U.S. stu­dent sent home by North Korea dies

Amer­i­cans out­raged at treat­ment abroad

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND DAVE BOYER

Otto F. Warm­bier, the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent who was in a coma last week when North Korea re­leased him af­ter 17 months of detention, died at a Cincin­nati hos­pi­tal Mon­day, spark­ing out­rage and ac­cu­sa­tions of “mur­der” lodged against the com­mu­nist regime that held him.

Mem­bers of Congress clam­ored for a U.S. re­sponse, and one top law­maker said the U.S. should ban tourist vis­its to North Korea to keep Amer­i­cans from fall­ing into the regime’s hands.

The stu­dent died as ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang were on the rise.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the aw­ful tor­tur­ous mis­treat­ment our son re­ceived at the hands of the North Kore­ans en­sured that no other out­come was pos­si­ble be­yond the sad one we ex­pe­ri­enced to­day,” Fred and Cindy Warm­bier and other fam­ily mem­bers said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing their son’s death.

Pres­i­dent Trump called Mr. Warm­bier the “lat­est vic­tim” of Py­ongyang’s dic­ta­tor­ship, say­ing “the United States once again con­demns the bru­tal­ity of the North Korean

regime.”

“Otto’s fate deep­ens my ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to pre­vent such tragedies from be­falling in­no­cent peo­ple at the hands of regimes that do not re­spect the rule of law or ba­sic hu­man de­cency,” Mr. Trump said in a state­ment.

Mr. Warm­bier’s case took a se­ries of sur­pris­ing turns in re­cent weeks af­ter an an­nounce­ment by the gov­ern­ment of Kim Jong-un in Py­ongyang that it was sud­denly free­ing the 22-year-old for “hu­man­i­tar­ian” rea­sons.

In an an­nounce­ment that ap­peared in state­con­trolled me­dia, North Korean au­thor­i­ties gave no in­di­ca­tion about Mr. Warm­bier’s med­i­cal con­di­tion.

Con­fu­sion about Mr. Warm­bier’s treat­ment while in custody swirled when news broke that he was al­lowed to be res­cued by mede­vac from Py­ongyang and taken to a hos­pi­tal in his home state of Ohio, where U.S. doc­tors quickly as­sessed that he was co­matose and likely suf­fered a mas­sive trauma to the head while in detention.

An as­sess­ment based on dated MRI scans that were re­port­edly pro­vided by the North Korean gov­ern­ment de­ter­mined that Mr. Warm­bier sus­tained the cat­a­strophic brain in­jury some­time af­ter Py­ongyang cir­cu­lated a video of the Amer­i­can stu­dent apol­o­giz­ing on North Korean state tele­vi­sion in Fe­bru­ary 2016.

North Korean au­thor­i­ties ar­rested Mr. Warm­bier in Jan­uary 2016 while he was try­ing to leave the coun­try. Then a ju­nior at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia, Mr. Warm­bier had been study­ing abroad for the year in China when he de­cided to hire a Chi­nese-based tour com­pany to make the risky visit to Py­ongyang.

Au­thor­i­ties charged Mr. Warm­bier with com­mit­ting “hos­tile acts” and ac­cused him of try­ing to steal a pro­pa­ganda poster from in­side the Yang­gakdo Ho­tel, where he was stay­ing in the North Korean cap­i­tal.

The North Kore­ans claimed Mr. Warm­bier was act­ing un­der the di­rec­tion of church groups and oth­ers that Py­ongyang ac­cuses of as­so­ci­a­tion with U.S. in­tel­li­gence.

Dur­ing his apol­ogy on North Korean state me­dia — an ap­pear­ance that an­a­lysts say may have been co­erced or con­cocted en­tirely by au­thor­i­ties in Py­ongyang — Mr. Warm­bier said a woman from Friend­ship United Methodist Church of Wy­oming, Ohio, had promised to buy him a car if he stole the pro­pa­ganda poster.

He also said that an or­ga­ni­za­tion known as the “Z So­ci­ety” — an old and se­cre­tive club at the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia that North Korean of­fi­cials ac­cuse of as­so­ci­a­tion with the CIA — had promised to make him a mem­ber if he was suc­cess­ful.

The North Kore­ans sen­tenced Mr. Warm­bier to 15 years of hard la­bor. Af­ter his ap­pear­ance on the video, lit­tle in­for­ma­tion was known or cir­cu­lated on his where­abouts in­side the iso­lated na­tion.

Then came his sud­den re­lease. “When Otto re­turned to Cincin­nati late on June 13th he was un­able to speak, un­able to see and un­able to re­act to ver­bal com­mands,” Mr. Warm­bier’s par­ents and fam­ily said in their state­ment Mon­day.

In an­nounc­ing his death, the fam­ily added that “it would be easy at a mo­ment like this to fo­cus on all that we lost — fu­ture time that won’t be spent with a warm, en­gag­ing, bril­liant young man whose cu­rios­ity and en­thu­si­asm for life knew no bounds.”

“But we choose to fo­cus on the time we were given to be with this re­mark­able per­son,” the state­ment said. “You can tell from the out­pour­ing of emo­tion from the com­mu­ni­ties that he touched — Wy­oming, Ohio, and the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well be­yond his im­me­di­ate fam­ily.”

Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans said North Korea was guilty of mur­der in the death and called for in­creased U.S. pres­sure on the regime.

House For­eign Re­la­tions Chair­man Ed­ward R. Royce, Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­can, said the U.S. must ban tourist travel to North Korea on U.S. pass­ports.

“Otto’s fa­ther is right: Travel pro­pa­ganda lures far too many peo­ple to North Korea,” Mr. Royce said. “This is a regime that reg­u­larly kid­naps for­eign cit­i­zens and keeps 120,000 North Kore­ans in bar­baric gu­lags.”

Rep. Christo­pher H. Smith, New Jersey Re­pub­li­can, called for fur­ther shifts in U.S. pol­icy away from that of Pres­i­dent Obama, un­der whose ad­min­is­tra­tion Mr. Warm­bier was ar­rested and tried. “The era of strate­gic pa­tience is over,” Mr. Smith said.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion has thank­fully moved on from the failed poli­cies of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but we can­not shy away from the truth that a rogue regime, able to sen­tence a young tourist to 15 years of hard la­bor for ap­par­ently steal­ing a pro­pa­ganda poster, is will­ing to use nu­clear weapons when it fi­nally ac­quires them. This is a clear na­tional se­cu­rity threat that re­quires ac­tion,” he said.

Mr. Smith also pointed out that three other U.S. cit­i­zens are be­ing held in North Korea.

Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Kim Dong-chul was con­victed of es­pi­onage and sen­tenced last year to 10 years in prison. He made a confession to CNN, but law­mak­ers have ques­tioned whether it was co­erced.

Two aca­demics — Kim Sang-duk, who was ar­rested April 22, and Kim Hak-song, who was ar­rested May 6 — have been charged with “hos­tile acts.”

Sec­re­tary of State Rex W. Tiller­son said: “We hold North Korea ac­count­able for Otto Warm­bier’s un­just im­pris­on­ment and de­mand the re­lease of three other Amer­i­cans who have been il­le­gally de­tained.”

De­tained Amer­i­cans are fre­quently used as bar­gain­ing chips for the North Korean regime to gain le­git­i­macy on the world stage or to push for an eas­ing of sanc­tions.

Warm­bier

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Otto Warm­bier was es­corted by North Korean au­thor­i­ties at the Supreme Court in Py­ongyang, where he is­sued an apol­ogy on state me­dia for “hos­tile acts.” He was sen­tenced to 15 years of hard la­bor.

Fred Warm­bier, the fa­ther of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dent, lamented on Mon­day “the aw­ful tor­tur­ous mis­treat­ment our son” at the hands of North Korea.

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