A 21st Century North Korea POW

Why an 85-year-old American veteran has been held by Pyongyang for more than a month

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KCNA via YouTube

Merrill Newman, 85, "confesses" in a North Korea video

The North Korean government released a video over the weekend of an 85-year-old U.S. veteran of the Korean War, purportedly confessing to “hostile acts” committed prior to the July 27, 1953, armistice suspending active combat “until a final peaceful settlement is achieved.”

So here we are, 60 years later. The war — at least as far as North Korea is concerned — continues. And Merrill Newman finds himself the world’s unluckiest prisoner of war.

His incarceration comes following a lengthy career as a financial executive and a comfortable retirement in Palo Alto, Calif. The “confession” that he read was littered with strange English syntax, suggesting it wasn’t something that someone with a master’s degree from Stanford would have written.

Newman seems unflustered in the patchy video, during which the official North Korean news agency said he had confessed to being “guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] government and Korean people.” Newman bowed after reading the statement, dated Nov. 9. He affixed his fingerprint to each of its four handwritten pages.

In a report from Seoul on Sunday, Reuters detailed Newman’s alleged 1953 role in the U.S. Army’s secret 8240th Unit. He reportedly operated from an island off North Korea’s west coast, directing anticommunist forces in hit-and-run attacks deep behind enemy lines.

He knew he was running a risk during his 10-day visit to North Korea last month, according to American associates. His luck ran out on Oct. 26, just before he was to fly out of the country. The U.S. has urged North Korea to free Newman in light of his age; Sweden’s ambassador to North Korea visited him on Saturday at Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo hotel, and told his family that he is in generally good health.

So what is Pyongyang’s point? Plainly, the war is the fulcrum upon which the Kim dynasty has built its state. It was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1948, and his son Kim Jong Il succeeded him following the father’s death in 1994. When Kim Jong Il died in 2011, his son Kim Jong Un took over, and remains in charge, as far as outsiders can tell. In a nation where the state controls all that its citizens can see and hear — and where the government widely broadcasts its propaganda to its subjects — it’s a safe bet Newman’s apparently forced confession will be spread far and wide across the nation.

Something like that could never happen in the West, where a cacophony of competing voices fills the media landscape. After all, given the recent 60 Minutes fiasco involving Lara Logan’s interview of Dylan Davies — a fake eyewitness to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a year ago — no one could still believe there is a massive U.S. cover-up into the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three fellow Americans.

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KCNA via Reuters

Newman’s handwritten “confession.”

22 comments
Pyrrho
Pyrrho

Good heavens. I sure hope we're not planning our next foreign policy decision based on one 85 year old man.

4804 Americans and Coalition forces died in Iraq and 3397 in Afghanistan died for foreign policy so pick a country and compare.

I hope we're not signaling North Korea with talks based on one man. Good grief - why is this a news article!

MalcolmG
MalcolmG

You don't want to start a president for every tin plated dictator out there. You don't want to say it's OK to hold Americans hostage. The United States should make every effort to get this guy back and if that requires a military threat then we should do it. Because of weak American leadership the North Koreans believe they can get away with anything they want to do. Its time to reverse this trend. 

MichaelG
MichaelG

Merrill Newman knew the risks and acted on is own free will why visit North Korea at all the world's most oppressive, closed, and vicious dictatorships? The North Korean government never signed formal peace treaty unfortunately. Newman’s apparently forced confession sealed his fate and I see no litigation here to land any position to win his freedom in this matter and taking advantage mistaking it for his foolishness is not going to work either,because time has no relevance for hostile acts in war. What is the basic understanding United State has to resolve the problem?

JanetLeClainche
JanetLeClainche

North Korea (I won't use the official name) is an Alice-through-the-Looking-Glass country, where time is frozen in 1953 or so. I have never understood certain Americans' wish to visit there.  It so often ends badly with them being the aggressors/spies/traitors against the freedom-loving North Koreans.  I'm sorry that 85-year old Newman has crossed into Wonderland (he needs Rodman-the Mad Hatter as a guide) and now is not allowed to cross back.  He may be joining POWs that have languished there since the cease-fire. But I often wonder why people seek out such potentially dangerous travels?  Is it worth the risk?  I think not.

paulejb
paulejb

Why is an 85 year old veteran in North Korea? If he wanted to be abused he could have signed into Healthcare.gov right here in the USA.

Mrkamikaze
Mrkamikaze

Call me callous but i have little sympathy for someone that travels to a country that is openly hostile to the United States especially as a veteran of a yet unfinished war with said country this man received some incredibly bad advice.

Changes_Long
Changes_Long

We visited North Korea last year and even by their bizarre standards this is hostage holding is truly bizarre. The DPRK government is living so much in the past and treats the Korean War like it happened yesterday. They use propaganda about the war to scare their citizens, who when we met them one on one were friendly and curious about America. Here are our rare photos from inside North Korea: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/category/destinations/asia-destinations/north-korea-travel/

destor23
destor23

I guess that in the west nothing would go down exactly like this in that there would be some dissenting or skeptical media.  But the U.S. continues to hold prisoners of the war on terror.  While I draw no moral equivalence here, to say that something like this could never happen in the west seems naive.

Bullsgt
Bullsgt

What concessions is NK asking for his release and who vacations in NK? And why haven't we drop a huge rock on them yet?

Mackinlay
Mackinlay

Since the Government of North Korea has stated that this man was a prisoner of war, surely the US Government should award him the Prisoner of War Medal.  They do not need a special Act of Congress to put it through, it has been awarded to civilians since the end of the 1939-45 War!. Yours, Mackinlay

jmac
jmac

"Something like this could never happen in the West . . . "

I'm assuming that's tongue in cheek.   Certainly the propaganda out of the White House on the invasion of Iraq worked very well.   When the NY Times prints the real story on page ten and the Libby Lies on page one; when no one is held accountable after the fact; we definitely presented ourselves to the world's stage as no better than North Korea.    Cheney and Wolfowitz are still out talking the talk.   Yes, Logan got the boot and Judith Miller got the boot - but we can always look forward to seeing them  on Fox News.    

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

"Something like that could never happen in the West, where a cacophony of competing voices fills the media landscape. "

No way.  Dan Rather, an iconic US journalist: "Look I'm an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I'm some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of 'win' might be. Now, I can't and don't argue that that is coverage without prejudice. About that I am prejudiced." So Dan brought us through the criminal war against Vietnam and the Nixon presidency.  -- from Norman Solomon's "War Made Easy"  -- How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Solomon's book is full of evidence that, generally speaking, the only journalist that differs significantly from the government line in time of war -- which is all the time theses days --  is an ex-journalist. The New York Times and the Washington Post are prime examples of promoting the government line particularly concerning war.

Regarding Benghazi, of course there is a coverup. Why was Ambassador Stevens in far-off Benghazi while the new Libya leadership was getting into office in Tripoli? Stevens was coordinating, via Turkey, the shipment of arms to anti-government forces in Syria. The two-dozen CIA operatives in the Benghazi compound and the annex were under State cover, so Clinton took the fall for a CIA screw-up that (unwisely on his part) involved the ambassador and caused his death. A massive US coverup, which isn't unusual.

Denesius
Denesius

Every time I hear the official name of NK, I laugh- "democratic" & "people's".  And into this madness steps an 85-year-old veteran, in order to.... what, exactly? I agree @jmac - what was the point?

jmac
jmac

"So what is Pyongyang’s point?"    What was Newman's point?   Why did he get in a fight with his guide over the war?  It's one thing to go back and visit - it's another thing to lecture or push the host  country with American hubris.   

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

Yes. OweBama (D) has sicc'ed the IRS on you. Have a day.

paulejb
paulejb

@destor23 

Hope you have your tickets to the People's Republic, Destor. You can hobnob with Dennis Rodman.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Bullsgt 

Because you don't solve diplomatic incidents by embarrassing them with your superior technology

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

DUH

Billy B*MBER Ayers, OweBama fund-raiser

Bernadine Dohrn

Van Jones

G*D D*MN AMERICA

Tony Rezko

Blag-o

The Daleys

Anita Dunn

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Denesius

Just about all communist states are a "People's Republic" - basically, the theory stems from the idea that a Communist country is supposed to represent the "people" as opposed to the "rich"/"elite".  Yes, it's hypocritical and North Korea is about as Communist as the US is egalitarian but still....

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@jmac 

Huh.  I hadn't heard that point - this is finally making sense.  NK was ticked at someone contradicting their "history" and wanted to smack him around a bit.  Ugh.

brooklynite4321
brooklynite4321

@jmac  "American hubris." Right. An 85-year-old veteran of a war that SAVED millions of Koreans from enslavement to China is humiliated by the subhumans who now run the DPRK, and jmac wants to blame him for the psychotic behavior of his "host country." Perfect. Almost as laughable as the TIME writer's weird and clumsy attempt to shoehorn his take on Benghazi into this article. What the f*** does Lara Logan have to do with this story about Merrill Newman? Evidently only Mark Thompson knows for sure.

manlyman
manlyman

@jmac your ignorance knows no bounds does it jmac? Damn you really need to shut the hell up!