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Trump Says He’s Taking Kim Jong Un’s ‘Word’ on Warmbier’s Torture and Death — a Federal Judge Said Otherwise


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On the heels of a Hanoi summit where talks of North Korean denuclearization fell apart, President Donald Trump stated that he took Kim Jong Un “at his word” when it comes to American citizen Otto Warmbier‘s torture and death. What was that word? That the North Korean supreme leader and dictator did not know about this crime against humanity.

“He felt badly about it. He felt very badly,” Trump said of Kim Jong Un. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.” A U.S. federal judge very much said otherwise of Warmbier’s death at the hands of North Korea.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, back on Christmas Eve 2018, hit North Korea with a default judgement of half a billion dollars for Warmbier’s torture and death. Warmbier’s parents filed a lawsuit after their son was arrested in North Korea for allegedly stealing a political poster, and forced to issue an apology on North Korean state TV during what’s been called a “kangaroo court” session. Warmbier was returned home 17 months later blind, deaf, and “jerking violently and howling” with “unrecoverable” brain damage.

Howell was quite clear that North Korea is a leading candidate, if not the leading candidate, for prosecution at The Hague for “crimes against humanity.”

“Moreover, North Korea is ‘unprecedented’ in its state sponsorship of ‘elicit activities, like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counterfeiting U.S. dollars, [and] the production and sale of drugs like opium, heroin, and meth[amphetamines],’” Howell said. “Indeed, North Korea is the world’s ‘leading’ and ‘best qualified candidate for indictment’ at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.”

Howell concluded that North Korea, which has one and only one person calling the shots, was not simply liable for Warmbier’s death; the crime committed was so heinous she entered a default judgment in favor of the Warmbier family to the tune of $501,134,683.80.

Nothing in Howell’s account of the “confession” Warmbier was forced to make indicated that this was anything other than intentional, calculated, and for the benefit of the North Korean state Kim Jong Un helms:

In addition to these false statements in his “confession,” Otto spoke with “unnatural” language that sounded as if he had “been forced to memorize” the words. Otto, for instance, said “I came to commit this crime task,” “[t]he United States administration already knows about my act through the CIA, which is closely linked to the Z Society and connived at my crime,” “[t]his was a very foolish aim,” “[t]his made an innocent-minded, adventurous young man, like myself, want to show my bravery to improve my reputation and show a Western victory of the DPR Korea,” and “I intentionally packed my quietest boots, the best for sneaking. I knew that I would wear them during my crime commitment.”

Otto’s “strange phrases,” such as the references to the “U.S. administration,” “DPR Korea instead of DPRK,” and his “quietest boots for sneaking” were “clumsy” North Korean “stock phrase[s]” that provide “no doubt . . . that this was a coerced confession under great duress.” Moreover, Otto’s reference to “hostile U.S. policy” three times, and the notion that Otto, as the oldest child, would need to subsidize his younger siblings’ college tuition—an expectation of the eldest son in Korean culture—are reflective of “Korean connotation,” further indicating North Korea “imposed” this material in Otto’s confession.

The judge awarded the family “$96,375.80 in medical expenses, $15,000,000 in pain and suffering, and $150,000,000 in punitive damages,” plus “15,000,000 in solatium damages and a total of $300,000,000 in punitive damages.” That brought the total number up to more than half a billion dollars.

Warmbier’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, have already released a statement in response to the president and the summit.

“We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto,” they said. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that. Thank you.”

[Image via Chris Kleponis – Pool/Getty Images]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.