In what will only be a symbolic victory over North Korea this Christmas Eve, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell awarded the parents of Otto Warmbier a $500 million default judgmentagainst North Korea – amounting to roughly 0.8% of the country’s GDP – for the death of their son. The judge also penned a scathing opinion to back up the decision, calling North Korea the “most advanced, most perfected totalitarian state in world history.”
She went on to write: “Moreover, North Korea is ‘unprecedented’ in its state sponsorship of ‘elicit [sic] activities, like proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, counterfeiting U.S. dollars, [and] the production and sale of drugs like opium, heroin, and meth[amphetamines]. Indeed, North Korea is the world’s ‘leading’ and ‘best qualified candidate for indictment’ at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.”
She then slapped the country with the judgement, stating: “North Korea never entered an appearance in, or defended against, this action, and the plaintiffs now move for default judgment for the damage caused by North Korea to Otto and his parents. For the reasons discussed below, default judgment is granted and Otto and his parents are awarded damages totaling $501,134,683.80.”
The judge then took the time to unpack Warmbier’s entire supposed “confession” that was made in North Korea:
Examples of the many untruths in the purported “confession” include: (1) Otto called his father’s company “Finishing Cincinnati Black Oxide,” but that company, in fact, is called “Finishing Technology”; (2) Otto said he practiced for his alleged crime by stealing street signs at the University of Virginia and storing the stolen signs under his bed, yet his father never found any such stolen signs, let alone under Otto’s bed at Otto’s apartment; (3) Otto said he conspired with the Friendship United Methodist Church, which had assets of $42 million, even though Otto had no relationship with that church, was not Methodist, and the church has no such extensive assets. Otto said he agreed to take the poster because he “‘desperately’ needed a car” and $200,000 to fund his two siblings’ college tuition, when Otto “had his own car and was never expected or asked to pay for his siblings’ tuition”; and Otto said he conspired with “the Z Society,” but had no connection to any such organization.
In addition to these false statements in his “confession,” Otto spoke with “unnatural” language that sounded as if he had “been forced to memorize” the words. Otto, for instance, said “I came to commit this crime task,” “[t]he United States administration already knows about my act through the CIA, which is closely linked to the Z Society and connived at my crime,” “[t]his was a very foolish aim,” “[t]his made an innocent-minded, adventurous young man, like myself, want to show my bravery to improve my reputation and show a Western victory of the DPR Korea,” and “I intentionally packed my quietest boots, the best for sneaking. I knew that I would wear them during my crime commitment.”
Otto’s “strange phrases,” such as the references to the “U.S. administration,” “DPR Korea instead of DPRK,” and his “quietest boots for sneaking” were “clumsy” North Korean “stock phrase[s]” that provide “no doubt . . . that this was a coerced confession under great duress.” Moreover, Otto’s reference to “hostile U.S. policy” three times, and the notion that Otto, as the oldest child, would need to subsidize his younger siblings’ college tuition—an expectation of the eldest son in Korean culture—are reflective of “Korean connotation,” further indicating North Korea “imposed” this material in Otto’s confession.
She ultimately concluded that North Korea was: “liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier.”
The family which lives in Wyoming, Ohio, filed the lawsuit in federal court last April. North Korean authorities had arrested their son in January 2016 for attempting to steal a propaganda poster. He was later sentenced to 15 years in prison and subsequently died last year, days after he was released from North Korea to the United States in a coma. He had been tortured and in captivity in a North Korean labor camp for more than 17 months.
Recall, we wrote just days ago that the family was suing North Korea for $1.5 billion, or 2.5% of the country’s total GDP.
You can read the entire judgement here: