By Fred Fleitz
There appeared to be some good news earlier today concerning North Korea when it was announced that Pyongyang released Otto Warmbier, a 22-year old who was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 for “hostile acts against the state” because he allegedly tried to steal a propaganda sign from a North Korean hotel. At the time of his arrest, Warmbier was on a stopover in North Korea, en route to Hong Kong, where he was to do a study abroad program.
The arrest of this young man over such a ridiculous charge and the draconian sentence he received was truly outrageous. Making this far worse is that Warmbier returned to the United States in a coma and has been in this state for 17 months.
According to North Korean officials, Warmbier feel into a coma shortly after his sentencing after contracting botulism. My guess is that this is another North Korean lie and Warmbier was probably severely beaten by his captors.
The U.S. government only learned about Warmbier’s condition on June 6, 2017 after a meeting between U.S. officials and North Korean diplomats to the UN in New York.
Despite Warmbier’s serious illness, North Korea grievously violated diplomatic and humanitarian protocols by refusing to permit Sweden, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea, or humanitarian agencies to visit him after he was arrested.
As a result, Otto Warmbier had no access to Western medicine to treat his serious condition and instead wasted away for 17 months in a decrepit North Korean hospital.
All Americans are thrilled that North Korea released Otto Warmbier. If this was a result of a special effort by the Trump administration, it deserves great credit.
The Trump administration must now respond to the shocking mistreatment of U.S. citizens by rogue states. North Korea and Iran are both holding innocent American citizens and green card holders. Iran arrested former FBI officer Robert Levinson in 2007. It is unknown whether he is still alive.
It is crucial that these rogue states be sent a strong signal that the U.S. government will not tolerate mistreatment of U.S. citizens. North Korea’s mistreatment of Otto Warmbier is so appalling that an unprecedented U.S. response is needed. Such action might be expelling all North Korea diplomats to the UN and North Korean UN employees for six months. The U.S. could allow a small contingent of North Korean diplomats to return to New York in six months after they were vetted for criminal, terrorist and espionage ties.
North Korea and many UN members will strongly condemn such a U.S. response. Let them. America needs to take a stand to defend its citizens from gross mistreatment by criminal regimes. America also will be safer after expelling North Korean spies from New York and forcing North Korea to rebuild its spy operation in the United States.
The Trump administration should also consider punitive steps against Iran over the incarceration of Levinson and other Americans.