Detained and Released: Palo Alto Veteran Arrested in North Korea

Merrill Newman, a Palo Alto resident and Korean War veteran, was taken into North Korean custody and detained on October 26, 2013. Newman was entering a plane bound for the United States after a 10 day visit to North Korea. However, North Korean officials took him from the plane and arrested him on charges of plotting to commit hostile acts towards and overthrow the government. For over a month, Newman, who is 85 years old, lived under North Korean custody, although his wife stated that the Korean War veteran had all of the necessary travel documents. One of the major concerns over the detainment was Newman’s heart condition, which might have endangered his life if no proper medical treatment was made available in the case of an emergency. However, upon inquiry, Newman said that he had felt quite comfortable in the hotel room where he was detained.

Merrill Newman

Merrill Newman. Image by Nicholas Wright/Reuters (see note below article).

Just a few weeks ago, in November, Newman was videotaped by the North Koreans reading a confession to crimes of hostility against their government. Newman’s family and friends were able to make sure that he was still in good health through those confession videos, and they saw that although he was doing fine, he still needed medical attention.

Many observers viewed the confessions as forced by the North Koreans, as it is likely that government officials in the pariah state may have written up a document and forced Newman to read it. Experts agree that the wording of the confession, with its many grammatical errors, was not written in Newman’s style, but more in the style of the North Koreans.

Newman’s family and friends believe that he is innocent; yet, this might not be the complete case. Decades ago during the Korean War, Newman, an Army Lieutenant, did actually fund and aid South Korean guerrilla groups hated and feared by the North. The North Koreans might have wanted revenge on Newman by detaining him almost 60 years after his supposed crimes. However, those crimes, which occurred during a period of war, are still not enough reason to detain an 85 year old man who poses no threats.

Finally, in a gesture of goodwill, the North Koreans released Newman on Saturday, December 7, sending him to Beijing. Vice President Joe Biden offered him a flight home on Air Force 2, but he declined. Newman, who took a commercial flight from Beijing to San Francisco, has been reunited with his family and hopes to be healthy and fit for the upcoming holidays. Following his release, the United States Department of State said, “We are pleased that Mr. Merrill Newman has been allowed to depart the DPRK and re-join his family. We welcome the DPRK’s decision to release him.” Hopefully, Mr. Newman will be able to enjoy the holidays in peace with his family.

This article’s featured image is copyrighted and owned by Reuters. This image is included under the Fair Use Rationale because there is no free equivalent available.


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