Monday was a sad day for the parents and loved ones of 22 year old Otto F. Warmbier, a former honor student of the University of Virginia. Just days after returning from torture and imprisonment in North Korea, Otto slipped from his coma state into a peaceful death.
Mr. Warmbier had been detained in North Korea for 17 months out of a 15 year sentence after being convicted for the crime of stealing a poster — a trial that began 2 months after his arrest and tool just one hour to result in a conviction. He was arrested for a “hostile act” during his trip to North Korea.
When Otto was returned to his parents, he was unable to see, speak, or respond to any verbal commands. In essence, he was in a coma. Otto’s mother describes the look on his face as “anguished,” but says that it got more peaceful after he presumably realized he was back home in Cincinnati.
Otto isn’t the only victim of the North Korean “justice system.” There are still at least three Americans being held for “crimes” they allegedly committed. And the North Koreans seem to be merciless about doling out punishment and making assumptions of espionage.
Kenneth Bae, held captive in North Korea until 2016, described the conditions of North Korean imprisonment. Bae spent weeks going through grueling days of 15 hour long stretches of interrogation. When he was able to return to his cell, he found himself in a five foot by six foot room with nothing but a few slats in the door for light. The only communication with the outside world is in the form of interrogation.
This situation doesn’t bode well for already strained relations between America and North Korea, even if the North Koreans did provide copies of Otto’s MRI scans, all of which revealed significant brain injuries. Warmbier was released after negotiations between North Korea and the Trump administration. President Trump’s response to the death of the student was to offer thoughts and prayers to the family, while asserting that his administration intends to do everything it can 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.”