North Korea Detains 85-Year-Old American Korean War Vet

Man has been in custody for almost a month

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Stephen Lam / Reuters

: An exterior view of Channing House, a retirement community where 85-year-old Merrill Newman, a U.S. citizen, was said to be living in prior to being reportedly detained by North Korean authorities after a recent trip in North Korea in Palo Alto, California November 20, 2013

The North Korean government has been holding an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from the U.S. in custody for almost a month, according to his family.

Merrill Newman had been visiting the country as a tourist and was buckled into his seat on a plane bound for Beijing on Oct. 26 when two uniformed men boarded the plane and escorted him off the flight.

According to Newman’s son, authorities took his father into custody a day after he had spoken with North Korean officials about his time spent serving in the infantry during the war on the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s.

“There has to be a terrible misunderstanding. I hope that the North Koreans will see this as a humanitarian matter and allow him to return to his family as soon as possible,” said Newman’s travel partner Bob Hamrdla in a press released published on Wednesday.

The North Koreans have yet to comment publicly on the case, leaving experts to speculate on why the aging retiree was arrested in the first place.

According to statistics compiled by the Los Angeles Times, Newman is the seventh American to be detained by the North Koreans since 2009, “but previous cases have involved Christian missionaries or people who illegally entered the country”.

[Reuters]

23 comments
JamesOberg
JamesOberg

I was there for ten days last year with a press delegation to observe their satellite rocket [story at www.jamesoberg.com]. Hotel rooms are bugged and monitored, and lots of things -- even giving food to people, or 'abusing' images of the rulers -- is punishable. I hope he is safe and will soon be home with a story of his experiences. 

wii_wonder
wii_wonder

To those naive Americans. If North Korean people wants to leave their country or even try to escape, what makes it a desirable place to visit? I can understand Cuban going back to Cuba, because it is opening up its border and a lot U.S. Citizens have relatives their. But North Korea? In all honesty I cannot sympathized to this Merrill guy. Good riddance.

wii_wonder
wii_wonder

A lot of our fellow Americans think we live in a free society and that extend outside our border. Wrong!!!!

wii_wonder
wii_wonder

Why do we have idiots in our society who thinks our enemy is a curiosity? The three dummies captured by Iran a couple of years ago. Now, this.

mikedee60477
mikedee60477

Why was he there. Talking about how he invaded another country that technically is still at war is just plain stupid and is very typical of naive Americans. Get real people. The world hates us, the USA. We have bullied everyone since WWII. 12 years of war has not made us friends. You can't buy friends and the Bush refrain that we will fight them there so we don't have to fight them here has never worked and will never work. Close the borders. 3rd world people should stay in 3rd world countries. Keep watch for the invasion and respond with overwhelming power. The Russians still have power because they are feared.

leon1376
leon1376

I follow DPRK events very closely and this is the first I've heard of this. Sounds to me like we're only getting part of the story here. The DPRK invariably handles tourists with the proverbial kid gloves. Marshal Kim Jong Un is making a real effort to attract tourists with their hard cash and the last thing he needs are stories like this in the western media. If you are disrespectful of the regime you will probably have a little "come to President Kim Il Sung" talk where you will be told just what you did wrong and then they will drive you to the airport and put you in the first plane out. But this one's a mystery, especially considering the guy's age. The last thing authorities want to happen is have this fellow fall off his perch. I can't come up with any reason why he'd be detained. The only people to whom the DPRK refuses entry are journalists. Everyone else is free to visit. They don't care about old US soldiers any more than Vietnam does. If I had to take a wild guess, I'd say the old guy expressed a wish to visit some of the old battlefields and pay his respects to fallen friends. Maybe he offered to assist the DPRK with an American perspective on the fighting. It's a very common practice for old warriors to meet up with former enemies and have a drink and swap stories. Happens all the time. I cannot imagine anyone in the DPRK harming a hair on this old geezer's head. If he did spout off with anti-regime nonsense, they'd chalk it up to dementia and kick him out. They sure as heck wouldn't slap him in jail. That makes no sense. 


MiloBendech
MiloBendech

Anyone who travels to North Korea voluntarily takes his chances.  They execute people in North Korea for owning Bibles and watching South Korean movies.

Do you think they are going to take kindly to a US vet who fought against the North Koreans?  Especially since the Korean war was never officially declared over?

And why did he reveal that he had fought in the Korean war.    They don't stamp that on your passport and the North Korean government would have no way of determining that he had fought in the Korean war...unless he revealed that information to them

Sounds to me like the guy was looking to create an incident...and he has.

SmithWesson460V
SmithWesson460V

I understand why Mr. Newman wanted to go- to heal. But it was not a good judgement on his part. I suspect he knew he may be detained  or even killed, and at his advanced age, chose to be a Marine ever still and push forward even if they take his life.

In other words he had nothing to lose in his mind, and plenty to gain. If these butchers harm him, there can be no excuse for retaliation in some way.  To torture and hurt an old man is to be cruelty beyond belief. But then- he knew where he was going and there is no peace. I don't even know how he got a Visa except that he probably went to China first and applied for one there. Let us see the facts and the outcome.

lk714
lk714

What was this guy thinking?  Or, more likely, he clearly wasn't thinking.  We never signed a peace treaty with N. Korea- only a cease fire aka "armistice".  Any Korean War vet knows that fact, so why in the world would he go and advertise to N. Korean soldiers that he used to be an infantryman who fought against their country?

AlphaJuliette
AlphaJuliette

Why did the North detain Mr. Newman?  Because they are simply paranoid idiots who think this makes a statement to the world.

Well, it does.  It confirms their idiocy.

ViableOp
ViableOp

In order to solidify his son's ascension to the "throne" and continue the family rule, it would appear that Kim Jong-il dramatically increased the size of some of the DPRK's prison/work camps, allowing him to throw any threats against him into prison as shown here:

http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2013/04/working-in-north-korea.html

It is estimated that over 200,000 North Koreans now reside under the brutal conditions experienced in these camps.

DavidKing
DavidKing

@wii_wonder I do not think you read or listened to the story. Merrill Newman is not a North Korean defector returning to his home country. He is a United States veteran who had a tour of duty in Korea during the Korean War who, as Veterans tend to do as they age, revisited the country he fought in as a youth. It is very fitting that you chose the turmoils of visiting Cuba to contrast that of N Korea as they have near identical political structures and pose the same risk to non-native visitors. It is a bad habit to form an opinion of an article based on a title and distasteful to post your indifference to this family's plight. Apathy is a symptom of an unhappy life so I do not think your disdain for others is likely to change but you should work on impulse control. Evaluating a subject before voicing your opinion is crucial to avoid the appearance of an ignorant fool.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@leon1376 maybe the old man looked at his new girlfriend. If i where her I run to the othe rside  real soon.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@MichaelM why would you want to go there? if you wanted to know about korea try south korea. you put your wife and family in harms way.

leon1376
leon1376

@MiloBendech One more time. The DPRK does not execute people for owning a Bible or for watching south Korean movies. By the government's own count there are 40,000 Christians in the country and they all own Bibles. That's the official government figure. The actual figure is probably 3 or 4 times that. The government rebuilt Changchung Cathedral that the US had bombed flat during the war. The government built two Protestant churches - Bongsu and Chilgol - in Pyongyang. You can say they were built for propaganda purposes and you would be right. But all the same, there they are: two Protestant churches, with Bibles and clergy who are employees of the state. Do you want to know the real reason why that is? Japan is maybe 1% Christian, if that. China is maybe 2%. South Korea is 37% Christian. Before WW2, north Korea was about 37% Christian. That's a lot. In north Korea, Christianity lurks just below the surface. The state is aware of this and knows there's not much that can be done without angering the south beyond a certain point.. South Korea has some extraordinarily militant Christians. Here's the real issue. In north Korea it is treason to speak against the state, whether you're a Christian or not. The issue is not being a Christian: the problem is being a Christian and speaking against the state. Just like in the US, the DPRK has "separation of church and state". As far as south Korean movies go, everybody in the DPRK watches them. Everybody. They get smuggled in from China and copied to DVDs and USB drives. Everybody trades them back and forth. Woman watch south Korea movies mostly to copy women's fashions. There's a huge cottage industry in the DPRK sewing up copies of dresses and so forth. The north Koreans are extremely good at this sort of thing. 

ZeeFlynn
ZeeFlynn

@MiloBendech Looking forward to whatever befalls you in this life Milo so everyone can gloat, like the typically not very compassionate-or bright-Americans, how it was all your fault and you got what you deserved.  Perhaps then you will learn the basic requirement to have a good, decent life: humanity.  But I think that seems about as unlikely as North Korean leaders garnering the same: you seem to share their intolerance and justification for doing less than kind actions.  Now go back to cursing at other drivers in traffic and laughing at homeless people.   

MiloBendech
MiloBendech

@SmithWesson460V :  Anyone who voluntarily travels to a danger zone like North Korea gets what he deserves.

He reminds me of those Americans who were hiking along the Iraq/Iran border and were arrested by the Iranians.
If you want to go sightseeing....use good judgement.  DON'T travel to dangerous countries.

MiloBendech
MiloBendech

@AlphaJuliette   And knowing that, anyone who travels to the North for pleasure is equally without brains.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@ViableOp The per capita incarceration rate for North Korea is still not entirely known, but is estimated to be on par with the U.S. - which has the highest confirmed per capita incarceration rate in the world.

A very large minority of our imprisoned are there for non-violent drug offenses like possession, distribution, etc.  (About 20-25%)  3000 in the United States have been sentenced to life without parole for non-violent crimes.

So, what's your point?  That North Korea is somehow worse than the U.S. when it comes to the number of people that they imprison?  The phrases "glass houses" and "casting stones" and the prudence in combining the two comes to mind.

Of course, we don't execute people for making porn films.  But a large minority of OUR citizens would be fine with it, too because they lump in adult porn with children and child porn.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@DavidKing @wii_wonder I am a vietnam vet with no desire to go back, but at least In Vietnam they do not take out a vendetta on an old vet. what happen he screw some generals wife while he was there during the war.