Despite the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that American citizen Otto Warmbier was killed due to mistreatment in North Korea, President Trump is accepting Kim Jong Un’s version of events.
“I really believe something very bad happened to him and I don’t think the top leadership knew about it,” Trump said during the press conference that followed the Hanoi summit with Kim. “I got the hostages back… the others came back, and they were extremely healthy, but Otto [Warmbier] came back in a condition that was just terrible.
“I don’t believe that [Kim] would have allowed that to happen,” Trump continued. “Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places. And bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he was… that he knew about it.”
President Trump on Otto Warmbier: "I really believe something very bad happened to him, and I don't think that the top leadership knew about it…(Kim Jong-Un) felt very badly about it…He tells me that he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word." pic.twitter.com/EWnw7BzVNe
— Axios (@axios) February 28, 2019
President Trump’s assertion that Kim had no knowledge of Warmbier is particularly shocking given that Kim’s rule is considered absolute in the reclusive country, and that any news of an American prisoner in custody would have almost certainly reached the nation’s dictator. Warmbier’s family said their son was “brutally tortured” while he was kept in a North Korean prison, and by the time he returned to the U.S., the 22-year-old was in a coma from which he never recovered.
While U.S. intelligence has few assets in the region, a senior intelligence official speaking off the record to the New York Times said that Warmbier “had been repeatedly beaten while in North Korean custody.” Warmbier’s crime was that he allegedly stole a propaganda poster from a North Korean hotel he was visiting while on a guided tour. He was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Kim Jong-Un isn’t the only dictator Trump has taken at their word. Following the death of journalist and legal permanent U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump accepted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s version of events that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with his dismembering and beheading at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. However, U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly stated that not only did the crown prince have knowledge, but that he specifically ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.