Otto Warmbier, an American student held prisoner in North Korea, died today. He recently was returned to the United States having been a captive in North Korea for 17 months and in a coma for the past year. He never recovered from his coma and died at the Cincinnati hospital where he had been receiving treatment. The White House issued the following statement:
June 19, 2017
Statement by President Donald J. Trump on the Passing of Otto Warmbier
Melania and I offer our deepest condolences to the family of Otto Warmbier on his untimely passing. There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are with Otto’s family and friends, and all who loved him.
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. The United States once again condemns the brutality of the North Korean regime as we mourn its latest victim.
It’s a heartbeaking outcome for an ordeal that had little hope of coming out well. North Korean officials state that Warmbier fell into a coma after “contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill” in March 2016. He returned to the US in a vegetative state after the US State Department negotiated his release. US doctors have not found any indication of botulism. I think it should be fairly obvious that Warmbier died as a result of mistreatment by the North Korean regime.
Understandably, Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, was dissatisfied with the lack of results during the Obama administration with attempts to get his son returned. “The results speak for themselves,” Mr. Warmbier said when asked whether the Obama administration had done enough. He said President Trump had called him on Wednesday night and told him, “We worked hard, and I’m sorry this is the outcome.”
To be fair, negotiating with any autocratic regime like North Korea is extremely difficult. Warmbier was imprisoned in March 2016 and I think it would have been very unlikely that the Obama administration could have produced a result in the time it had left. Also, in his time as president thus far Donald Trump has shown very little understanding of East Asia politics, particularly in the North Korea problem. It’s my impression that much of the credit to Warmbier’s release goes to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has performed thus far beyond my admittedly low expectations of him. I’d also wager that Warmbier’s physical condition played a factor in North Korea’s decision to release him; they probably saw that he was declining and would rather have him die outside of North Korea.
But I won’t deny a man his grief, and his gratitude toward the Trump administration for getting their son back is entirely understandable. What the Warmbiers have endured is beyond anything I could imagine and is another reminder of the brutality of the North Korean regime. What I have a problem with is the callousness that the Trumps have shown by using this tragic injustice for political kudos.
On June 18 a tweet by Donald Trump Jr. that was subsequently retweeted by his father Donald Trump read:
Not surprising at all!
Father Of Otto Warmbier: Obama Admin Told Us To Keep Quiet, Trump Admin Brought Him Home
9:29 AM – 18 Jun 2017
No “Welcome home, Otto,” or “we’re glad to have you back,” but Junior Trump goes straight into the sniping and the bragging. Otto Warmbier was in a bad way when he arrived in the US. He was brain-damaged and unresponsive. Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump by retweet did not express wishes for his recovery. Instead they criticize a former administration and brag about a dubious success.
“Not surprising at all!” indeed. For Donald Trump it always was all about “me.” His son has learned well. I’m not surprised at all that the human impact of the Warmbiers’ ordeal has completely gone over their heads as they focus on their favorite topic: Trump. The Trumps’ use of the Warmbiers’ tragedy for political bragging rights is repugnant.