Did President Obama do enough to save Otto Warmbier?
Otto’s father, Fred, clearly doesn’t appear to think so. During a press conference following the return of his then-comatose son, Warmbier said that the Obama administration told him and the family to “take a low profile” — meaning, avoid speaking to the media or making public statements about his son’s plight.
“We did so without resolve,” Mr. Warmbier said of his family’s compliance, after receiving assurances that the Obama White House was working hard to secure his son’s release.
So, what exactly did Obama and his Cabinet do to ensure Otto Warmbier was brought home?
It all started in late February, when under notably visible, extreme duress, Warmbier “confessed” to an act he allegedly committed.
One month later, the regime in Pyongyang convicted Warmbier of “hostile acts” against the nation after he was charged with trying to steal a political banner in a hotel. The then-21-year-old Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for his actions.
On March 16, 2016, in response to a question about Warmbier, Obama White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “there is no greater priority for this administration than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad.”
“The allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States, or in just about any other country in the world,” Earnest said.
“We strongly urge the North Korean government to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release.”
That same day, President Obama signed an executive order sanctioning companies and individuals attached to the government of North Korea. However, Earnest said the sanctions were a response to North Korean ballistic missile tests the previous months, and seemingly not its imprisonment of an American citizen.
A search of public statements made by the Obama White House on Warmbier’s case, since Earnest’s call for his release, comes up almost entirely empty.
Months went by, and Otto Warmbier’s imprisonment seemed to be a forgotten cause. At this time, Fred Warmbier decided “the time for strategic patience was over.”
So, what did the Obama administration do behind the scenes while the young college student was suffering at the hands of the North Koreans?
Conservative Review reached out to the State Department to fill in the gaps.
“Together with Sweden, the protecting power for the United States in North Korea, we consistently raised concerns about Mr. Warmbier, the lack of consular access, and his harsh 15-year sentence to hard labor,” a State Department official told Conservative Review.
“We hold North Korea accountable for Otto Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment, and we want to see the three other Americans who are unjustly detained in North Korea come home as soon as possible.”
Nonetheless, until President Trump came into office, the diplomatic effort did not yield any noteworthy results.
"The question was, do I think the past administration could have done more? The results speak for themselves,” Warmbier told reporters, in a clear slight of the Obama White House.
Fred Warmbier credited the new administration with helping to bring his son home from captivity.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) June 15, 2017
But four days after his release, Otto Warmbier died from complications stemming from a severe brain injury suffered in the custody of the tyrannical regime in North Korea. Otto was 22 years old.
Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.