US student case reminder of prison conditions in Nth Korea

Henrietta Brewer
June 28, 2017

An American college student who was recently released from North Korea has suffered severe brain damage, his doctors said Thursday, adding to growing calls in the United States for a travel ban to the reclusive nation amid souring public sentiment and safety concerns.

They say his brain shows significant tissue damage, but a cause for his disease is unknown.

The 22-year-old has not spoken or "engaged in any purposeful movements" since arriving in the country Tuesday night, said Dr. Daniel Kanter, professor of neurology and director of the Neurocritical Care Program.

Fred Warmbier, describing his son's return as "bittersweet", wore the same cream-color jacket that Otto wore when making his confession - a statement that he called "an fantastic performance".

In Cincinnati, doctors said they performed a battery of tests on Warmbier, ranging from ordinary X-rays to more advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans as well as skeletal surveys of the skull, ribs, pelvis and other areas to look for broken bones.

At an earlier news conference Thursday, Fred Warmbier, Otto's father, said he does not believe what North Korea said was the cause of their son's condition.

Fred Warmbier said he and his wife, Cindy Warmbier, worked tirelessly for the release of their son, who he said was detained at an airport in Pyongyang in January 2016.

His father, Fred Warmbier, told Fox News that his son was "terrorized and brutalized" and has been in a coma for more than a year.

When asked whether then-President Barack Obama could have done more, Warmbier replied, "I think the results speak for themselves".

Last March, North Korea's Supreme Court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years in prison with hard labor for stealing a political banner from a staff-only section of a Pyongyang hotel where he was staying.

This type of brain injury is usually seen as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest, meaning heart or lung malfunctions may have prevented oxygen from reaching the brain through a person's blood supply, causing brain tissue to die, he explained. He says efforts to get Warmbier home never ceased.

As he is known to be in charge of nuclear issues, though the aim of his visit was for securing the release of American detainees in North Korea, there are speculations that the USA and North Korea could have met to test the waters for further discussions.

He praised Otto's "adventurous side" and said it was "tough to process" how his son was treated by the North Korean regime.

Tourist Danny Gratton met Warmbier in Beijing in late December 2015 on the day they traveled to North Korea for a guided tour of the secretive dictatorship. "They have our thanks for bringing Otto home".

Instead, he spent 17 months there in detention where his family believes he was tortured into a coma. He said there was no reason for North Korea to keep his son's condition a secret and deny him top medical care.

This is the Otto I know and love.

"It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost - future time that won't be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds", his family said. He held back his emotions when his son was returned to him on Thursday after being released from North Korean imprisonment on humanitarian grounds. The U.S. government accuses North Korea of using such detainees as political pawns.

The legs of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student who was imprisoned in North Korea. He had signed up for a trip to North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours travel group.

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