85-Year Old American Veteran Detained by N. Korea 'Confesses' to War Crimes

85-Year Old American Veteran Detained by N. Korea 'Confesses' to War Crimes

The New York Times reported that North Korea has “accused an elderly American veteran of war crimes, and released a video Saturday of him confessing to ‘hostile acts’ during the Korean War and while he was a tourist there last month.”

Merrill Newman, an 85-year old retired technology executive from Palo Alto, California, “went to North Korea on a trip organized by a licensed tour group to fulfill a longtime desire to see the country where he had served as an infantry officer during the Korean War,” according to the Times.

The visit to North Korea began around October 17 but went wrong when Newman and the rest of his tour group attempted to leave the country. According to the Times: 

Mr. Newman was pulled off a plane on Oct. 26 as it was preparing to leave North Korea for Beijing. Something appeared to have gone awry on the last full day of Mr. Newman’s tour when he was asked to talk to one of his tour guides in the presence of another North Korean and without his traveling companion, a fellow retiree from California, said his son, Jeff Newman… Mr. Newman told his traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, that the conversation had not gone well and he had a bad feeling about it, the son said.

Mr. Newman was whisked off the plane that day and held in an undisclosed location under unknown conditions. Nothing was revealed about his status until November 9, when the state-run Korean Central News Agency released the text of a written apology purportedly from Mr. Newman in which he confessed to war crimes during his service in the Korean War sixty years ago:

I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK [The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command… If I go back to U.S.A., I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.

Mr. Newman also “confessed” to a more recent “crime.” Specifically, the Times reported that in his written apology, “Mr. Newman says he asked his guide to look for surviving soldiers from an action that he participated in against the Korean Peoples Army, and that he had brought into North Korea an ‘e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK.’ “

On Saturday, November 30, KCNA released a video, apparently taken of Mr. Newman while in captivity on November 9 reading from his four page handwritten confession. On the video, Mr. Newman is seen placing his thumbprint in red ink on each page of the confession. On Saturday, the KCNA also released a photograph of those pages, replete with the red thumbprints.

According to a Reuters report, the Korean Central News Agency claimed: 

Newman worked as an “adviser” to a partisan regiment during the Korean War as “part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Command of the U.S. Forces in the Far East.” … He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians.

The United States and North Korea have no diplomatic relations. According to The Times, “The State Department’s special envoy for North Korea, Glyn T. Davies, said in Tokyo last week that the United States was considering strengthening economic sanctions against Pyongyang, a threat that was partly in response to the situation involving Mr. Newman.”

The United States “has been dealing with Mr. Newman’s situation through the representative power in Pyongyang, Sweden. The Newman family sent medicines for his heart condition through the Swedes, but never received word whether Mr. Newman received them,” the Times reported.

It is unclear whether Mr. Newman will be released by the North Koreans, what conditions the country’s communist regime might demand to secure his release, or the timetable under which it might take place.