citizens' stay in North Korea. 

"The secretary of state told me when the plane refueled in Anchorage [Alaska], one of the detainees asked to go outside the plane because he hadn't seen daylight in a very long time," Pence said.

"As they came down the stairs, the joy on their faces, their appreciation for the people of the US, for their countrymen, for their president, and frankly their gratitude to God was deeply moving," Pence continued. "The first words they said to us were: 'Thank you, and thank you for your prayers.'"

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Trump welcomes home 3 US prisoners freed by North Korea
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump applauds the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: President Donald Trump greets the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R), greets three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as President Donald Trump stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump walks with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks while standing with the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with two Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump applauds the three Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who have been detained in North Korea. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - MAY 10: U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Americans just released from North Korea, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands nearby, at Joint Base Andrews on May 9, 2018 in Maryland. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to North Korea and returned with the three men who had been detained for up to two years. The three U.S. citizens have been released as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images). (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (3rd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (4th L), Kim Hak-song (3rd R) and Tony Kim (3rd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) and wife Melania Trump (2nd L) walk with US detainees Tony Kim (2nd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Kim Dong-chul (C) upon their return after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (L) applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul (2nd R) gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song (hidden behind) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10: President Donald J. Trump disembarks a plane with first lady Melania Trump and three freed American prisoners after their arrival from North Korea at Joint Base Andrews on Thursday, May 10, 2018 in Joint Base Andrews, MD. The prisoner release appears to be a gesture to set the stage for a landmark summit between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with US detainee Tony Kim (C) as US Vice President Mike Pence (back L) and Melania Trump (L) look on, upon arrival after three detainees were freed by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump (C) speaks upon the return of US detainees Kim Dong-chul (3rd R), Kim Hak-song (R) and Tony Kim (2nd L) after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on May 10, 2018. - US President Donald Trump greeted the three US citizens released by North Korea at the air base near Washington early on May 10, underscoring a much needed diplomatic win and a stepping stone to a historic summit with Kim Jong Un. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, gives a thumbs-up as he walks with First Lady Melania Trump on the South Lawn of the White House after landing on Marine One following an event at Joint Base Andrews in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, May 10, 2018.Trump�personally welcomed home three Americans released from detention in North Korea, a triumphant middle-of-the-night moment for the president as he prepares for a landmark summit with�Kim Jong Un. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Pence met the three men on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews in Maryland when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's plane touched down, joined by President Donald Trump, who made a statement that seemed to contradict the suffering the men endured. 

"We want to thank Kim Jong-un, who really was excellent to these three incredible people," Trump said after meeting and embracing the detainees, one of whom had been imprisoned so long he likely had no idea Trump had become president. 

North Korea operates several prison camps that have been compared to Auschwitz, the former Nazi concentration camp.

“‘I was treated in various ways, but I had a lot of labor work,” Kim Dong-chul told media at the airbase, according to NK News. “But I received some treatment when I was sick.”

The South Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo said the three Americans might be being coached to say that human-rights abuses did not occur while they were in North Korean custody.

But Trump is not alone in sweeping North Korea's human rights abuses under the rug, at least for the moment. South Korea has not made human rights an issue in inter-Korean talks thus far, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha said in April that they needed "more preparation" before broaching the subject.

North Korea's Kim is very touchy about the subject.

Asked on ABC how it was possible for the joyous occasion of the detainees returning reconciled with Kim Jong Un's brutal dictatorship, Pence said it was an act of diplomacy. 

"What you're seeing is diplomacy, but diplomacy that has followed the United States of America speaking truth, that we'll no longer tolerate the path they've been on with nuclear missiles," Pence said.

 

 

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