Yellow Ribbon Project

D.C. Judge Hits North Korea with $501 Million Award to Parents of Tortured U.S. Hostage

Fred Warmbier listens as his wife Cindy Warmbier speaks of their son Otto Warmbier during a meeting Thursday, May 3, 2018, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

WASHINGTON — A D.C. District Court judge slammed dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime with a $501 million bill today to the family of tortured and murdered American hostage Otto Warmbier.

The family of the 22-year-old University of Virginia student held hostage by North Korea and returned to the United States just days before he passed away filed a wrongful death lawsuit in April against North Korea.

Warmbier, who visited the communist regime as part of a tour group, was seized by North Korean officials on Jan. 2, 2016, before his flight was supposed to take off from Pyongyang. He was paraded before cameras the next month for a tearful “confession,” admitting he took down a propaganda banner that was hanging in the hall of his hotel. “I made the worst mistake of my life,” he said.

North Korea claimed the student took the poster as a “hostile act” to disturb DPRK unity at the behest of the CIA, a college group and a church in his home state of Ohio. He was sentenced in March 2016 to 15 years of hard labor and reportedly fell into a coma shortly after his sentence began.

The 46-page ruling handed down today by Judge Beryl Howell noted that Warmbier was “blind, deaf, and brain dead” when returned by North Korea.

“North Korea is the world’s ‘leading’ and ‘best qualified candidate for indictment’ at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity,” Howell wrote. “An American family, the Warmbiers, experienced North Korea’s brutality first-hand when North Korea seized their son to use as a pawn in that totalitarian state’s global shenanigans and face-off with the United States. As Otto’s mother said, ‘there’s evil in this world [and] it’s North Korea.'”

North Korea “never entered an appearance in, or defended against, this action,” so a default judgment was granted and Warmbier’s parents were awarded $501,134,683.80 in damages.

The judge noted that having been told Otto was in a coma, Cindy Warmbier “pictured him asleep and thought he would be able to recover with medical care.” Instead, when he landed in Ohio on June 13, 2017, after being released by North Korea, the family climbed the steps of the plane and immediately heard “loud inhuman sounds,” and his condition was “horrible and unrecognizable” as Otto was “jerking violently” and “howling.”

“He wore a diaper and had a ‘feeding tube’ and a ‘shaved head,’ ‘his arms . . . curled and mangled,’ ‘his eyes . . .bulging out,’ and it ‘almost appeared that he had chewed a hole through his bottom lip.’ His once ‘perfectly straight’ teeth were misaligned,'” the court document continued, adding that his sister Greta “ran off the plane screaming.” Otto Warmbier also had a large scar on his left foot that wasn’t there before, attributed to electric shock torture.

The neurologist concluded that Otto’s brain damage most likely resulted from the loss of blood flow to the brain for five to 20 minutes. He was put in palliative care where the family ultimately decided to cease feeding and breathing assistance. He “died quickly” on June 19.

Howell found “ample evidence… that North Korea detained Otto and persisted in detaining him for political leverage with the United States.”

“Quite transparently, North Korea made the political leverage purpose of Otto’s detention clear when a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry stated after Otto’s death, ‘Warmbier is a victim of policy of strategic patience of Obama who was engrossed in utmost hostility and negation against the DPRK and refused to have dialogue with the DPRK,'” the judge added. “…Another pernicious purpose of North Korea’s hostage taking must be highlighted. North Korea, as a totalitarian state, exercises tight control on its own media and citizenry, and by seizing an American hostage, seeks to extend this control outside its borders by muting criticism of its actions in the United States and the international community through the explicit and implicit threat to the safety and well-being of the hostage.”

“As Otto’s case illustrates, fear that public criticism of North Korea will result in reprisal against the hostage worked as North Korea intended to keep the Warmbiers and their family and friends silent about Otto’s detention.”

The judgment includes more than $6 million in estimated lost wages over Warmbier’s life, more than $96,o00 in medical expenses, $15 million for pain and suffering, $15 million each to Fred and Cindy Warmbier for “first-hand observations and acute memories of [their] child’s death,” and $450 million in punitive damages.

“North Korea is liable for the torture, hostage taking, and extrajudicial killing of Otto Warmbier, and the injuries to his mother and father, Fred and Cindy Warmbier,” Howell concluded.