Rodman 'Playing Games' With Imprisoned American's Life, Family Says

By: Nick Viviani
By: Nick Viviani
Rodman traveled to North Korea for a basketball game Wednesday against a North Korean team. Wednesday is also the birthday of the country

In an exclusive interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day," Rodman reacted angrily when pressed on whether the party should have traveled there given recent events in the secretive country.

(CNN) -- Dennis Rodman is "playing games" with the life of jailed American Kenneth Bae, the imprisoned man's sister said Wednesday.

"There is no diplomacy, only games, and at my brother's expense," Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said in a statement released by the family a day after the onetime basketball star made headlines by intimating that Bae's imprisonment in North Korea was deserved.

In an appearance Wednesday on CNN's "New Day," Chung said she was shocked by Rodman's statements the day before to CNN's Chris Cuomo, in which the basketball player suggested Bae had done something wrong to warrant being in prison.

"I'm not sure where he's getting his information and I'm not sure how much credence I would give to his outburst," she said.

Bae, described by family members as a devout Christian who ran a legal tour operation in North Korea, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012 on charges that he planned an operation to bring down the atheist state through religious activities.

The regime also accused Bae of urging people to carry out "hostile acts" against the state.

The married father of three has suffered a series of health problems during his detention and has been transferred from the labor camp to a hospital.

Rodman traveled to North Korea for a basketball game Wednesday against a North Korean team. Wednesday is also the birthday of the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, whom Rodman has described as a beloved friend.

Images released by The Associated Press show Rodman bowing and the former NBA star and his teammates playing the North Korean team.

Bae's relatives say he could have helped put pressure on the North Korean government to release him, but instead has made the situation worse.

"Dennis Rodman could do a lot of good by advocating for Kenneth to Kim Jong Un, but instead he has decided to hurl outrageous accusations at my brother, insinuating that Kenneth has done something sinister," Chung said in her statement.

In an exclusive interview from Pyongyang on Tuesday, Rodman reacted angrily to a question from Chris Cuomo of CNN's "New Day" about whether he was planning to ask North Korean leaders about Bae.

Rodman suggested that Bae, a Korean-American whose health has deteriorated during his imprisonment, had done something wrong -- a point bitterly contested by his family and U.S. officials.

"Do you understand what he did in this country?" Rodman asked Cuomo. "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 said, before abruptly switching the topic to talk about how his fellow basketball players had left their families behind to come to North Korea for the exhibition game.

Charles D. Smith, a basketball player who accompanied Rodman on the trip, apologized for "the storm that has been created by our presence." But, he added, "We're not apologizing for doing what we do ... we're connecting people to basketball and people to people."

Rodman 'crossed a line'

Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also criticized Rodman's comments, telling CNN he was "disappointed" by the former NBA star's performance.

Richardson, a former New Mexico governor who has visited North Korea multiple times, said Rodman "drank a little bit too much of the Kool-Aid from the North Koreans."

"I think Dennis Rodman crossed a line this morning by implying that Kenneth Bae might be guilty, by suggesting that there was a crime," said Richardson, who worked to secure the release of an American held in North Korea in 1996.

Laura Ling, an American journalist who along with a colleague was held prisoner by North Korea in 2009, said Rodman's comments were "incomprehensible."

"He's a wacko, he's a nut," she said on "Anderson Cooper 360." "But I don't think that anyone expects him to be this ambassador or to produce this diplomatic breakthrough. At least we shouldn't -- that would be pretty scary if Dennis Rodman was our envoy."

Ling said she hoped the interaction through basketball could help win Bae's release and introduce the North Korean people to a "a more positive side" of the West, offering a counterpoint to the state-run media's intense vilification of the United States and its allies.

The game has so far received no coverage in North Korea's state-run media.

Rodman: 'I love my friend'

Rodman's comments Tuesday contrast with a request he made on Twitter in May for Kim to "do me a solid and cut Kenneth Bae loose."

Rodman struck up a friendship with Kim in February, when he first traveled to North Korea with a team of Harlem Globetrotters for an exhibition game. Kim, who is a basketball fan, watched the game.

"I love my friend," Rodman said Tuesday in a reference to Kim. "This is my friend."

Rodman has described his series of trips to North Korea as a "basketball diplomacy" project and defended the latest trip in his interview with Cuomo, saying it was a "great idea for the world."

The trip takes place weeks after North Korea announced the purge and execution of leader Kim's once powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek.

U.S. government officials have said that they have nothing to do with the visits and that attention should be focused on the brutality of Kim's regime.

White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that Rodman is on a private trip and that the United States has called for North Korea to grant Bae amnesty and release him immediately on humanitarian grounds.

NBA unimpressed

The NBA also has distanced itself from Rodman's trip.

"Dennis will be Dennis, but I think there is a lot at stake here in terms of a ... a very dangerous country," outgoing NBA Commissioner David Stern said Tuesday on "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

The NBA has had preliminary discussions with Pyongyang about a cultural exchange, Stern said. But he said he wouldn't send any players to North Korea without White House approval.

"Sports diplomacy is a wonderful thing," he said. "But they should be done in a far more dignified fashion than this particular trip is being carried out."

-- CNN's Steve Almasy contributed to this report.


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