American student’s body is returned from North Korea
Otto Warmbier, 22, was a young American college student from Wyoming, Ohio, who decided to take a diversion from his studies abroad in Southeast Asia to do something few Americans do — become a tourist in North Korea.
Small batches of state-sanctioned tourists are allowed into North Korea through a Chinese company, and Warmbier took them up on the offer for a five-day trip around New Year’s Day 2016. The U.S. State Department, however, strongly advises against U.S. citizens traveling to the “Hermit Kingdom.” Warmbier’s case provides a tragic, heart-wrenching case of why.
As he prepared to board the flight back to China at the end of his trip, Warmbier was arrested by the North Koreans. In violation of international treaties, he was denied consular access through the Swedish embassy, which represents American interests in North Korea. After a typical farce of a Stalinist show-trial, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
His alleged crime? Removing a propaganda poster, apparently to bring home as a memento and a token of bravado, though it is impossible to say with any certainty what the real facts were. It’s possible the charge was entirely fabricated, and that Warmbier was just snatched at random as a U.S. citizen.
Warmbier released in a ‘persistent vegetative state’
After much international pressure and diplomatic negotiations, Warmbier was finally released. Unfortunately, he is brain dead.
The North Korean regime had claimed Warmbier was in a “coma,” allegedly from botulism poisoning. In fact, he is severely brain-damaged, in what doctors refer to as “a state of unresponsive wakefulness.” That is the updated medical term for what’s still more commonly known as being in a “persistent vegetative state.”
This kind of irreversible severe brain damage in a young, otherwise healthy man, is almost certainly the result of several physical injury. It does not take much imagination to picture how that happened in a North Korean labor camp.
This is a terrible reminder of just how brutal, inhumane, and barbaric is the North Korean regime. They beat and tortured an innocent college student to the point of causing brain death, and then sent him home as a mere shell of his former self. Though in a sense awake and alive, his personality is gone, his ability to recognize or respond to other human beings destroyed, his memories and higher brain functions lost forever. The man his loved ones knew, died at the hands of a totalitarian regime half a world away.