A U.S. Army private who had previously escaped to North Korea and was recently repatriated to the United States has reportedly been taken into custody by the U.S. military, as revealed by two unidentified officials on Thursday evening.
Pvt. Travis King is now facing multiple charges, including desertion and the possession of explicit images involving a minor. The specific allegations against Pvt. King is outlined in a charging document that was reviewed by The Associated Press. As the charges have not yet been formally disclosed to the public, the officials chose to remain anonymous when confirming Pvt. King’s detention.
Desertion is a very serious offense that can result in up to three years in jail. In addition, King is accused of physically attacking fellow officers by kicking and punching them last year, illegally carrying alcohol, making false statements, and possessing a film depicting a kid involved in a sexual act. This claim relates to an event on July 10, which coincides with his release from a South Korean prison where he had served nearly two months on assault charges.
The Associated Press has obtained a charging document that outlines the eight charges against King. Meanwhile, officials who verified King’s detainment spoke to The Associated Press while requesting anonymity because the charges have not been officially disclosed to the public.
In a statement, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said that she loved her son “unconditionally” and was “extremely concerned about his mental health.”
In July, at the age of 23, King attempted a daring escape across the strongly guarded border between South Korea and North Korea. This was the first time North Korea had captured an American in over five years. His sudden move to North Korea happened shortly after his release from a South Korean jail.
Approximately two months later, Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, surprisingly announced its decision to expel King, and he was transported to an Air Force base in Texas. During this period, officials were uncertain about the specific reasons behind North Korea’s choice to release him, but they suspected that North Korea considered him of minimal value due to his low-ranking status, lacking significant leverage or valuable information.
Swedish authorities played a crucial role in facilitating King’s return from North Korea. They accompanied him to the Chinese border, where he was met by U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns, the Swedish ambassador to China, and officials from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Following this, he was transported to a U.S. military base in South Korea before ultimately making his way back to the United States.
While King was absent, the Army officially categorized him as “absent without leave” (AWOL) rather than a “deserter,” which carries much graver consequences. Labeling him as a deserter would require the Army to conclude that King left to remain away permanently. In times of war, desertion can even be subject to the death penalty.
Service personnel are allowed to stay away without leave (AWOL) for a fixed number of days before returning voluntarily. AWOL can result in imprisonment in military prison (brig), deprivation of pay, or earning a dishonorable discharge. The severity of the consequences typically depends on factors such as the duration of absence and whether the individual returned voluntarily or was apprehended.