Parents of Otto Warmbier, American Student Held Captive in North Korea, Say He Was Tortured

Otto F. Warmbier, an American student, in March 2016, two months after he was detained in North Korea.
Jon Chol Jin/Associated Press

The parents of Otto F. Warmbier, the American student detained by North Korea who died shortly after he had been flown home comatose in June, said Tuesday that he had been tortured, describing his captors as “terrorists.”

In an interview on the “Fox & Friends” morning news program, their first since Mr. Warmbier died three months ago, Fred and Cindy Warmbier of Cincinnati provided previously undisclosed details on the injuries to their son, 22, a University of Virginia undergraduate.

The Warmbiers said they had decided to speak out now partly because they were aghast at efforts by the North Korean government to portray itself as the victim of United States aggression in the unfolding crisis over the North’s nuclear weapons and missile testing.

“We’re here to tell you North Korea is not a victim,” Fred Warmbier said. “They’re terrorists. They kidnapped Otto, tortured him, they intentionally injured him.”

North Korean officials have said Mr. Warmbier was released on humanitarian grounds and had been treated respectfully. They attributed his state of near-death to sleeping pills and botulism poisoning, a conclusion that his American doctors could not corroborate.

Mr. Warmbier was seized from a tour group while visiting North Korea in January 2016, convicted of trying to steal a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, a punishment that the United States and much of the world called egregious.

His parents were never able to speak with him and learned that he would be returned home for medical reasons only shortly before it had been arranged. He died within a week of his homecoming.

His 17-month-long incarceration added an emotional undercurrent to the hostile relationship between North Korea and the United States and played a role in the Trump administration’s decision to bar Americans from visiting the country as of Sept. 1. President Trump also mentioned Mr. Warmbier in his United Nations General Assembly speech last week in which he warned that North Korea risked destruction.

Mr. Warmbier’s parents said that they had been warned in the hours before his arrival that their son was in a coma and had suffered brain damage, but that they and their two other children were unprepared for what they saw when they boarded the aircraft that had carried him home on June 13.

“Otto had a shaved head, he had a feeding tube coming out of his nose, he was staring blankly into space jerking violently,” the father said. “He was blind, he was deaf. As we looked at him and tried to comfort him, it looked as if somebody had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Rick Gladstone