President Donald Trump was dragged over the coals for his remarks this week about U.S. college student Otto Warmbier, who died days after being released from a North Korea prison.
Speaking Thursday in Hanoi, where Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the president said Kim told him he was unaware of Warmbier’s mistreatment.
And the man who helped negotiated Warmbier’s release agrees that Kim likely didn’t have anything to do with the American student’s poor treatment.
“He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word,” Trump said when a reporter asked if he confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death — the president added that Kim “felt badly about it. He felt very badly.”
Warmbier was on a five-day visit to North Korea and the student was detained after allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. Sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison, brain scans show he suffered severe injuries to his brain shortly after being convicted.
Mickey Bergman, a former Israeli Defense Forces paratrooper and vice president of the Richardson Center, helped secure Warmbier’s release and he appeared Thursday on Fox News to say that while the president could have articulated his words more clearly, he agreed with his assessment.
“I don’t believe they had any interest in Otto getting to the condition that he did,” he said. “The evidence that I have for this is that it’s the only American prisoner to which it happened to, and that was an anomaly. Typically American prisoners and hostages and detainees get back more or less in one piece.”
To support his comment, Bergman said the North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs told him personally that officials there didn’t know what was happening to the American student. He said the North Koreans made the claim to stress how much they valued their relationship to the U.S.
Despite Kim’s reputation as a brutal dictator, Bergman said he doesn’t think Kim is lying when he says he did not know Warmbier was being treated so badly.
He pointed out that Warmbier was “the only American prison which it happened to.”
“I think there’s a distinction here between not being aware that it happened to saying that this was not intentional,” Bergman said. “It was an incident, a mistake, something went wrong, whatever happened there, which we don’t know what happened– the leader is saying this was not intention.”
President Trump’s full remarks are getting little play in the media.
“I know the Warmbier family very well,” he said when the issue came up. “I think they are an incredible family.”
“What happened is horrible. I really believe something horrible happened to him, and I really don’t think the top leadership knew about it,” he added.
“I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen,” the president said of the North Korean dictator. “It just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was — I don’t believe he knew about it.”
Otto Warmbier’s parents understandably disagree and released a statement Friday morning:
New statement from Fred and Cindy Warmbier: "We have been respectful during this summit process. Now we must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. … No excuses or lavish praise can change that."
— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) March 1, 2019
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