Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Kwan-li-so No. 22.
Camp 22 is a political prison camp in North Korea. The official name is Kwan-li-so No. 22. The camp is a maximum security area, completely isolated from the outside world. Prisoners and their families are held in lifelong detention. North Korea’s system of spying, thought-control, isolation, and terror may have no equal in human history. That is how Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il kept the secrets of Camp 22 inside its ten-foot wire fences and distinctive blocky guard posts for decades. That changed when satellite photography went public. Since then, Google Earth has revealed the world’s most secret places to armies of amateur “squints.” Satellite photography was available to the human rights researcher David Hawk when he set to work on “The Hidden Gulag,” his ground-breaking study of North Korea’s forced labor camps. Hawk’s interviews with survivors and former guards alone would not have had the same impact had those witnesses not been able to point to those photographs and say, “This is the detention center,” he said. “If someone goes inside this building, in three months he will be dead or disabled for life. In this corner they decided about the executions, who to execute and whether to make it public. “This is the Kim Il Sung institute, a movie house for officers. Here is watchdog training. And guard training ground. Pointing to another spot, he said: “This is the garbage pond where the two kids were killed when guard kicked them in pond. This also allows us to begin our tour from a base line of more-or-less known fact. Absolute certainty will have to wait for the day when Camp 22 is liberated. For Google Earth newbies, you can download the program here. Each screen grab also shows the scale, coordinates, altitude, and attitude, in case you want to have a look for yourself. Google Earth’s high-resolution imagery covers less than half of Camp 22, the portion that you will view — and escape — from the warmth and comfort of your home today. As I write this, North Korea has declared four days of celebration for Kim Jong Il’s 65th birthday, and it is just possible that the inmates of Camp 22 will be permitted a few days of rest from the mines and farms there, where the prisoners usually labor 12 or more hours a day, seven days a week.