North Korea 'deports' American captive
US citizen Merril Newman, detained by North Korea for more than a month on charges that he committed "hostile acts" as a soldier in the Korean war, was freed from captivity and is on his way home.
As he stopped briefly in Beijing, Newman told reporters that he was happy to be returning home to Palo Alto, Calif., after being pulled from a plane leaving Pyongyang on Oct. 26 by North Korean forces.
"I'm very glad to be on my way home," Newman said. "I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) government has given to me to be on my way. I feel good. I feel good. I want to go home to see my wife."
North Korean state media said officials decided to release Newman because he apologized for his alleged war crimes, and because of his age and medical condition. It is not clear if Newman's confession was coerced.
A week ago, analysts told USA TODAY that they predicted Newman would soon be released, particularly after his confession. His age was likely to prove a key factor, as "North Korea always likes to cite humanitarian grounds for release," said Tong Kim, an international relations professor at Korea University.
The reasons for North Korea's detention of foreign visitors in recent years follows three main patterns: unauthorized missionary, journalist or military/intelligence activities, said John Delury, a North Korea expert at Seoul's Yonsei University.
"From a North Korean perspective, Newman did fit into the third category, but they recognized he's an old man," Delury said. North and South Korea "are societies where there is a respect one should show the elderly. The optics are bad for them, too, in holding on to an old man."
North Korea has detained at least six Americans since 2009. Korean-American Kenneth Bae, sentenced to labor camp for alleged missionary work and sedition, is the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea since the Korean War, but analysts warned that Pyongyang is treating Bae's case differently from Newman's.
Detained for more than a year, Bae, 44, has not enjoyed the same leniency shown to Newman, Delury said.
There is some indication that Mr. Newman's confession was a genuine expression of his regret at having fought in the Korean War. But even if it wasn't coerced, the NoKos should be taken to task for every American they feel like snatching.
Why don't we insist that before another crumb of food is delivered to their starving people, that all Americans in their custody be released? We're the ones with the whip hand in this case and we should use our considerable leverage to get our people out of that hellish country.