‘What the hell?’ Trump-Kim love fest ignores human rights nightmare

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE POLITICO NEWS AGENCY)

 

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump are pictured. | Getty Images
Few observers expected President Donald Trump to challenge Kim Jong Un on human rights. The subject in general hasn’t been a priority for him. | Kevin Lim/The Strait Times/Handout/Getty Images

‘What the hell?’ Trump-Kim love fest ignores human rights nightmare

The president once raged at the North Korean leader as a ‘madman’ and a killer, but showed little concern for his brutal style during their meeting in Singapore.

Almost exactly one year ago, North Korea returned an imprisoned 22-year-old American college student to his family in the United States. It was not a happy reunion.

Otto Warmbier, whom the North Koreans had imprisoned for more than a year, arrived in a coma and died a few days later — spurring President Donald Trump to rail against the “brutality” of a North Korean government that lacked “basic human decency.” Trump gradually focused his attacks on the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “sick puppy” and a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”

In Singapore this week, Trump warmly embraced that so-called madman.

He called Kim a “smart” and “funny guy” who “loves his people.” He predicted the two of them would have a “terrific relationship.” Trump told reporters that human rights had come up only briefly, but he gave no indication that he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, whose precise cause remains unclear.

Still, Trump described what happened to Warmbier as a catalyst for the sudden, if uncertain, rapprochement between America and North Korea, saying the University of Virginia student “did not die in vain.”

Trump’s public turnabout on Kim and his regime’s atrocious human rights record was among the most dizzying developments of the past 48 hours, which saw the two leaders meet in Singapore for an unprecedented nuclear summit. It dismayed lawmakers, human rights activists and others who — while supportive of diplomacy — fear that Trump went overboard in his flattery of Kim to the point of normalizing his rule.

“Kim’s gulags, public executions, planned starvation, are legitimized on the world stage,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut raged on Twitter. “What the hell?”

“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, denouncing “the horrendous human rights abuses North Korea’s leaders perpetrate against their own people.”

“It was really over the top and excessive,” added Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.

Amid the outrage is the question of what, practically speaking, Trump could have accomplished.

Past American presidents have pressed Middle Eastern and Asian autocrats over lists of political prisoners numbering in the dozens or hundreds. Kim has imprisoned many thousands of people for what amount to thought crimes, and political executions are commonplace. As a self-proclaimed supreme ruler, it may be nearly impossible for him to concede that he has governed in anything but a judicious way.

Some activists nevertheless argued that Trump could have used his interaction with Kim to win a broad gesture such as granting the United Nations access to his forced labor camps, and that if Kim agreed, it would have bolstered the credibility of his pledge to denuclearize. But Kim offered no hint that he is prepared to address the subject, and a joint statement he and Trump signed after their meeting made no mention of it.

Kim’s totalitarian regime may be the world’s cruelest, with practices reminiscent of the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. The government, run by Kim’s father and grandfather before him, is believed to keep as many as 100,000 people— quite possibly more — in gulags and other detention sites, many in slave-like conditions. Defectors describe a terror state with zero tolerance for dissent, in which entire families are often punished for the actions of one member.

The young Kim — thought to be in his early- to mid-30s — has ruled just as ruthlessly as his father, who died in 2011. He’s alleged to have consolidated power by having an uncle executed — reportedly by anti-aircraft guns — and ordering his half-brother’s murder with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport.

Few observers expected Trump to challenge Kim vigorously on human rights. The subject in general hasn’t been a priority for the Republican president.

Just a few months ago, however, North Korea was an exception to that rule: Throughout 2017, as Trump ramped up sanctions on Pyongyang, he repeatedly highlighted the “depraved” Kim regime’s human rights abuses.

During a visit to South Korea last fall, Trump denounced the “horror of life” across the border, saying that people “would rather be slaves than live in North Korea.” In January, Trump invited to his State of the Union address Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean amputee who’d fled the country on crutches that he raised in defiance as Trump hailed his bravery on national television.

And by all accounts, Trump was genuinely distressed by the fate of Warmbier, whom the North Koreans held captive for 17 months for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel where he was staying during a visit. (In a statement Tuesday, Warmbier’s family said: “We appreciate President Trump’s recent comments about our family. We are proud of Otto and miss him. Hopefully something positive can come from this.”)

But Trump is a real estate mogul who puts great stock in personal relationships, and he appears to have decided it’s more productive to be nice to a ruthless autocrat already accustomed to being treated like a god.

When asked by Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren how Kim reacted when Trump raised human rights, Trump said: “Very well,” before acknowledging it was only a small part of the conversation. Trump went on to indicate that the reason Kim has been a “rough guy” is because that’s the only way his family has known how to rule.

“He’s doing what he’s seen done,” Trump said, suggesting that Kim can change. “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.”

Although Trump is the first sitting president willing to meet face-to-face with a North Korean leader, other U.S. presidents have sat down with autocrats from friendly and adversarial countries alike.

Former President Richard Nixon made history when he met China’s Mao Zedong in February 1972. Trump’s immediate predecessor, Barack Obama, met with Cuba’s Raúl Castro. Plenty of U.S. presidents have met, and even held hands, with the monarchs who’ve led Saudi Arabia.

James Carafano, a foreign policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, said that in the long run the United States must engage North Korea on its human rights practices but that diplomacy at this stage requires prioritization.

“In good U.S. diplomacy human rights is always on the menu. That doesn’t mean it’s always the first course,” Carafano wrote in an email.

Several U.S. lawmakers, including top Democrats, sent out carefully crafted statements that either didn’t raise or made scant mention of human rights — reflecting a widespread belief that ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons through diplomacy is a much higher priority.

“We must remain sober about who Kim Jong Un is: a brutal dictator who has killed his family, overseen campaigns of mass murder and starvation, and masterfully manipulated his rivals on the global stage,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said at the end of a lengthy statement.

One concern is that Kim — who rarely leaves North Korea and has limited diplomatic experience — will take Trump’s lack of emphasis on human rights as a sign of American indifference to how he treats his people.

Amnesty International spearheaded a letter to Trump in advance of the summit urging him to seize the opportunity this week to ask Kim for immediate positive moves on human rights. Francisco Bencosme, who handles Asia-related issues for Amnesty, stressed that it’s not known exactly what Trump said to Kim about human rights, but it doesn’t appear the president took a strong stance.

Bencosme said Trump could have asked Kim to give U.N. officials access to North Korean prisoners, or urged him to help reunite North and South Korean families torn apart by the Korean War. Such moves would have been “a way of opening up the aperture on human rights issues,” Bencosme said.

And such moves are not without precedent.

The Obama administration’s outreach to Myanmar, long an isolated, pariah regime, included requests that the government free hundreds of political prisoners to help demonstrate its seriousness about improving ties with the United States. That led to freedom for at least 1,500 people, including some very prominent opponents of the junta that had run the country. But even within the Obama administration there were fierce debates over how much to push Myanmar on human rights.

When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether he had “betrayed” the people trapped in North Korea’s gulag system, Trump grew defensive — then suggested those prisoners should think long-term.

“I think I’ve helped them because I think things will change,” Trump said. “That large group of people that you’re talking about — I think ultimately they are going to be one of the great winners as a group.”

Asked about Warmbier, Trump said the college student’s tragic death had played a pivotal role in bringing about the summit — even though he had not previously mentioned it as a reason for his diplomatic push with Kim.

“I think without Otto, this would not have happened. Something happened from that day. It was a terrible thing. It was brutal. But a lot of people started to focus on what was going on, including North Korea,” Trump said.

“I really think that Otto is someone who did not die in vain.”

Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korean detention

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Otto Warmbier dies days after release from North Korean detention

June 19 at 5:44 PM
U-Va. student Otto Warmbier dies days after return to U.S.
Fred and Cindy Warmbier announced June 19 that their son, Otto, has died, days after he was medically evacuated from North Korea. (The Washington Post)

Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, died Monday afternoon, his parents announced.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier had no news about their son during his detention after March of last year. He was not allowed consular visits, and it was not until this month that U.S. officials and the family were told that he had been in a coma for more than a year. He was medically evacuated, landed in Cincinnati on Tuesday night and was rushed to the hospital.

On Thursday, doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said that the 22-year-old Otto Warmbier had extensive loss of brain tissue, and was in a state of unresponsive wakefulness.

That morning Fred Warmbier denounced what he called the “pariah” regime that brutalized his son.

Fred and Cindy Warmbier issued a statement Monday afternoon:

It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home.  Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20pm.

It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person.  You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.

We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.

When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished.  Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace.  He was home and we believe he could sense that.

We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers.   We are at peace and at home too.

Fred & Cindy Warmbier and Family

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who worked to try to free Warmbier, said in a statement Monday afternoon, “Otto Warmbier was such a promising young man. He was kind, generous and accomplished. He had all the talent you could ever ask for and a bright future ahead of him. His passing today is a loss for Ohio and for all of us. Jane and I are lifting up the Warmbier family in our prayers at this difficult time, and we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of this remarkable young Ohioan.”

Gov. John Kasich said in a written statement: “All Ohioans mourn the death of Otto Warmbier, a young man of exceptional spirit. Our prayers go out to his family, who have shown great strength and courage throughout this terrible ordeal. This horrendous situation further underscores the evil, oppressive nature of the North Korean regime that has such disregard for human life.”

Undated video shows American student Otto Warmbier throwing snowballs in North Korea before his arrest for “committing hostile acts” against North Korea. (Austin Warmbier)

Teresa Sullivan, president of U-Va., where Warmbier’s class graduated last month, said by phone Monday afternoon: “It’s just such a waste of a promising young life. That’s very hard — that’s very hard to accept.

“I feel so sorry for his classmates and his fraternity brothers. He had many friends at the university, professors who taught him, I think everyone feels, very deeply, this loss.

“I think we always somewhere, deep down, thought he would come back to us and finish his degree with us.”

Video shot by a family friend in 2013 shows Otto Warmbier giving a speech as salutatorian at his graduation from Wyoming High School, in Wyoming, Ohio. Warmbier died on June 19, days after being released from North Korean detainment. (Courtesy of Fred and Cindy Warmbier)

Todd Siler, a teacher at Wyoming High School, said that he saw two of Warmbier’s friends from the graduating class of 2013, of which he was salutatorian, earlier Monday. They had been to the hospital to see him, and came to school to see their friend’s name on the graduation walk; all the students have their name etched on a brick there. “Tough, tough moments today,” he said.

“In a short time  he had an impact on so many people of all different walks of life. It takes an incredibly unique person to be able to do that. I think that’s what makes his passing so hard — there aren’t enough people like that in this world. We lost a good one. We lost a great one.

“Otto was strong, such a strong kid,” Siler added. “His spirit touched everybody, and I want to believe that, despite the treatment that he experienced, that he was hanging on to come home. And he did that. He knew he was there and with family. … I think there was a part of him still left that understood that.

“He’s home. So it’s okay to let go.”

North Korea: Otto Warmbier Has “Sever Neurological Damage”

(COMMENTARY: FOR THE SAKE OF THE PEOPLE OF NORTH KOREA IT IS TIME FOR THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO REMOVE THE ANIMAL KIM JONG UN FROM POWER “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY”)(TRS)

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Recently released North Korea detainee Otto Warmbier has suffered severe neurological damage, and his family flatly rejects the regime’s explanation for his condition, reporters were told Thursday in his Ohio hometown.

Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student who returned Tuesday to the United States after 17 months in detention, is in stable condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center but has a “severe neurological injury,” hospital spokeswoman Kelly Martin said.
Martin declined to elaborate, saying doctors will share more information about Warmbier’s condition in a separate news conference Thursday afternoon.
But Warmbier’s father left no doubt he blames North Korea, blasting the secretive regime in a 23-minute news conference at his son’s alma mater, Wyoming High School, north of Cincinnati.

Student freed from North Korea lands in US

Student freed from North Korea lands in US
The family doesn’t believe North Korea’s explanation that Otto fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill shortly after he was sentenced in March 2016, Fred Warmbier said.
“Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing a coma — and we don’t — there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition a secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long,” Warmbier said.
The father, wearing the cream sport coat his son wore during his televised trial in North Korea, stopped short of saying how he believed his son was injured.
“We’re going to leave that to the doctors (to explain) today,” he said.

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?

Why does North Korea detain some US citizens?
He called on North Korea to release other American detainees.
“There’s no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son. And no excuse for the way they’ve treated so many others,” he said. “No other family should have to endure what the Warmbiers have.”

Conviction and release

Otto Warmbier was a University of Virginia student when he was detained in January 2016 at the airport in Pyongyang while on his way home. He had been on a tour of the reclusive country, his parent said.
North Korean authorities claimed they had security footage of him trying to steal a banner containing a political slogan that was hanging from a wall of his Pyongyang hotel.
That was used as evidence in his hourlong trial. He was found guilty of committing a “hostile act” against the country and sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor. It was the last time he was seen publicly before this week.
His parents learned of their son’s condition — what North Korea called a coma — only last week, they said in a statement.

Critical of Obama administration

Fred Warmbier appeared critical of the Obama administration’s handling of Otto’s detention, saying the family heeded the US government’s initial advice to take a low profile “without result.”
In contrast, he praised the Trump administration’s efforts: “They have our thanks for bringing Otto home.”
When asked whether then-President Barack Obama could have done more, Fred Warmbier replied, “I think the results speak for themselves.”

Three other US detainees

Warmbier’s release coincided with basketball star Dennis Rodman’s latest visit to North Korea, though Michael Anton, a US national security spokesman, told CNN there is no connection between the two.

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman

CNN on the ground: Waiting for Dennis Rodman
Fred Warmbier said the same Thursday.
“Dennis Rodman had nothing to do with Otto,” he said.
Rodman was asked by reporters Tuesday if he would bring up the cases of Warmbier and three other Americans detained in North Korea. “That’s not my purpose right now,” he said. “My purpose is to go over there and try to see if I can keep bringing sports to North Korea.”
The other Americans held by Pyongyang are Kim Sang Duk and Kim Hak-song, academics who worked at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and businessman named Kim Dong Chul.

North Korea: Pathetic Kim Jong-Un Holding American Student Otto Warmbier For Ransom!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FOX NEWS)

American student Otto Warmbier

On the second day of 2016, Otto Warmbier was minutes away from boarding a plane back to America when armed security officers reportedly dragged him out of Pyongyang airport and into a yearlong nightmare that has left his loved ones and even the U.S. government powerless to save him.

Like most news out of North Korea, a lot about what occurred in the airport on Jan. 2, 2016 remains a mystery. One witness remembered a commotion as an armed official yelled at the 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student from Ohio and had him hauled out of the terminal. Hours later, the rogue dictatorship issued a vague update: A tourist had been “caught committing a hostile act against the state.”

The legal proceedings that followed were just as vague. Prosecutors charged that Warmbier was caught stealing a political sign and committed “crimes against the state.” He was given a one-hour trial in March at which the government presented fingerprints, CCTV footage and pictures of a political banner to make its case against the American.

“I beg that you see how I am only human,” Warmbier begged at trial. “And how I have made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Despite his pleas, Warmbier was convicted, and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. In a post-trial video released to the world, Warmbier, under obvious duress, praised his captors for his treatment and for handling of the case “fair and square.”

Little is known about Warmbier’s fate over the last year, and critics say the Obama administration has not done enough to bring the American home.

In recent years, several U.S. citizens have been held on trumped-up charges for varying periods of time by the current regime of Kim Jong Un, as well as that of his father, Kim Jong Il. Their release has typically been won by pledges of aid or diplomatic gestures from American dignitaries. Former President Bill Clinton journeyed to the Hermit Kingdom in 2009 in a successful bid to convince the late Kim Jong Il to release of Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had been captured after straying across the border from China and held prisoner for five months.

The younger Kim is less predictable, and the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Kim Jung Un, the third generation of his family to lead the impoverished and belligerent nation, routinely issues threats against the U.S., launches missiles to provoke South Korea and Japan, executes top military officials and, occasionally, seizes Western prisoners. Although they are subjected to what passes for judicial procedures, they are for all intents and purposes, hostages.

In addition to Warmbier, it is believed that Pyongyang is holding Kim Dong-chul, 62, a naturalized U.S. citizen and a Canadian. Like Warmbier, he was charged with spying.

Gordon Chang, an expert on Asia and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” said autocratic regimes, like the one in Pyongyang, are famous for their insecurities and treat any slight against its government as an especially serious offense. An Irish national who visited the country told The Independent that he was told “constantly that the smallest thing was considered a hostile attack.

“I bought lots of magazines and books there, and we were told not to fold them in a way that creased Kim Jong-un’s face,” he recalled.

Chang believes the North Koreans are taking reasonably good care of Warmbier, but the student likely feels forgotten.

“I assume he feels isolated,” Chang said. “He’s likely only reading propaganda and feels abandoned by the outside world.”

Warmbier’s family, including his father, Fred, did not respond to requests for comment, perhaps out of concern that publicity could anger Warmbier’s captors or upset back-channel efforts by the State Department or private parties to win his release. The U.S. will often tell these families to avoid talking to the media so it can better control the situation, Chang said.

“I agree with that,” he said.

Yet, media attention in the past seemed to work favorably in some cases. Ling and Lee faced 12 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts, yet were freed after five months when a visit from Clinton seemed to provide the rogue regime with the diplomatic legitimacy it craved, at least under the elder Kim, who died in 2011.

Kenneth Bae, a 47-year-old missionary who spent 19 months in prison for evangelizing, was released in 2014 after former NBA star and self-professed pal of Kim Jong-un Dennis Rodman took up his cause. Bae, who worked on a soybean farm and lost 30 pounds during the ordeal, told The New York Times that his interrogators would tell him that nobody in the U.S. cared about him and there were no negotiations.

Friend Trey Lonneman: We need to get Otto back. We must keep him in the public eye as much as we can –TCT @FoxNews

He said he was questioned “from 8 in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, every day for four weeks,” yet his treatment was better than that of North Korean felons.

Bae told FoxNews.com that he prays daily for American prisoners’ release from North Korea.

Former U.S. ambassador to the UN and ex-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, founder of the nonprofit Richardson Center for Global Engagement, told Fox News that the progress in getting Warmbier back has been slow but said North Koreans accepted a delegation from his foundation in September. He said the White House has been supportive of his group’s efforts.

“We’re trying to do this on a humanitarian basis,” Richardson told Fox News, “not a government-to-government basis.”

Communicating with North Korea has long been more challenging under the younger Kim.

“There’s just silence,” he said. “There’s nothing coming back.”

Julia Mason, a State Department spokeswoman, told FoxNews.com a statement that the administration is aware of the situation, and “now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through this criminal process, we urge the DPRK to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”

In November, the Associated Press reported that a North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador to talk about access to Canadian Christian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, who was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The Swedish ambassador used the meeting to also talk about the Americans and was reportedly told Pyongyang treats them as war prisoners, possibly in light of U.S. sanctions on the country.

John Bolton, a Fox News contributor and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that North Korea keeps a close eye on U.S. relationships around the world. It likely made note of the Obama administrations clandestine payments to Iran earlier this year which coincided with the release of four Americans held by Tehran on bogus charges.

“When Obama pays $1.7 billion in ransom for four people being held hostage in Iran, obviously the North Koreans see this as a bargaining chip as well,” he said.

Edmund DeMarche is a news editor for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @EDeMarche.

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