EDITORIAL: Trump dishonors Otto Warmbier’s memory

Labeling Kim Jong Un as blameless in the torture and killing of the former U.Va. student, Trump abdicates the responsibilities of his office


After meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week, Trump felt the need to elaborate on his alleged remorse for Otto’s death, contending that Kim “felt badly about it.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

After meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last week, President Donald Trump stated that he has decided to take Kim “at his word” when he claimed to not know about the regime’s premeditated torture and killing of Otto Warmbier. Trump felt the need to elaborate on Kim’s alleged remorse for Otto’s death, contending that Kim “felt badly about it.” Clearly an  unforgivable excuse for the indisputable murder of a 22-year-old American student, Kim must be held accountable for his clear knowledge of the incident at the time of its occurrence. The fact that our president has decided to believe a dictator rather than honor Warmbier's memory is deeply disrespectful and reasonably calls into question Trump's judgment. 

Otto Warmbier, a former student at the University, died in June 2017 one week following his release from imprisonment by the North Korean regime. After enduring seventeen months of imprisonment, Warmbier was returned to his family in a comatose state having suffered severe brain damage during his time in North Korea. Warmbier had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, all because he allegedly stole a propaganda poster. 

Warmbier’s parents filed a federal lawsuit against North Korea for the “hostage taking, illegal detention, torture and killing” of their child last April. Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, sided with the Warmbiers and awarded them $501 million in damages. Trump honored Warmbier’s memory at the State of the Union address in January 2018, where he announced the attendance of his parents and siblings and commended their courage in the aftermath of the tragedy. Considering Trump’s recent statements about Warmbier, however, it is now clear that Trump was merely using the Warmbiers — and Otto’s memory — as a political prop for his own personal gain.

The Warmbiers released a public statement on Friday rebuking his defense of the North Korean leader. “Kim and his evil regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity,” they said. “No excuses or lavish praise can change that.” 

Even Trump’s own staff are incapable of defending his behavior. When asked about his statement, the President’s National Security Advisor John Bolton struggled to rationalize his boss’ unacceptable defense of Kim. 

“It’s not taking the word,” Bolton said. “[President Trump] said, ‘I’m going to take—’ when he says, ‘I’m going to take him at his word,’ it doesn’t mean that he accepted as reality; it means that he accepts that’s what Kim Jong Un said.” 

Even after designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in November 2017 and originally having a combative relationship with Kim, Trump has suddenly given him the benefit of the doubt. North Korea is a police state that imprisons its own people in torturous labor camps, indoctrinates the masses with propaganda and has a history of imprisoning Americans. Even if Trump were to continue to condemn North Korea, no statement made by our President can undo the atrocities committed by Kim’s regime. However, by refusing to hold Kim accountable for this terrible murder, Trump is abdicating the responsibility of his office and disrespecting the memory of one of our peers.

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the Executive Editor, the Editor-in-Chief, the two Opinion Editors and their Senior Associate. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.

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