American student Otto Warmbier was held in a North Korean prison camp for a a year and a half for allegedly stealing a poster, before he was emergency air-lifted home in mid-June while in a coma. He died shortly after. However, North Korea is now saying that they are the real victim in all this.
North Korean officials claimed that Warmbier’s coma was caused by botulism and a sleeping pill, though doctors found no evidence of the disease, and believe he was beaten until he went into cardiopulmonary arrest. The Washington Post reports that North Korean news agencies are placing Warmbier’s imprisonment squarely on the shoulders of the Obama administration, saying they never officially asked for Warmbier’s release and refused to negotiate on the matter:
“The fact that Warmbier died suddenly in less than a week after his return to the U.S. in his normal state of health indicators is a mystery to us as well,” the spokesman was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency. “To make it clear, we are the biggest victim of this incident.”
They’re also claiming that any suggestion Warmbier’s coma was a result of torture or brutality are “groundless,” though they did admit to North Koren doctors reviving him after his “heart had nearly stopped.”A spokesman said, “Although we had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatments and care with all sincerity on humanitarian basis until his return to the U.S., considering that his health got worse.”
However, U.S. officials had reportedly received intelligence that Warmbier had been “severely beaten,” and was being held in a camp where people were routinely worked to death. Obama spokesman Ned Price also contested the claim that the administration never officially asked for Warmbier’s return, saying that they “had no higher priority than securing the release of Americans detained overseas.”
Pyongyang officials also said in their statement that the media attention surrounding Warmbier is part of a “smear campaign” meant to bolster the possibility of sanctions against the country, but Donald Trump’s position on North Korea and Kim Jong Un is hardly consistent enough to make Warmbier’s death part of a larger strategy.