Trump Praises Kim Jong-un while Otto Warmbier’s Parents Sue North Korea

“Without Otto, this would not have happened,” President Donald Trump said in a press conference after his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. “Otto” is Otto Warmbier and the sentiment was not new: Vice President Pence said the same to Otto’s parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, before the diplomatic mission took off.

While Trump and Kim make nice, Otto Warmbier’s parents are suing North Korea for their 22-year-old son’s wrongful death. A U.Va. student studying abroad in China, Warmbier’s trip across the DMZ in 2016 took a terrifying turn. He emerged from 17 months in custody in Pyongyang barely alive, and died shortly after his return home to Ohio, almost a year ago. The cause of death, according to the coroner’s report, was lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.

Trump praised Kim Jong-un Tuesday, after they met, saying, “I learned he’s a very talented man” who “loves his country very much.” Which is somewhat different from what Trump said about Kim back in September in speech to the United Nations. At the time, Trump railed against the regime’s “deadly abuse” of Warmbier and torturing of its own people: “It is responsible for the starvation deaths of millions of North Koreans, and for the imprisonment, torture, killing and oppression of countless more.”

Despite Trump’s softening toward the man they consider their son’s killer, the Warmbiers will proceed with their wrongful death suit. According to a lawyer with knowledge of lawsuits like theirs, the two nations’ rapprochement need not impede the family’s case.

“It doesn’t impact it all,” the lawyer told TWS Tuesday. “Because it’s focused on acts that happened. And, most importantly, they’re on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.” Trump designated North Korea a state sponsor of terror by executive order last November.

Ordinarily, individuals can’t sue countries. But a state’s designation as terrorism sponsor permits private citizens to file suit against them, the lawyer explained. Even if the Trump administration were to rescind North Korea’s designation, the Warmbiers’ case could carry on. “It’s fine,” the lawyer said, “As long as they were a state sponsor of terrorism at the time [of the filing].”

The lawsuit, against which North Korea is not expected to defend itself, will likely fall to a default judgment and conclude within the next year. The Warmbiers seek compensatory damages, in an amount the court will determine. One of the lawyers working on the case told TWS, “They miss Otto terribly, and they’re working hard to keep his memory alive. They look forward to winning this lawsuit.”

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