Otto Warmbier was an American student who was tortured to death by the North Korean regime last year. His parents, Fred and Cindy, have “channeled their grief into activism,” to quote the Oslo Freedom Forum. Fred Warmbier spoke at the forum last week.
One of the things he talked about was language. People refer to foreign hostages in North Korea as “detainees.” No, they’re not, they’re hostages. Some press reports said that Otto “died from his injuries.” Well, in a way — but he was tortured to death. “We’ve sanitized the facts for the benefit of North Korea,” said Fred.
Throughout Otto’s imprisonment, “we treated North Korea with respect and dignity,” Fred explained. “And they destroyed our son and tried to destroy our family.” The Warmbiers were not allowed to visit Otto, or communicate with him, or provide him with any kind of counsel.
“They used him as a pawn,” said Fred. “They used him as a scapegoat for their failed country.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Fred made a statement that got under my skin, in a good way: “We’ve made a mistake with North Korea, saying, ‘Oh, they’re crazy.’ They’re really cowards. You don’t have to be afraid of them.”
Fred and Cindy Warmbier have filed a lawsuit against the Kim regime. “I’m not going to get what I want,” said Fred. “I want my son back. But I’m not going to let them get away with what they did. I’m going to do everything in my power to force them to be answerable for what they did to my son.”
If you were Fred or Cindy, what would you do? I don’t know. I talked with Fred for a while. He and his family are from Cincinnati. They are “getting on with life,” sure. And they are strong. But all the while, they’re trying to secure some kind of justice for Otto Warmbier, who is on their mind.