Fred Warmbier, father of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old college student who was released from a North Korean prison on Tuesday, holds a press conference Thursday in Wyoming, Ohio. He wore the jacket his son had on when he gave a forced confession in North Korea last year.
Twenty-two-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier remains in stable condition with what doctors are calling a “severe neurological injury” following his unexpected release from captivity in North Korea on Tuesday. Warmbier’s father said in a news conference Thursday that his son had been “brutalized and terrorized” in the 18 months he was held by North Korean authorities. From the New York Times:
[T]he father, Fred Warmbier, also praised the administration of President Trump for working to free his son, and made clear his displeasure with the administration of former President Barack Obama, whose officials, he said, had advised the family to stay quiet so as not to antagonize the North Koreans. “The results speak for themselves,” Mr. Warmbier said when asked whether the Obama administration had done enough. He said Mr. Trump called him Wednesday night and told him, “We worked hard, and I’m sorry this is the outcome.”
Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center say that Warmbier, who was detained in Pyongyang in January 2016 following a tour of North Korea organized by a Chinese company, has extensive brain damage and is currently in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.” U.S. officials had been told that Warmbier had been in a coma for over a year. Doctors have found no evidence so far of the botulism the North Korean government says sent him into that coma, supposedly exacerbated by a sleeping pill. A U.S. official has said that Warmbier had been beaten in captivity, but doctors have found no obvious signs of trauma.
On Wednesday, the Times’ Choe Sang-Hun, Austin Ramzy, and Motoko Rich wrote that Warmbier’s case is an unusual aberration in North Korea’s record of treating American captives well:
North Korea is known to have detained 16 American citizens since 1996, including three who are still in custody. They have been subjected to varying degrees of mental abuse but less often physical torture. Despite its longstanding enmity toward the United States and its allies, North Korea remains deeply sensitive to outside criticism of its human rights record, billing itself as a righteous nation that respects international norms. And while its propagandists have presented American prisoners as proof that the United States has been sending subversive agents into the country, it has also used them as bargaining chips in dealing with Washington, analysts said. The prospect that the Americans might eventually be released as part of negotiations seems to have influenced their treatment. “There seems to be a general attitude of not using physical violence against Americans, although they don’t appear unwilling to use psychological tactics and that sort thing,” said Robert R. King, a former State Department special envoy for North Korea human rights issues who handled Mr. Warmbier’s case until he retired in January. “This situation with Warmbier is likely something that happened that they did not intend.”
King told the Times Warmbier’s condition seemed to have changed following his trial last year. He faced 15 years of hard labor for allegedly attempting to steal a political banner.