The common perception is that North Korea’s communist regime brutally tortured 22-year-old American citizen Otto Warmbier, leaving him in a coma from which he never recovered. Warmbier died soon after being returned to the United States in a vegetative state. Ever since, President Trump and other U.S. officials, along with Warmbier’s parents, have claimed that Warmbier’s coma was the direct result of brutal torture at the hands of North Korean officials.
Yet, the question has to be asked: Did the U.S. government play a role in Otto Warmbier’s death?
North Korean officials claimed that Warmbier contracted a case of botulism, which, they said, was compounded by a sleeping pill that Warmbier ingested, which then, they claimed, threw him into a coma.
American doctors generally expressed skepticism about North Korea’s claim. They said that botulism, while dangerous, doesn’t ordinarily cause a person to go into a vegetative state. Moreover, physicians who treated Warmbier on his return found no evidence of botulism, but that in itself is apparently not unusual because apparently botulism doesn’t stay in a person’s system for a long period of time.
According to an article at NBCNews.com, Otto’s father Fred claimed, “It looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth.”
Of course, if Otto Warmbier was really tortured, it shouldn’t surprise anyone. North Korea is a communist regime, and a very brutal one at that (which should cause Americans to wonder why their government engages in torture also).
A big problem, however, is that the treating physicians found no evidence to support Fred Warmbier’s claim of torture. That NBC News article stated:
The post-mortem report disputes this. “The teeth are natural and in good repair” and the young man’s nose and ears showed “no remarkable alteration,” the report said. There was some scarring around the mouth, the report noted.
The coroner for Hamilton County, Ohio, Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, confirmed that the team looked hard for any evidence of torture, but could find nothing definitive. They even called in a forensic dentist.
“There was no evidence of trauma to the teeth,” Sammarco told reporters. “We were surprised at that statement.”
The report also described Warmbier as having been “well-nourished.”
“We believe that for somebody who had been bedridden for more than a year, that his body was in excellent condition, that his skin was in excellent condition,” she said.
The post-mortem exam report, which is not a full autopsy, was performed by Dr. Gretel Stephens, deputy coroner for Hamilton County, Ohio. Cindy and Fred Warmbier had asked not to have an autopsy performed on their son’s body.
Notice what that last paragraph states: “Cindy and Fred Warmbier had asked not to have an autopsy performed on their son’s body.”
Why not? The purpose of an autopsy is to determine the exact cause of death. Why wouldn’t the Warmbiers want a medical examiner to conduct an autopsy to find out what exactly killer their son? Since they were so convinced that their son’s coma was the direct result of torture, why not have an official autopsy confirm that?
Could it be that the Warmbiers weren’t as convinced about their torture claim as they appeared to be? Could it be that they were afraid that an autopsy might not confirm their torture claim and, therefore, contradict the official narrative that they, President Trump, and other U.S. officials are putting out about their son’s death, especially as U.S. war drums are increasingly being pounded against North Korea?
According to that NBC News article, the Hamilton County, Ohio, coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, “performed a physical examination of the body and ran a CT scan from the top of the head to the thighs.”
The examination notes scars on Warmbier’s knees, ankle, feet and arms. “There is a round scar just above the sternal notch with mild retraction, consistent with a tracheostomy scar,” it reads.
“We didn’t see any evidence of healing fractures or healed fractures that would have been within that time frame,” Sammarco added.
It’s hard to say what else may have happened, including torture. “I think you need to define torture,” Sammarco said.
“The fact that he has anoxic encephalitis or brain damage caused by the lack of oxygen to the brain, we don’t know what the root cause of that is. There’s a couple ways you can get that, so you either have to discontinue blood flow to the brain or stop breathing … Could that have been torture at the time? We don’t know,” she added.
“We don’t know enough about what happened to Otto … to draw any concrete conclusions.”
Thus, even if it wasn’t botulism or sleeping pills that caused Warmbier’s coma, it seems entirely possible that he contracted some type of very serious illness in that North Korean prison, which, needless to say, cannot possibly be among the healthiest places in the world. After all, this is an impoverished Third World communist country, one where a large portion of the population is on the verge of death by starvation or illness.
Fred Warmbier stated, “There is no excuse … to have denied him top-notch medical care for so long.”
Really? What about U.S. sanctions against North Korea, which, in combination with North Korea’s socialist economic system, have brought the North Korean populace to a near-death state, either through starvation or illness.
Remember: That’s the purpose of U.S. sanctions on North Korea — to target the North Korean people with death, so that either the North Korea regime capitulates and denuclearizes, or the North Korean people instigate a violent revolution (without guns because there is gun control in North Korea), or the North Korean military ousts their dictator Kim Jong-Un from power and replace him with a pro-U.S. military dictator.
Take a look at this Washington Post article from last December. The opening paragraph says it all: “Sanctions aimed at punishing the North Korean regime are hampering the ability of aid groups to operate inside the country, triggering warnings that the international campaign is harming ordinary North Koreans.”
The article continues: “About 70 percent of the North Korean population is already categorized as “food insecure,” meaning constantly struggling against hunger, and growth stunting occurs in 1 in 4 children. The sanctions could increase the levels of food insecurity and the incidence of acute malnutrition among children.” “These are not just statistics. This is reality in the DPRK,” Quintana said, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name….
The sanctions were becoming a “serious concern” for U.N. agencies operating in North Korea and could “hamper assistance and relief activities,” Tapan Mishra, the U.N. resident coordinator in Pyongyang, wrote in letters to U.N. officials at the end of October.
“Crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months despite being equipped with the required paperwork affirming that they are not on the list of sanctions items,” he wrote in the letters, which were first reported by NK News, a specialist website.
Items that had been blocked included anesthesia machines used for emergency operations and digital X-ray machines needed to diagnose tuberculosis.
American aid agencies must get licenses from the Commerce or Treasury departments to send goods needed for their work into North Korea and now are required to get special dispensation to airfreight time-sensitive equipment, such as medical supplies, because Air Koryo, North Korea’s national carrier, is under sanction….
Meanwhile, Chinese banks are refusing to handle any money related to North Korea, say humanitarian workers who are trying to wire money to Chinese suppliers of medical equipment for use inside North Korea — even when the supplier is Chinese-owned.
The reaction of U.S. officials? They don’t care. In fact, they blame the deadly consequences of their sanctions on North Korean officials. As former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it, “The regime could feed and care for women, children and ordinary people of North Korea if it chose the welfare of its people over weapons development.”
That’s the same mindset that guided U.S. officials, of course, during the Bill Clinton presidency, when U.S. sanctions are Iraq were killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, both through malnutrition and untreated illnesses. Recall how U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright responded when “Sixty Minutes” asked her if the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were worth it. She said that while the issue was a difficult one, the deaths were, in fact, worth it.
And don’t forget how U.S. officials went after American citizen Bert Sacks with a vengeance for audaciously taking medicines to the Iraqi people in violation of the U.S. sanctions on Iraq.
Now, ask yourself: If North Korean citizens are being denied medicines and other healthcare treatments and are dying as a result, what are the chances that an American prisoner is going to be accorded better medical treatment than the average North Korean citizen? It’s not going to happen, any more than prisoners of war are ever accorded better treatment than a nation’s own soldiers.
Did U.S. sanctions on North Korea contribute to Otto Warmbier’s death? Unfortunately, because Otto Warmbier chose not to have an autopsy conducted on his son’s body, we will never know for sure. But the possibility certainly needs to be considered.