By Ray Starmann
University of Virginia student, Otto Warmbier, a prisoner for the last 17 months in the Orwellian hell hole, North Korea, is returning home to the United States…in a coma that he has been in for a year.
The so-called hostile act against North Korea committed by college student Warmbier, (who was travelling with a tour group called Young Pioneer Tours), was purloining a propaganda poster off the wall of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang.
Stealing or harming a poster or other items with the name or image of one of North Korea’s past or present lunatic asylum leaders is considered a serious crime against the state.
On February 29, 2016, he “confessed” to stealing a piece of North Korean propaganda to take back to the United States as a “trophy” for someone from his home-town church who offered to pay him for it with the gift of a car worth $10,000.
On March 16, 2016, Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for committing what Warmbier thought was a harmless college prank.
Since Warmbier’s sentencing, the US State Department, through intermediaries in the Swedish government sought information concerning not only the state of Mr. Warmbier’s health, but the location of his detention.
Warmbier may very well have been held in one of the many prison camps that comprise the North Korean ‘gulag archipelago,’ harbor political prisoners and which are referred to as the Kwalliso.
The internment camps are located in central and northeastern North Korea. They comprise many prison labor colonies in secluded mountain valleys, completely isolated from the outside world.
The prisoners are forced to perform hard and dangerous slave work with primitive means in mining and agriculture. The food rations are very small, so that the prisoners are constantly on the brink of starvation. In combination with the hard work this leads to huge numbers of prisoners dying. An estimated 40% of prisoners die from malnutrition.
Moreover, many prisoners are crippled from work accidents, frostbite or torture. There is a rigid punishment in the camp. Prisoners who work too slowly or do not obey an order are beaten or tortured. In cases of stealing food or attempting to escape, the prisoners are publicly executed.
Whether Warmbier was actually in one of the Kwalliso is unknown. What is known is that he was apparently suffering from botulism while in captivity. The North Koreans claim that he slipped into a coma after he was given some type of sleeping pill.
Like everything else coming out of the North Korean government, this appears to be a complete lie. According to reports in the NY Times, quoting an anonymous intelligence source, Warmbier was apparently beaten by North Korean guards until he lapsed into unconsciousness and a coma.
His release on Tuesday, is the result of secret negotiations between US and North Korean officials in Oslo, Norway and New York.
Last week, US State Department personnel learned the truth about Mr. Warmbier’s grave condition, which North Korea had been hiding from the US for over a year. Demanding Mr. Warmbier be released, the North Koreans finally relented. A US delegation, including a medical team was dispatched yesterday to Pyongyang to bring him home.
Right now, Otto Warmbier is on his way to the United States, via Japan and Alaska. Upon landing in Ohio, he will be taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for evaluation and treatment.
Besides the question of what exactly happened to Mr. Warmbier while in captivity, there is the question of how the US government should respond to this outrage.
Simply put, the US cannot allow its citizens to be detained, imprisoned, tortured, beaten and murdered by hostile foreign governments. The US must respond to this outrageous human rights violation. But, what complicates any American response is the fact that North Korea still has three American citizens in captivity, detained under false pretense in the Stalinesque hermit kingdom.
If Mr. Warmbier dies, he will have been murdered by the North Korean regime and by its despotic ruler, Kim Jong-un, a man so psychotic that he has been dubbed, ‘Kim Squared’ by the North Korean Army, denoting that he is twice as crazy as his father and grandfather.
As I wrote before in The Tragic Fate of American Student Otto Warmbier, if you are a religious person, you might want to say a prayer for Otto Warmbier.