The father of Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American college student who was detained in North Korea for more than a year, spoke out this week against North Korea and its 33-year-old dictator, Kim Jong Un.
Warmbier’s father, Fred Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, said that the communist regime is responsible for his son being in a vegetative state, following his release from the Hermit Kingdom. The controversy has flared up an already tense situation between the two countries. Here’s what you need to know to make sense of the controversy.
The Undisputed Facts
- Otto Warmbier, 22, traveled to North Korea in December 2015, and planned to stay in the country for five days during a study abroad trip with the University of Virginia, where he attended school. During Warmbier’s last night in North Korea, New Year’s Eve 2015, he tried to take down a North Korea regime propaganda poster inside the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang. (SOURCE)
- North Korean officials detained Warmbier at Pyongyang International Airport on Jan. 2, 2016. Warmbier remained in North Korean custody for 17 months. North Korean officials charged Warmbier with “hostile acts against the state.” Two months later, in March 2016, Warmbier faced what North Korea described as a trial. Warmbier was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. (SOURCE)
- Warmbier arrived at the the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Tuesday with no signs of infection and doctors said Thursday that he returned “well-nourished.” One medical professional said that Warmbier’s neurological state can best be described as a “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” The doctor said Warmbier has “spontaneous eye opening and blinking” and is not able to understand verbal cues. (SOURCE)
- North Korea has essentially denied allegations of foul play. However, Fred Warmbier is convinced that Kim Jong Un, who has had his own relatives murdered in the past, is responsible for his son being on the verge of death. (SOURCE)
- Warmbier returned to the U.S. Tuesday night in a coma. Warmbier had been in that medical state for more than a year. North Korea told U.S. officials this week that Warmbier was not in good condition. The U.S. State Department then negotiated his release from the country. (SOURCE)
- Joseph Yun, U.S. State Department special representative for North Korean policy, met with North Korean officials in Norway in May. North Korean officials agreed to let Swedish officials visit Warmbier and three other Americans who are still being detained by North Korea. After Swedish officials met with one of the American detainees, North Korean officials requested another meeting with U.S. officials. As a result, Yun met with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York City. It was during that meeting that North Korean officials revealed for the first time that Warmbier was in a coma. Warmbier was released back to the U.S. just six days later. (SOURCE)
- While North Korea claimed that Warmbier went into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Thursday they found no evidence that the 22-year-old ever had the disease. Instead, doctors said it appears that Warmbier suffered “cardiopulmonary arrest,” which they later clarified is most often the result of intoxication or traumatic injury. (SOURCE)
- Fred Warmbier said President Barack Obama’s administration urged his family to stay quiet after Otto’s arrest became known to the public. “Do I think the former administration could have done more? I think the results speak for themselves,” Fred Warmbier said during a news conference Wednesday. As of this time, former President Obama has not yet commented on this allegation. (SOURCE)
- At the same time, Fred Warmbier praised President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for their role in bringing home his son. “Last evening, we received a very nice phone call from President Trump, who told us that Secretary of State Tillerson worked hard to bring Otto home. We are extremely grateful for their efforts and concern,” Warmbier said. (SOURCE)
What it means for U.S.-North Korea relations
The tragic news of Warmbier’s condition comes as tension between the U.S. and North Korea is at a high point. Kim Jong Un has attempted multiple intercontinental ballistic missile tests since Trump took office in January. One of those tests came just one week into Trump’s presidency, when he met with the prime minister of Japan, North Korea’s neighbor, at his South Florida country club in late January.
There are currently three United States aircraft carriers within striking range of North Korea, meaning that the United States is essentially prepared for serious military conflict with North Korea.
North Korea is reportedly trying to develop a missile that could reach all the way to the U.S. Pacific coast, a threat that U.S. intelligence officials are monitoring closely through space satellite images of nuclear facilities inside the Hermit Kingdom. To complicate matters further, three more Americans are currently being held by North Korea: a Korean-American college accounting professor Kim Sang Duk, businessman Kim Dong Chul, who was born in North Korea but is now a naturalized U.S. citizen, and Kim Hak-Song, who is also an American college professor.
The ongoing conflict over Americans being held by the North Korean government figures to add more fuel to an already very combustible fire, especially given Warmbier’s condition upon his return to the United States.