Was Otto Warmbier North Korea's Only American Prisoner?

Laura Christensen
June 15, 2017

Warmbier's parents were told their son had contracted botulism and never woke up after he was given a sleeping pill soon after his trial in March past year.

Things took an interesting turn on Tuesday, when news broke that an American college student who had been detained in North Korea for 17 months was being medically evacuated from the country.

Had Kim Jong Un, a 90s basketball fanboy, traded a high profile American prisoner for a chance to play NBA Jam with his boyhood hero?

Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate, was convicted and sentenced in a one-hour trial in North Korea's Supreme Court in March 2016. Warmbier was serving a 15-year prison sentence in North Korea.

United States officials refused to comment on his condition, but former ambassador and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson said he had spoken with the family.

She says it's an "extremely sad" situation that student Otto Warmbier (WORM'-bir) is in a coma. North Korea told a USA official that Warmbier contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill, a senior State Department official told CNN.

The State Department announced Warmbier's release earlier Tuesday but gave no details on his condition. "We are so grateful that he will finally be with people who love him".

However, over the years, US officials have struggled to find effective ways of punishing a government that has been willing to tolerate starvation of its own citizens even as it continued to build up its military capabilities. That was the last public acknowledgment of his detention. The North Koreans "were informed that the airplane would land, American and medical officials would get out". Rodman, who has traveled to the isolated nation four times since 2013, had told reporters before arriving in Pyongyang that he hopes his trip will "open a door" for Trump.

Warmbier's release comes as three other US citizens are still being held in North Korea.

"Out of respect for the privacy of Mr. Warmbier and his family", said Tillerson, "we have no further comment".

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The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns.

State Department officials said Warmbier's release followed secret talks between USA and North Korean diplomats.

"Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with the release of Mr. Warmbier", said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, adding that the government was "thankful" that he would soon be home in his parents' arms.

Rodman had nothing to do with the student's release, said the source familiar with the government's efforts to free Warmbier. Rodman was a cast member on two seasons of Trump's TV reality show "Celebrity Apprentice".

North Korea announced Warmbier's arrest in late January 2016, saying he committed an anti-state crime with "the tacit connivance of the US government and under its manipulation". Swedish diplomats, who represent US interests in Pyongyang, were able to check in on Warmbier recently and reported that the young American was in a coma after being stricken with what appeared to be a case of botulism.

Kim's government frequently threatens attacks on the USA, is known to possess nuclear weapons and is working to develop a delivery mechanism with a range great enough to strike the United States mainland. A 2009 visit by former President Bill Clinton secured the freedom of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling.

After the meeting in New York, Tillerson consulted with Trump, and Yun was instructed to travel to North Korea to bring the comatose student back to the U.S. The State Department demanded Pyongyang release Warmbier on humanitarian grounds, and North Korea agreed.

His release followed secret negotiations between United States officials and the government in Pyongyang that unfolded as tensions escalated over North Korea's nuclear program.

The other American citizen, arrested on April 22, is Sang-Duk Kim, a professor from the same university.

Other reports by My Hot News

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