University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier is still locked away in North Korea, State Department spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged to media on Wednesday, and this is without consular support for the last six months, which perhaps leaves some wondering about the long-standing technical state of war still existing between the United States of America and North Korea and the activities used previously for getting Americans out of North Korea, as revealed in one of those now infamous Clinton email dumps.
When asked about the status of the student, according to the press briefing transcript from Wednesday available on the State Department’s website, Kirby took verbal aim at the North Korean officials.
“Despite official claims that U.S. citizens arrested in the DPRK are not used for political purposes, it’s increasingly clear from its very public treatment of these cases that the DPRK does just that. This underscores the risks associated with travel to North Korea. “
According to various media reports, the student took a political propaganda poster from his hotel in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Writers Choe Sang-Hun and Rick Gladstone, in their story posted online at the New York Times last March, reported on the sentence given to UVA student Otto Warmbier from that country’s highest court. The UVA student was ordered to give “15 years of hard labor in prison.”
From YouTube videos, it appears that the UVA student Warmbier was either drugged or traumatized before an appearance in court. The Associated Press video below is raw footage.
As pointed out by a report Thursday from India’s Daily News and Analysis, North Korea “has made use of detained Americans in the past to extract high-profile visits from the United States, with which it has no formal diplomatic relations.”
Also worth noting is that UVA student Warmbier has only had one consul visit, from a representative of the Swedish Embassy, last March according to State Department spokesman Kirby. Stating that “it has been awhile,” Kirby also described Sweden as “our protecting power.”
The press also seized the opportunity to inquire if officials are concerned about North Korea. Answers were sought about State Department information regarding news that “a shakeup” is going on in North Korea. The reporter asking also mentioned “there are reports that a[n] education official was executed recently, two other officials were sent to these re-education camps, and now just even since I’ve been here I’ve seen a report that another official was executed for falling asleep during a meeting that Kim Jong-un was presiding over.”
Kirby said he could not “verify the accuracy” of these reports.
“I’ve seen some media reporting along those lines in the last several days myself. But if it’s true, it’s just more examples of the brutality, the depravity of this regime, and certainly gives no one any comfort about the direction that the regime is going in or would give us any reason to be anything but continuously vigilant about our security commitments on the peninsula.”
UVA student Otto Warmbier likely wishes he had never gone on the trip to North Korea. But previous efforts by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, actually seemed to be just what was needed to secure the two female journalists (employees of former Vice President Al Gore’s now-defunct Current TV at the time) who had illegally entered the country and had been given a 12-year hard labor sentence, not quite as bad as the UVA student Otto Warmbier’s 15-year hard labor prison sentence.
In 2009, years before the UVA student’s incarceration and sentencing to 15 years of hard labor, Fox News had carried a story about two journalists being held by North Korea, and the Obama administration got word about what their captors wanted via the family members of said journalists.
This PDF with a subject line “background briefing on north korea, internal transcript,” along with the email and written chatter among State Department workers from August 2009, is informative. Cheryl D. Mills, Huma Abedin, and Philippe Reines were sent the information from Thomas F. Vietor, who is, according to the Inside Gov website information, a former long-time Obama staffer and the former National Security Council spokesman also known as Tommy Vietor.
Per the email, former VP Gore’s employees Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were working for the U.S. independent cable television network Current TV, illegally entered the country and were scheduled to serve 12 years of hard labor until information filtered back to the Hillary Clinton State Dept. that the North Koreans would grant amnesty if an envoy such as former President Bill Clinton came to Pyongyang to “seek their release.”
Former President Clinton did go, the North Koreans then released Lee and Ling, and that was that. But that does not help UVA student Otto Warmbier, of course.
[Photo by Ahn Young-joon/AP Images]