Inside The North Korean Prison Case Of Otto Warmbier

The horrors that were inflicted on American college student, Otto Warmbier, at the behest of the North Korean government cannot be overstated, even as it's likely exactly that the full extent of what was done to the healthy young man to put him in a vegetative state will never be known. After 17 months in a North Korean prison, Otto was sent home in a "horrible and unrecognizable" state, according to Case Text

Specifically, Case Text reported that Otto was "jerking violently" and "howling, his arms ... curled and mangled ... his eyes ... bulging out." It "almost appeared that he had chewed a hole through his bottom lip." 

Otto was described as having a shaved head, wearing a diaper, and having a feeding tube in his nose when his family arrived to meet him on the plane and take him home. His straight teeth had somehow become misaligned and the young man could not hear, see, or speak. Before they saw him, as his parents and siblings walked up the steps of the plane, case text reports they heard "loud inhuman sounds." 

Otto, the bright, curious, ambitious student went to North Korea on a group trip in December 2015 but was detained from returning home, accused of stealing a political poster from a restricted area of his hotel, per CNN. Weeks later North Korea released a video of Warmbier confessing in great detail to the theft and begging for forgiveness. At his trial, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Court records said Otto suffered brain damage about a month after his trial

Otto Warmbier would not live that long. He was returned to the U.S from the North Korean prison on June 13, 2017 and died just days later at a Cincinnati hospital on June 19 at the age of 22, ABC News reported. During the long months when he was a captive, his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier stayed largely quiet publicly so as to not make matters worse for their son, even as they had little to no information about his well-being, per Case Text. But once his life ended, they filed a lawsuit against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. 

In the lawsuit filed in April 2018 and posted by Courthouse News, the Warmbiers and their attorneys say that Otto was seized for political reasons — as a means to try to coerce the U.S. government to act at North Korea's behest —  and not for the accused crime of stealing a political poster. But even as North Korean officials tried to use Otto as a bargaining tool, according to court documents, medical records showed that he had already sustained brain damage in April of 2016, just a month after his trial and 14 months before he was sent home in his ruined condition. The court document says Otto endured "extensive loss of brain tissue was caused by an earlier hypoxic-ischemic brain injury caused by the cessation or severe reduction of blood flow to the brain." 

North Korea sent the U.S. a medical bill for $2 million

According to the US National Library of Medicine's National Institutes of Health, the causes of such a brain injury can be cardiac arrest, or things like near-drowning, strangulation, hanging, or carbon monoxide poisoning. But as the court document states, "only North Korea knows precisely what torture and mistreatment it inflicted on Otto." 

The Warmbiers' lawsuit (via Courthouse News) claims that North Korea is known for inflicting all kinds of tortures, including many that don't leave visible scars. While Otto did have a large, unexplained scar on his foot and his teeth were obviously moved from their previously straight positions, in this case, the most grievous injury was his "state of unresponsive wakefulness. North Korea left Otto unable to report the torture he endured," court documents reported. 

The family sued the hermit nation for damages, wrongful death and survival, infliction of emotional distress, and assault and battery. They left it to the courts to determine what the penalty should be. In December 2018, a federal judge awarded the family $500 million in punitive and compensatory damages, but it's not likely North Korea is going to pay up, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer

However North Korea expected Otto's $2 million medical bill to be paid by the U.S., a condition signed and agreed upon during the negotiations for the irreparably harmed young man's release. According to the Washington Post, The Trump administration would not comment on whether they paid that bill.