Otto Warmbier's parents sue North Korea over his 'torture and murder'

Washington: The family of Otto Warmbier filed an extraordinary lawsuit against North Korea in federal court on Thursday alleging that the 22-year-old college student was "brutally tortured and murdered" by Kim Jong-un's "criminal" regime during 17 months in captivity.

The 22-page complaint, filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia, details in blunt language how the University of Virginia student, a former homecoming king and soccer standout from Cincinnati, was "brutally" abused after being detained on a tour in Pyongyang. He arrived home in a coma after being released last June, dying days later.

Otto Warmbier pictured last year in Pyongyang. His parents are trying to hold Kim Jong-un’s regime legally accountable for his death.

The action aims to hold Kim's regime legally accountable for their son's death, but the timing also raises significant geopolitical implications, coming weeks before an expected meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader in late May or early June. It also comes a day before a high-stakes inter-Korea summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which is widely viewed as a crucial prelude to the potential denuclearisation talks between Trump and Kim.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier’s lawsuit says their son Otto arrived home in a coma “jerking violently and howling”.

The Warmbier family is represented by McGuire Woods, and a lead attorney in the case, Richard Cullen, also represents Vice President Mike Pence, who has also spoken out against the North's treatment of Warmbier and its record of human rights abuses. Fred Warmbier accompanied Pence as part of the US delegation to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

The White House and Pence's office are supportive of the lawsuit but did not have a role in drafting it, according to a person close to both sides.

Trump "spoke clearly about the pain that all Americans felt when we lost Otto Warmbier. That feeling of loss has not changed," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. "Although this is a private legal action to which the United States government is not a party, Americans remain committed to honoring Otto's memory, and we will not forget the suffering of his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier."

The Kim family has run the country as a totalitarian state since the Korean War armistice in 1953, leaving much of the nation's 25 million people without sufficient food and electricity. The regime has killed suspected political opponents and is thought to have orchestrated the assassination Kim’s half brother, Kim Jong-nam, at a Malaysian airport last year.

The lawsuit comes weeks before an expected meeting between Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un

The Trump administration placed the North on the state sponsors of terror list in November, opening the door for the Warmbiers' lawsuit.

In their lawsuit, Fred and Cynthia Warmbier said their son traveled to the North in December 2015 as part of a program run by Young Pioneer Tours, "a China-based operator that catered to Westerners".

Otto, according to the complaint, "believed this was an opportunity to understand how people lived in one of the only closed societies in the world". But when the group attempted to depart after five days, Otto was detained at the Pyongyang airport "without explanation". Four days later, the North conducted a successful test of a nuclear hydrogen bomb.

Warmbier was used as leverage in the rogue nation's geopolitical disagreements with the United States, according to the lawsuit.

The legal filing states that North Korean officials forced Warmbier to make a false statement in which he confessed to invented accusations that he was operating as a spy connected to the CIA. He was released more than 17 months later in a deep coma, blind, deaf, with a wound on his foot and damage to his teeth, the lawsuit states.

When his parents met him at the Cincinnati airport, Warmbier "had a shaved head, a feeding tube coming out of his nose, was jerking violently and howling, and was completely unresponsive to any of their efforts to comfort him". North Korean officials disavowed responsibility, asserting that Warmbier had contracted botulism.

The lawsuit asks for a monetary award to be determined by the court for punitive damages related to Warmbier's mistreatment and death, and the emotional suffering of his family. The money could come from a fund, created by Congress in 2015 and administered by the Justice Department, to compensate victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

Trump has eviscerated the North for its treatment of Warmbier, raising his death last fall during speeches at the United Nations in New York and to the South Korea general assembly in Seoul. But more recently, Trump, who last year belittled Kim as "little rocket man," has tamped down his bellicose rhetoric in a bid to ease tensions ahead of the summit.

"He really has been very open and, I think, very honorable from everything we're seeing," Trump told reporters of Kim on Tuesday.

Critics have warned that Trump, who is eager for a deal on one of his top foreign policy priorities, risks giving up too much to Kim, who announced last week he was freezing nuclear weapons testing and closing down one nuclear site. White House aides said they remain sceptical of Kim's motives, suggesting he is taking easily reversible steps for public relations value, but Trump has been more enthusiastic about the "progress" that is taking place.

"A lot of concessions have already been made," he said referring to Pyongyang during a news conference on Tuesday. "We have made no concessions, despite some of the media saying that I've made concessions. I don't – I haven't even discussed a concession other than the fact that meeting is a great thing."

Three Americans remain in captivity in North Korea and Trump has said his administration is working to secure their release. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday as Secretary of State, traveled to Pyongyang over the Easter weekend and met with Kim, and he reportedly raised the issue of detainees with North Korean officials.

But Trump has not called their release a precondition of his summit with Kim.

The Washington Post

Source: Read Full Article