US veteran Merrill Newman says North Korea ‘confession’ made under duress
US Korean war veteran held in North Korea warned he could be jailed for 15 years for spying if he did not co-operate
Agence France-Presse in Los Angeles
A US Korean war veteran held for over a month in North Korea said on Monday that a video “confession” released during his detention was made under duress.
Merrill Newman, 85, who was released last week and is now back home in California, said he was warned he could be jailed for 15 years for spying if he did not co-operate.
Newman, who was on a guided tourist trip to the reclusive state, added that he believes North Korean authorities misunderstood his “curiosity as something more sinister” when he asked about North Korean war veterans.
The US retiree was plucked off a plane on October 26 as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit. He was eventually freed and arrived back in California on Saturday.
“It wasn’t until I got home on Saturday that I realised what a story I had become in the press here ... I am sorry I caused so many people so many heartaches back home,” he said.
Newman said the North Koreans treated him well during his detention, looking after his health and feeding him well.
But he said: “I was constantly under guard in my hotel, and my interrogator made it clear that if I did not co-operate I could be sentenced to jail for espionage for 15 years.
“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 added.
The video “confession” was written for him by a non-native English speaker, adding that he emphasised the mistakes when he read it out, so that his family and others would know they were not his own words.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me ‘confess’ to.”
And he said: “To demonstrate that I was reading the document under some duress, I did my best to read the ‘confession’ in a way that emphasised 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,” he added, while saying: “Getting the ‘confession’ and my ‘apology’ were important to the North Koreans.”
Regarding why he was detained, he said he had concluded 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.”
His mistake, he believes, was to ask to visit the area of Mount Kuwol where he had served during the Korean war, and then asked North Korean authorities if any veterans from that area were still alive.
“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,” he said.
“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 realised. With the benefit of hindsight I should have been more sensitive to that,” he added.
And he said: “I’m a Korean war veteran and I’m very proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbour resentment about those partisans from the Mount Kuwol area and what other anti-Communist guerrillas did in North Korea before and during the war.”