From The Wall Street Journal:
Otto Frederick Warmbier allegedly committed a ‘hostile act’
By Alastair Gale | Updated Jan. 22, 2016 4:59 a.m. ET
North Korea said Friday it was holding a U.S. student for committing an unspecified “hostile act,” the latest in a series of detained American tourists and missionaries that Pyongyang has at times used to try to win diplomatic leverage with Washington.
Otto Frederick Warmbier, an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, was accused of being manipulated by the U.S. government, according to a brief report from the Korean Central News Agency. The report provided no details of Mr. Warmbier’s actions other than to allege that he entered the country “for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity.”
Mr. Warmbier was detained in Pyongyang on Jan. 2, according to Troy Collins of Young Pioneer Tours, the tour company that took him to North Korea. Mr. Collins declined to provide further details but said Mr. Warmbier’s family had been informed of his detention. . . .
Mr. Warmbier’s detention comes as the U.S. seeks new sanctions at the United Nations on North Korea following its latest nuclear test on Jan. 6. Pyongyang has called its bomb test a necessary measure for self-defense and repeated its desire for the U.S. to offer a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War.
The U.S. says North Korea should first abide by its previous commitments to denuclearize.
Pyongyang has in the past used detainees to try to initiate diplomatic exchanges with Washington. In 2014, North Korea called for a high-level U.S. delegation to come and discuss the release of two Americans then under detention.
There’s more at the original.
At some point, the State department has to say to Americans, if you choose to travel to Iran or Syria or Iraq or North Korea, you are on your own. President Obama recently secured he release of four Americans being held in Iran by trading Iranians held in the United States on legitimate criminal charges. The Journal article details another incident, in which Americans detained in North Korea were fetched out after diplomatic wrangling. Even President Reagan’s misguided attempts to trade arms for hostages in the 1980s resulted in simply other hostages being seized. The United States needs to make it clear that to Americans traveling to these countries that the government will not allow kidnapper countries to hold American policy hostage by grabbing Americans, and the only way to do that is to state, clearly and unambiguously that if an American chooses to risk travel to those countries, it is at his own risk, and nobody else’s.
Further, we need to point out that Americans who do travel to pirate countries and get themselves seized, under whatever pretexts, are placing other American travelers in jeopardy if the United States does expend efforts to try to secure their releases, by increasing the value of other hostages; that was the result of President Reagan’s policies, and Iran has just demonstrated that the rules haven’t changed.
The article noted that “the State Department strongly recommends all U.S. citizens avoid travel to North Korea,” and that’s true enough, but it isn’t firm enough. The State Department needs to make it known that traveling to North Korea is not only placing yourself in danger, but is separating yourself from all diplomatic help. That’s cold and that’s harsh, but it is what needs to be done.
I have sympathy for Mr Warmbier and his plight, but his plight should not give North Korea some advantage; he should be on his own.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.