The Story You've Heard About Otto Warmbier May Be Wrong

Doug Bock Clark writes that his timeline suggests there was no torture
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2018 2:16 PM CDT
Updated Jul 28, 2018 3:30 PM CDT
One Detail May Sink a Theory on Otto Warmbier
In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea.   (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

Doug Bock Clark begins a lengthy piece for GQ on the fate of Otto Warmbier with a bold assertion: That what happened to the 21-year-old American college student "is even more shocking than anyone knew" and that he had the "untold story." So does he? The piece, the result of six months of reporting, is indeed incredibly detailed and filled with one major previously unreported nugget. He gives a timeline of the intense efforts made to free Warmbier, from meetings with the "New York Channel" (North Korea's reps at United Nations headquarters) to a proposal to have then-president-elect Trump pick Warmbier up in his plane. After learning in June 2017 Warmbier was unconscious, North Korea was "unilaterally informed" that a US plane would arrive to collect him.

"Intense negotiations" followed on the ground, and Michael Flueckiger, the medical director for Phoenix Air, whose Gulfstream G-III jet was being used in the mission, was finally allowed to see Warmbier. He knew immediately that "the Otto of old was already gone," though he noted the hospital care had been of quality (Warmbier had no bedsores, for instance, which is difficult in the case of a comatose patient). Flueckiger tells Clark that the hospital staff told him Warmbier had been admitted unresponsive the morning after he was sentenced to 15 years, a timeline detail that hadn't been made public. But only two weeks prior, Warmbier appeared on TV and seemed healthy. The narrow window between the two suggests to Clark that the theory that Warmbier was continually beaten doesn't hold up, and he provides other evidence in support of that. So what happened? Clark presents one theory: that it was a suicide attempt gone wrong. Read his full piece here. (More Longform stories.)

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