After I read the April 26, 2018 article in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the filing of a federal lawsuit against the North Korean regime, I mailed a card to Otto Warmbier’s family in Wyoming, Ohio. But, what do you write to parents whose son was brutally and unjustly tortured in a foreign land by the worst of humanity?
A 2017 article in the Cincinnati Enquirer listed the following address for those who would like to send words of support and encouragement. Cards and letters can be mailed to: The Warmbier Family, Suzy Henke, Director of Communications, Wyoming City Schools, 420 Springfield Pike, Wyoming, OH 45215.
Otto Warmbier was released from a North Korean prison after being held hostage for 18 months. He returned to the United States in a coma with extensive brain damage. According to the 2018 lawsuit, he was blind and deaf. And he died within a few days.
Kim Jong Un’s kangaroo court sentenced a 22-year-old American citizen to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster. And labeled him as a prisoner of war. According to the newspaper article, “The lawsuit includes an official government statement released after his death that claimed he had acted “on an assignment from an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of the U.S.” and the CIA.” In reality, Otto Warmbier was visiting North Korea with a tour group.
What did then-President Obama and his administration do? Whatever they did, didn’t work. Otto Warmbier was not released. The creation of the U.S. Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell did not bring Otto home, either.
China had the power to force Kim Jong Un to release Otto Warmbier immediately. But why would China, a totalitarian regime that violates the human rights of its own citizens, intervene to save an American?
Bill Richardson, founder of the Center for Global Engagement, a nongovernmental organization, and his team met with North Korean officials 20 times to negotiate the release of Otto Warmbier, according to a 2017 article by the Denver Post. Richardson asserted, “To bring these cases to a resolution, we often work on three parallel tracks: identifying opportunities to create leverage; engaging directly with captors to ascertain what it might take to secure hostages’ release; and working with the families of those taken hostage, who often find themselves in need of guidance. Working on all three tracks remains viable, but Otto’s case shows that it’s time for a paradigm shift.”
So, why did North Korea release Otto Warmbier under the Trump administration? U.S. special envoy Joseph Yun traveled to North Korean to bring Otto Warmbier home. After Otto died, the U.S. banned travel to North Korea by its citizens.
What’s the takeaway lesson? America’s hostage negotiation strategy is flawed. U.S. citizens should not visit North Korea (and spend tourism dollars that build up an unstable country with nuclear weapons). Don’t take a propaganda poster while in a despotic country.
At the end of the day, the ultimate blame for Otto’s death goes to Kim Jong Un—a tyrannical megalomaniac without a conscience.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Southern Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.