News

Merrill Newman 'confession' coerced by North Korea

The video and confession by Palo Alto resident and Korean War veteran Merrill Newman by North Korean officials was coerced, Newman said in a statement released yesterday, Dec. 9.

The 85-year-old grandfather was taken off a plane headed from North Korea to Beijing, China, on Oct. 26, after he spent 10 days in the country on tour with a friend. In late November, North Korean officials released a "confession" of Newman's supposed war crimes. He was released and returned to the Bay Area on Saturday, Dec. 7.

But Newman said 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 he was under some duress, he read the confession in a way that emphasized the bad grammar and strange language that the North Koreans had crafted for him to say, he said.

"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," he said.

The North Korean interrogator repeatedly told Newman he might be able to return home someday if he told "the full truth," and apologized fully.

"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," he said.

Newman had no access to outside news, and he did not know his situation had attracted so much attention until he returned to the U.S. He said he didn't understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn't over and that innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems for foreigners.

"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," he said.

"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 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," he said.

He innocently asked his North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mt. Kuwol area might still be alive, and he said he was interesting in possibly meeting them, he said.

"The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister," he said.

Newman continues to recuperate from his ordeal at his second home in Santa Cruz. He said he would have further statements after he is rested, and he thanked all who helped procure his freedom and for the prayers and concern at home.

Related stories:

Merrill Newman returns home (Dec. 7)

Newman's complete statement can be read here:

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 much heartache 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 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 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.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wendy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:21 am

I am glad he is home safe. I thank him for his service to our country. Now that he has had to 'apologize' to North Korea, he needs to apologize to the United States for his utter disregard of the State Department's warning NOT to travel to North Korea. Both the risk he posed to our country and the financial cost is squarely on his shoulders.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:29 am

Wendy, sounds like you want to him to be sent to a re-education camp where he can learn to respect the government's and people's wishes more? I think it was not a smart move, but I don't know that it was a huge risk to the country or cost anyone anything that would not have been working and doing whatever they were doing anyway, which is their jobs.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ronnie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:46 am

Welcome back! The main thing is that he is home safe. That's all that really matters. Happy Holidays Mr. Newman!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garden Gnome
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:50 am

Neighbor CresentParkAnon, I confess (pun intended!) that I'm with Wendy on this one. I too am glad that Mr. Newman is safely back home, and truly appreciate his service.

But... as a citizen and veteran he should be fully aware that the Korean "conflict" has not ended, although an armistice agreement was reached.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Suzy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Welcome home Mr. Newman! I don't think Newman needs to apologize- note that he flew home via United, not on Biden's jet, so Newman doesn't appear to be someone who wanted to spend tax payers' money, which he could have. I wish him a speedy recovery from his ordeal, and all the best this holiday season!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Vietnam vet
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Does anyone else think Mr. Newman wasn't entirely smart in going to North Korea in the first place? Esp. as a Korean War military veteran who actively fought against the North Koreans?

A schoolchild knows that the Korean conflict merely ended up in an armistice. Why do you think the State Department says "don't go there"?

I am glad he is home safe, but I would have used some more common sense.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stay-Away-From-North-Korea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

> I am glad he is home safe, but I would have used some more common sense.

It's unlikely that Mr. Newman will be making any more trips to North Korea.

Since Mr. Newman didn't do anything wrong, and he's home safely without any ill-treatment by the North Koreans .. maybe it's time to retire this story and move on to more important matters.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by So true
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:15 pm

It is true that N Korea does. to think the Korean War is over....no armistice was ever signed by them. Mr Newman! like most people did not know this. it is not like they communicate with us.

Kim Jung Un is an evil man. When he wanted to break up with his girl friend, it was reported, he had her executed.

Listen to the State Dept--they know what they are talking about. My husband was told the sme thing, and he listened. he was also told that Bangkok Airport is the least secure of all airports in the world, unsafe for American businessmen, so he has his Thai clients come here.


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