Published January 08, 2014
The sister of an American citizen being held in North Korea says she is "outraged" by Dennis Rodman's visit to Pyongyang for a game on leader Kim Jung Un's birthday and his comments about the jailed missionary during a bizarre television interview.
Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" to Kim before leading a squad of former NBA stars onto the court at a Pyongyang stadium on Wednesday for a game Rodman said is part of his "basketball diplomacy" with the North that has been heavily criticized in the United States.
Asked in a CNN satellite interview on Tuesday whether he would raise the issue of Kenneth Bae, who is being held in North Korea on charges of "anti-state" crimes, Rodman yelled in response, "I don't give a rat's ass what the hell you think."
"Kenneth Bae did one thing," an angry Rodman shouted, as he waved a cigar at the camera. "If you understand what Kenneth Bae did. Do you understand what he did in this country? No, no, no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why? ... I would love to speak on this."
Rodman has been criticized for not trying to use his influence with Kim to secure the release of Bae, who has health problems and has been held for over a year. Bae's sister, Terri Chung, told Q13Fox.com late Tuesday that Rodman's remarks were outrageous.
“It’s one thing to play games with his own image, but this is not a game, this is a man’s life,” Chung said. “He has refused to help, that’s his choice, but instead he has chosen to make these outrageous accusations that he clearly doesn’t know anything about.”
Chung said she hopes one of the former basketball players will use the opportunity to ask the government to give her brother amnesty. She expressed concern, however, that Rodman's visit may hurt Bae's chances of release.
"He's not a diplomat and we get that," she told KING5.com. "But we certainly would hope he would have a human heart."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. remains gravely concerned about Bae's health and is ready to send U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to seek his release if Pyongyang reinstates an invitation that was withdrawn in August. Psaki declined to say whether Rodman's visit was complicating those diplomatic efforts.
Rodman arrived in Pyongyang on Monday with seven former NBA players and four streetballers for the game on Kim's birthday, believed to be his 31st. Along with Charles D. Smith, the squad features ex-All Stars Kenny Anderson, Cliff Robinson and Vin Baker.
Rodman dedicated the game Wednesday to his "best friend" Kim, who along with his wife and other senior officials and their wives watched from a special seating area. The capacity crowd of about 14,000 clapped loudly as Rodman sang a verse from the birthday song.
The game was another milestone in Rodman's surprising relationship with basketball fan Kim, who rarely meets with outsiders and is possibly the world's most mysterious leader. Rodman says he has received death threats for his repeated visits to this country and for calling Kim a "friend for life."
The White House said Tuesday it would not have approved Rodman's latest trip to North Korea if it had any say in the matter. Spokesman Jay Carney said the visit was considered private travel and not subject to government review.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has distanced his organization from Rodman's squad.
"The NBA is not involved with Mr. Rodman's North Korea trip and would not participate or support such a venture without the approval of the U.S. State Department," he said in a statement. "Although sports in many instances can be helpful in bridging cultural divides, this is not one of them."
Rodman is the highest-profile American to meet Kim since the leader inherited power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011. He traveled to the North for the first time last February and came back just before Christmas to hold tryouts for the North Korean basketball team, though he did not meet with Kim then.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.