Merill Newman, 85, was detained for more than a month and forced to apologize for his service in the Korean War.  KCNA, North Korea’s government-run news agency reported last week that Newman said, “After I killed so many civilians and (North Korean) soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people…”  The statement ends, “If I go back to (the) USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.”

The network also ran a story alleging that Newman went to North Korea with a tourist group, but “perpetrated acts of infringing upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK and slandering its socialist system,” including claims that he was looking for “spies and terrorists who conducted espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK.”  The KCNA report also mentioned that he “shamelessly…had a plan to meet surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead…” North Korean investigators allege that as a member of the U.S. military Newman “masterminded espionage and subversive activities…and, in this course, he was involved in the killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians.”

KCNA’s news story concluded by saying, “the investigation clearly proved Newman’s hostile acts…he admitted all his crimes and made an apology…”

The apology letter was 4 handwritten pages.  In the note, Newman talked about being an advisor of the Kuwol Unit, part of the “intelligence” against North Korea during the Korean War.

Newman was “deported” from North Korea to China and returned to the U.S. Saturday.

“It’s been a great homecoming,” said Newman after his arrival.  He thanked both U.S. and Swedish diplomats for helping secure his release.  The U.S. does not have direct diplomatic relations with North Korea; instead they work through Swedish diplomats.  Surprisingly, a senior official told the media that Newman’s release was the result of “backdoor” direct contact between Washington and Pyongyang.  North Koreans told the Obama administration by telephone that they would release Newman, but did not elaborate.  According to Newman’s family, he was on a 10-day organized private tour of North Korea when he was detained minutes before he was to return home.

Upon his return, he told reporters, “I’m tired…ready to be with my family…Thank you all for the support…very much appreciated.”  Hours earlier, while in a Beijing airport, Newman said he felt good and was looking forward to seeing his wife.  He also told reporters there, “I’m very glad to be on my way home.  And I appreciate the tolerance the DPRK government has given to me to be on my way.”

According to Steve Weber, a professor at Berkeley, the apology was nothing more than “highly scripted political theater.”  It is unclear whether Newman’s release was a political maneuver to coincide with Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to South Korea to honor the fallen during the Korean War.

“This has been a very difficult ordeal for us as a family and particularly for him,” said Jeff Newman, Merrill’s son.

An official North Korean report said his release was due to his “admittance of the act committed by him on the basis of his wrong understanding and the apology made by him…his sincere repentance…his advanced age and health condition…” North Korea said they deported him out of a “humanitarian” concern.

Merrill Newman said in a statement, released by the family this week, that he was detained because he had asked questions about anti-communist partisans he had helped train more than 60 years ago.  He also said his “confession” was fabricated by his jailers and he only signed it and read it to get released.

“Getting the ‘confession’ and my ‘apology’ were important to the North Koreans,” Newman wrote, “…I was constantly under guard…and my interrogator made it clear that if I did not cooperate I could be sentenced to jail for espionage for 15 years…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…It is now clear to me the North Koreans still feel much more anger about the war than I realized…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…I’m a Korean War veteran and I’m proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbor resentment about those partisans.”

He went on to say that he had asked to visit Mount Kuwol where the training had taken place.  Newman said the area was on his itinerary, but was removed because “a bridge had washed out…Before they told me this, I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mount Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were,” Newman wrote, “The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister.”

Newman was in North Korean custody for nearly six weeks.

Jeff Newman called for the release of Kenneth Bae, another American being held by North Korea.  Bae is currently serving 15 years of hard labor in the communist country.  The State Department has made repeated requests that North Korea pardon Bae.  A senior administration official said the United States is now paying full-time attention to securing Bae’s release.

“We have been praying for him [Merrill Newman] and are very happy that his family will have him at the head of their table for the holidays. We believe that our Kenneth should also come home soon. We are thankful for all who are advocating on Kenneth’s behalf and for any ongoing dialogue with the DPRK government. We have faith in our government to bring Kenneth home, and we dearly wish that we will also have joyful holidays with Kenneth,” the Bae family said in a statement.

V.P. Biden said he “played no direct role” in Newman’s release, but was glad, “it’s a positive thing they’ve done.”  He added that he spoke to Newman by phone after his release and that “they still have Mr. Bae, who has no reason being held in the North and should be released immediately.”

Pyongyang is regarded as one of the world’s most repressive countries with a system of cruel detention centers and sharp restrictions of human rights.  North Korea’s isolation and secrecy as well as resistance to international standards or monitoring and its public attempts to create an uncontrolled nuclear program have led to severe shortages of energy and food for its citizens.

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