North Korea: Detained U.S. Veteran Confesses to War Crimes

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 30 2013 11:36 AM

North Korea: Detained U.S. Veteran Confesses to War Crimes

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Screengrab of video released by North Korea's state-run news agency showing Merrill Newman reading from a letter he had purportedly written as a confession


North Korea is accusing a detained U.S. veteran of having killed civilians during the Korean War six decades ago and of spying during his recent trip to the country. Pyongyang did not say whether it would release 85-year-old Merrill Newman, who was pulled off a plane more than a month ago as he was getting ready to leave the country after a tourist trip with a friend. After weeks of silence on the detention, lots of information was suddenly released Saturday by the state-run news agency, including a letter allegedly written by Newman, as well as a video.

Although it’s impossible to verify the authenticity of the letter, previous North Korea detainees have said they were coerced into writing apologetic letters that praise Pyongyang. “Newman’s letter, filled with grammatical errors and perplexing run-on sentences, appeared to be written by a nonnative English speaker,” points out the Washington Post. In the letter he not only apologizes for supposed crimes during the Korean War, but also for “hostile acts” during his trip to the isolated nation last month.  

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Some highlights from Newman’s letter:

… As I gave 300 people with barbarity gone to the South who had ill feelings toward the DPRK from Chodo military education and guerilla training they later did attack against the DPRK although the armistice was signed.
Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again.
I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me.
On this trip I can understand that in US and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK.
If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.

The reference of his return to the United States “could be interpreted as a sign that the North Koreans were considering sending Mr. Newman home,” notes the New York Times.

Still, in a separate story, KCNA says that Newman “perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK” during his recent trip, adding that he “committed such crime as trying to look for spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK.” (DPRK is short for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)

Although it is certainly unusual to go to North Korea for tourism, groups of US veterans have previously traveled to the country without much trouble. Earlier this month the State department issued a travel warning recommending U.S. citizens against traveling to North Korea

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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