Otto Warmbier, RIP

Otto Warmbier, RIP


It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20 pm.

It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost – future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched – Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two – that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.

We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.

When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable – almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed – he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.

His “crime” was pulling down a banner with a communist slogan in his hotel room in North Korea with an eye to stealing it. Last March, North Korea gave him a show trial at which he begged for mercy. Sentence: 15 years of hard labor. Last week he was released — in a coma, with “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” As best as doctors could tell, the injury that had caused his brain damage had been inflicted more than a year ago, placing it close time-wise to his sentence of the North Korean court. The NorKs’ explanation was that he’d fallen victim to a combination of botulism and sleeping pills, but that doesn’t wash. Even if it were true, botulism can be treated and someone suffering from an overdose can be revived. Warmbier would have had to have been neglected by North Korean authorities for a prolonged period in the throes of cardiac arrest to suffer the extensive tissue loss in his brain that he ended up with. The least damning account of what happened from the North Korean perspective is that he tried to kill himself and they let him linger for way, way too long before trying to resuscitate him. Although even then, how would he have gotten hold of sleeping pills while being watched in prison by North Korea’s all-seeing eye?

I think this accurately explains the timing of his release…

…but it doesn’t exaomple why he ended up in the condition he did, since every American will assume that the NorKs did this to Warmbier deliberately. Why would they panic at the thought of him dying in their custody if they were willing to torment him to the brink of death in the first place? What happened, I assume, is that Warmbier’s torturers somehow misjudged what they were doing to him and went further than they intended to, causing catastrophic, irreversible damage. The NorKs have been known to torture Americans in their custody but never so severely that they end up in Warmbier’s state. Sometimes they don’t physically harm American captives at all, whether for fear of having their awful treatment of prisoners later affirmed by an eyewitness or fear that the White House and the Pentagon will finally decide enough’s enough. It’s possible that Warmbier was put through one of North Korea’s more infamous tortures, like forcing a captive in a tank of cold water to stand on tiptoes to keep breathing and he somehow slipped under while the guards weren’t watching. It’s also possible that what happened was more prosaic: “A senior American official has said the United States obtained intelligence reports that he had been repeatedly beaten,” per the NYT. Maybe the beating went too far and Warmbier was left unconscious and unattended for too long, during which he suffered a heart attack that caused most of his brain to die.

Three Americans are still being held by North Korea. One, Otto Warmbier, has just been murdered by them. What’s the penalty?

Update: Trump’s statement:

Update: Here’s how HuffPost greeted the verdict on Warmbier last year, by the way.

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