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Trump believes Kim Jong Un didn't know about Otto Warmbier. Experts say that's impossible.

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US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he doesn’t think North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was involved in the mistreatment of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being detained in the isolated country. (Feb. 28)
AP

President Donald Trump says he believes that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un didn’t know about how Otto Warmbier was treated while imprisoned in the totalitarian state.

Warmbier, a Wyoming, Ohio college student visiting the country, was accused of stealing a propaganda poster and imprisoned in North Korea in 2016. He returned to Ohio in a coma with a brain injury in June 2017 and died soon after.

“I don’t believe he knew about it,” Trump said of Kim. “He tells me that he didn’t know about it and I will take him at his word.” 

Experts say Kim knew.

“It is inconceivable that such a high profile American prisoner like Otto Warmbier, that Kim Jong-un would not know,” said former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson Thursday morning on MSNBC. Richardson, a former ambassador to the United Nations, tried for over a year to negotiate Warmbier’s release.

Richardson said it was “dispiriting” and “disappointing” that Trump would side with Kim over American intelligence.

Why is it likely Kim knew about Warmbier?

“North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship. Anything that the leadership does has to be approved by the man at the top,” said Rosa Park, director of programs and editor at The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“This is how the North Korean state has been since it’s inception: this iron-grip control over the leadership,” she added. 

And a federal judge found that Kim’s regime was responsible for Warmbier’s torture and awarded Warmbier’s parents $500 million. 

In a statement after the decision, Fred and Cindy Warmbier said they are “thankful that the United States has a fair and open judicial system so that the world can see that the Kim (Jong Un) regime is legally and morally responsible for Otto’s death.”

Warmbier’s case would have certainly come to Kim’s attention at some point, said Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Snyder said it’s difficult to know when and how he would have been informed.

Snyder said it’s striking that Trump started his administration focusing on human rights but those issues have disappeared from his rhetoric since deciding to meet with Kim.

“It’s unfortunate the administration has not found a way to continue a human rights policy against North Korea at some form at a bureaucratic level while trying to perform high level diplomacy,” Snyder said.

 

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