Merrill Newman saga (UPDATED)

UPDATE 9 (2013-12-9): Newman has issued a statement (Nelson Report):

Statement from Merrill Newman dated December 9, 2013

Over the past two days, I’ve been able to reunite with my wonderful family, rest, and try to recover from the difficult ordeal that began when I was prevented from leaving North Korea on October 26th. I can’t begin to tell you how good it is to be home, to be free, and to begin to resume my normal home life.

Let me repeat my thanks to the U.S. State Department for the amazing job they did in getting me out of North Korea and bringing me home safely. I want to thank Vice President Biden, who called me in Beijing to wish me well and even offered to give me a lift back to the United States on his plane. Thanks also to the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for their great work, especially their visit to me and their help in ensuring that I had the medicine I needed.

Let me also express deep appreciation to friends, family, members of the First Congregational Church, wonderful people of faith and from all walks of life, residents and staff of our home at Channing House, and Members of Congress for their prayers, vigils, hard work, and moral support on my behalf. I want to single out Evans Revere for his extraordinary help.

It wasn’t until I got home on Saturday that I realized what a story I had become in the press here. During my detention I had no access to any outside news, and wondered whether anyone was even aware of my situation. I am sorry I caused so many people so many heartaches back home.

Looking at the television and newspaper reports, I’ve seen a lot of speculation about why I was detained. I’ve given considerable thought to this and have come to the conclusion that I just didn’t understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner.

I’m a Korean War veteran and I’m very proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbor resentment about those partisans from the Mt Kuwol area and what other anti-Communist guerrillas did in North Korea before and during the war.

The shooting stopped sixty years ago, and the North Koreans have allowed other American veterans of the war to visit. Moreover, I did not hide my own military service from the tour company that organized my trip. Therefore, I did not think this history would be a problem. Indeed, in my application for a tourist visa, I specifically requested permission to visit the Mt. Kuwol area. That request was approved and was on the official itinerary when I arrived, although after I got to Pyongyang, I was told that the bridge had been washed out by a flood and it would not be possible to do so.

Before they told me this, I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mt. Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were. The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister. It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized. With the benefit of hindsight I should have been more sensitive to that.

I’ve also seen a lot of reports about the “confession” I made in North Korea. Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily. Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me “confess” to. To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the “confession” in a way that emphasized the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for me to say. I hope that came across to all who saw the video.

Getting the “confession” and my “apology” were important to the North Koreans. Although the North Koreans treated me well during my detention (they looked after my health and fed me well), I was constantly under guard in my hotel and my interrogator made it clear that if I did not cooperate I could be sentenced to jail for espionage for 15 years. In fact, the North Korean interrogator repeatedly made the following statement to me: “If you do not tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will not be able to return to your home country. If you do tell the full truth, in detail, and apologize fully, you will be able to return to your home country — someday.” Under these circumstances, I read the document with the language they insisted on because it seemed to be the only way I might get home.

In the coming days, as I recover my strength I plan to share more details about my experience in North Korea. I know there is a lot of interest in this and I’ll do my best to answer as many questions as I can. We also ask that you not forget that another American, Kenneth Bae is being held in the DPRK and we hope that he, too, will be allowed to rejoin his family. For now, let me finish by saying again how great it is to be back home, safe, and with my loved ones.

UPDATE 8 (2013-12-7): Newman back home. According to the Washington Post:

An elderly U.S. veteran of the Korean War arrived home Saturday after being released by North Korea, where he had traveled as a tourist and was held for six weeks as a prisoner.

“I’m delighted to be home,” Merrill Newman said at the San Francisco airport, where he was reunited with his wife and son, the Associated Press reported. “It’s been a great homecoming. I’m tired, but ready to be with my family.”

Vice President Biden, laying a wreath at a war memorial in Seoul, said he had spoken briefly with Newman by phone.

“There is a piece of good news. The DPRK today released someone they should never have had in the first place: Mr. Newman,” Biden said.

“I’m told we tried to get in contact with him [but] he’s on his way or in China right now. I offered him a ride home on Air Force Two, but as he pointed out, there’s a direct flight to San Francisco, his home. I don’t blame him. I’d be on that flight too. It’s a positive thing they’ve done.”

Biden said the United States would continue to demand the release of another American, Kenneth Bae, who has been held for more than a year. Including Newman, North Korea has detained at least seven Americans since 2009, six of whom have been released.

“At least there’s one ray of sunshine today. Mr. Newman will be reunited with his family,” he said.

UPDATE 7 (2013-12-7): KCNA reports that Mr. Newman has been deported.

U.S. Citizen Deported from DPRK

Pyongyang, December 7 (KCNA) — As already reported, a relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) detained and investigated U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who entered the DPRK under the guise of a tourist to confirm the whereabouts of the spies and terrorists who had been trained and dispatched by him, an intelligence officer, during the last Korean War.

According to the investigation, Newman entered the DPRK with a wrong understanding of it and perpetrated a hostile act against it.

Taking into consideration his admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding, apology made by him for it, his sincere repentance of it and his advanced age and health condition, the above-said institution deported him from the country from a humanitarian viewpoint.

UPDATE 6 (2013-12-1): Yonhap reports that Swedish diplomats have been allowed to meet with Mr. Newman.

News wire services such as AFP and CNN said a consul met Merrill Newman at a hotel in Pyongyang and delivered medication sent by his family.

The Scandinavian country’s mission in Pyongyang acts as the “protecting power” for Americans in North Korea, and its diplomats provide consular services.

The media outlets said Newman was in good health and reported he was being treated well by the North Koreans.

UPDATE 5 (2013-11-30): KCNA has published Mr. Newman’s “apology”:

Apology of U.S. Citizen for His Hostile Acts in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The following is an apology U.S. citizen Merrill Newman presented to a relevant institution after his detention in the DPRK:

I am Merrill Newman living in California, USA.

During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.

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.

I also gave 200 soldiers under my command in Mt. Kuwol the task to harass the rear base such as collecting information on the movement and the arm equipment in KPA, attacking and destruction on the communication system, the rice storage, railroad and munitions train by dispatching the several elements to Hwanghae Province Area.

According to my order they collected information of the KPA and attacked the communication system and killed 3 innocent operators, delayed the munitions supply using explosives obtained from attacking the mine and they attacked the KPA and harassing operations of the rear base 10 times in the Hwanghae Province Area.

They killed about 50 soldiers in the process of the operation. In the process of following tasks given by me I believe they would kill more innocent people.

As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.

Although 60 years have gone by, I came to DPRK on the excuse of the tour as a member of 33 Tour Group from U.S. on October 17, 2013.

Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war. Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendents because it was too hard for me to do myself.

If I had the opportunity to visit Kuwol Mt. I was going to pray for the souls of dead soldiers. If I saw surviving soldiers in Mt. Kuwol, I was going to connect them with the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association which I had already connected with, anti-Communist strategic plot organization.

All the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association escaped from the DPRK to South Korea. So I asked the guide to help me to look for their families and relatives living in DPRK and I gave the document written with their address and e-mail address to the guide in the Yanggakdo Hotel.

I also brought the e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK on this trip and criticizing DPRK.

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.

Please forgive me.

I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK Government and the Korean People again.

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.

Merrill Newman

Nov 9, 2013

Here is the video.

According to the New York Times:

In the apology, Mr. Newman said he was an adviser for the Kuwol Unit of the United Nations Korea Sixth Partisan Regiment, which served with the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.

A person familiar with Mr. Newman’s military record and his current situation in captivity in North Korea said that Mr. Newman served as an adviser in that unit in 1953 before the armistice. The unit operated behind the lines in North Korea, but Mr. Newman conducted his duties as an adviser on Chodo, an island off the west coast of what is now North Korea, the person said. In the beginning of the video, Mr. Newman mentioned Chodo as the place where he was stationed. The person speaking about Mr. Newman’s situation declined to be identified because of the delicacy of the case.

According to American military documents declassified in 1990, the United Nations partisan warfare mission organized in 1951 eventually mobilized about 23,000 guerrillas to fight against North Korea, overseen by about 200 American advisers.

Read more in Time.

UPDATE 4 (2013-11-30): KCNA publishes article acknowledging detention of Mr. Newman.

KCNA Report on Arrest of U.S. Citizen for Hostile Acts in DPRK

Pyongyang, November 30 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Saturday:

A relevant institution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea recently put in custody U.S. citizen Merrill Edward Newman who committed hostile acts against the DPRK after entering the country under the guise of a tourist.

After entering the DPRK as a member of tourists’ group in October he perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of tour.

He also committed such crime as trying to look for spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK in the area of Mt. Kuwol during the last Fatherland Liberation War as well as their families and descendants and connect them with the “Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association,” an anti-DPRK plot-breeding organization of south Korea.

According to the results of the investigation, he was active as adviser of “Kuwol Unit” of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Command of the U.S. Forces in the Far East since early in 1953. He is a criminal as he masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians.

The investigation clearly proved Newman’s hostile acts against the DPRK and they were backed by evidence. He admitted all his crimes and made an apology for them.

UPDATE 3 (2013-11-23): According to NK News,  Merill traveled with Juche Travel Services. According to the article:

The agency, which only learned that it was involved in Newman’s case on Thursday, said that it currently had no information as to why the 85 year old Korean War veteran had been removed from a flight leaving Pyongyang on October 26.

“Mr. Newman had in place all necessary and valid travel documents to take his tour. We have no information concerning what has occurred to result in the current situation,” Thompson said in a statement emailed to NK News.

“Mr. Newman travelled with one other gentleman to the DPRK on a private tour booked via Juche Travel Services between 17th and 26th October 2013.”

UPDATE 2 (2013-11-21): Everything we know about Merrill Newman (Washington Post):

Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old American who lives in California, has been detained in North Korea since Oct. 26, multiple news reports now confirm. Several hundred Americans are thought to visit North Korea every year as tourists, typically safely. Newman’s arrest is highly unusual and remains shrouded in mystery. Here is the publicly available information on Newman so far, taken from accounts in NKNews.org, the San Jose Mercury News, New York Times and Associated Press [link broken].

The nine facts listed here only deepen the mystery; there is a total absence of any hint of a reason why he would have been arrested.

1. Newman was visiting North Korea on a nine-day tourist visa, traveling with a friend from his retirement community named Bob Hamrdla and two tour guides. Such guides also function as government minders.

2. He was arrested while sitting on an airplane at Pyongyang’s international airport, waiting to depart the country. A single uniformed officer boarded the plane and walked Newman off.

3. Authorities have held him for more than three weeks, but North Korean state media have not mentioned the case.

4. A Korean War veteran, Newman with his wife lives in a Palo Alto retirement community called Channing House. He is Caucasian, which is significant given that North Korea has tended in the past to arrest only Westerners of Korean or other Asian descent. Korean War veterans sometimes travel to North Korea, usually without incident. A group went in July to repatriate the remains of an American who’d died there during the war. They say the trip went fine.

5. Newman does not appear to be overtly political or to have a known record of human rights activism or religious evangelizing, the two practices that have gotten Americans detained by North Korean authorities. He is a retired technology executive with a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He’d reportedly taken Korean-language lessons to prepare for the trip.

6. It’s not clear which travel agency he was traveling with. A growing number of Beijing-based agencies have been cropping up that take Americans into North Korea.

7. Newman’s son said his father had a “difficult” discussion with his government minders about the Korean War. While political statements are obviously frowned upon by North Korea, the country has been hosting thousands of Western tourists for years. Newman would be far from the first Western visitor to raise sensitive political issues with his minders.

8. His son says he has a heart condition and a bad back. North Korea expert David Straub told NKNews.org, “The basic fact of the matter is that this gentleman is 84-85 yrs old, an elderly man, presumably not a threat in any way to North Korea, so this is, even by North Korean standards, an extraordinary thing.”

9. The State Department issued a blanket warning Monday against all travel to North Korea, the first of this level of severity since Americans began traveling there in 1995. A State Department spokesperson emphasized that the official warning cites a “chronic” threat to Americans of arbitrary detention. Two other Americans have been arrested in recent years, both of Korean descent and accused of conducting illegal Christian missionary work.

UPDATE 1 (2013-11-20): The New York Times provides a name and some additional information:

The veteran, Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, Calif., was taken from an Air Koryo flight on which he was to leave the country on Oct. 26, his son, Jeff Newman, the chief financial officer of a real estate company, said in a telephone interview from California.

“He was on a nine-day tour with a friend and two tour guides. He went through the normal visa process,” the younger Mr. Newman said. “Everything was going very well. They day before they were due to leave he had a meeting with his tour guide and without his companion.”

At that meeting, where at least one other North Korean aside from the tour guide was present, the Korean War was discussed, his son said. “That was the only hiccup,” he said. Mr. Newman’s traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, who is not a Korean War veteran and lives in the same retirement village as Mr. Newman, assumed there must have been some misunderstanding from that meeting, Jeff Newman said.

 There has been no word of the whereabouts of Mr. Newman, who has a heart condition and a bad back, since he was escorted from the plane, his son said.

“All we would like is for whatever misunderstanding to be put aside and, on a humanitarian basis, he be able to leave the country and come home and be with his two grandchildren,” Mr. Newman said in the interview.

Mr. Newman’s detention has not been reported in the North Korean state-run news media.

In reaction to Mr. Newman’s detention, the State Department further tightened the United States travel warning to North Korea, making it clear that travel to North Korea was highly dangerous for American citizens who were likely left vulnerable to arbitrary arrest.

The updated warning, released on Tuesday, noted that “U.S. citizens crossing into North Korea, even accidentally, have been subject to arbitrary arrest and long-term detention.”

Mr. Newman, a retired technology executive, served as an infantry officer during the Korean War, and later earned a master’s degree in education from Stanford. He lives at Channing House, a retirement community, with his wife, his son added.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-11-20): Reuters reports that the DPRK may have detained another American tourist. According to the article:

North Korea may have detained an elderly U.S. man last month who entered the country on a tourist visa, Kyodo News Service said on Wednesday, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.

Kyodo, in a report from Beijing, said the possible detention could become another diplomatic bargaining chip for North Korea, which has held Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American Christian missionary, since November 2012. Bae has been sentenced by the Pyongyang regime to 15 years of hard labour.

The U.S. State Department echoed U.S. embassy officials in Beijing and Seoul who said they were aware of the reports but could not confirm them.

North Korea claims the man, who apparently is not of Korean descent, has broken the law, according to Kyodo. The man entered North Korea for sightseeing last month with a valid visa, Kyodo quoted the diplomatic source as saying.

Nolan Barkhouse, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Beijing, said: “We are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen was detained in North Korea, but we have no additional information to share at this time.”

I have been archiving information on Kenneth Bae here.

Share

Comments are closed.


An affiliate of 38 North