http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2013/12/13/merrill-newman-released-returns-home


Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 13, 2013

Merrill Newman released, returns home

Palo Alto grandfather speaks out about his coerced 'confession' in North Korea

by Sue Dremann

The maelstrom around Palo Alto resident Merrill Newman's arrest in North Korea has finally quieted.

Newman, 85, was released by North Korea late last week and returned to the U.S. on Saturday, Dec. 7, after six weeks of detention. But after he rests up, he could be asked to have further briefings with U.S. officials, a State Department spokeswoman hinted this week.

Newman briefly greeted reporters who met him at San Francisco International Airport but said little about his ordeal. On Monday, Dec. 9, he broke his silence by releasing a two-page statement to the media.

He said he had been coerced into making a videotaped "confession" to supposed "war crimes" committed while an infantryman during the Korean War.

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," he said in a written statement.

Though Newman met with U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing after his release, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday alluded to interviews with government officials that Newman may have already or might in the future participate in.

"We often do briefings when a U.S. citizen returns home," Psaki said. "But of course, he just returned home, and is with his family, and it's the holidays, so I don't have any prediction or update of future briefings."

Newman was kept in a hotel during his captivity and fed well, he stated. But he was constantly under guard. His interrogator made it clear that if he did not cooperate he could be sentenced for espionage for 15 years, he said.

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.

"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.

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 60 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," he said.

In his application for a tourist visa, he specifically requested permission to visit the Mt. Kuwol area. That request was approved and was on the official itinerary when he arrived. After he got to Pyongyang, he was told the bridge had been washed out by a flood and it would not be possible go there, 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 interested in possibly meeting them.

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

Newman has said he will share more details about his experience in the future.

"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 (the official name of North Korea) 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," he wrote.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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