WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor on June 21 to honor the life of Ohio native Otto Warmbier and to condemn the North Korean regime for its unnecessary and appalling detainment and barbaric treatment of Warmbier.
“I rise today to talk about a promising young man from Wyoming, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati, my hometown,” Portman said. “A young man whose life was tragically cut short at just 22 years of age. I rise to talk about Otto Warmbier. Otto had all the smarts and talent you could ever ask for. He was a homecoming king; he was the salutatorian of the Wyoming High School class he graduated from a few years ago; he spent a summer at the London School of Economics—smart kid—he won a prestigious scholarship at the University of Virginia. As everyone expected he would, he excelled at UVA. He got great grades; he had a thirst for learning, he loved meeting new people and hearing about their lives and their perspectives. His future was as bright as it could possibly be.
“It was this smart, kindhearted young man, a college kid, who was taken prisoner by the North Korean regime for nearly 18 months. Otto’s detainment and sentence were unnecessary and appalling. Neither one should have ever happened in the first place. At some point soon after being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, from what we know, Otto suffered a severe brain injury. From what? We don’t know, and we may never know.
“Who did the North Korean government tell about this? No one. For the next 15 months or so they kept this a secret. They denied him access to the best medical care he deserved and they refused repeated requests for consular access that would normally be provided to those who had been detained, requests from our government, from the Obama administration, from the Trump administration, requests from the Red Cross, requests from the Swedish government who normally provides the consular service for Americans in North Korea, requests from many of us here in the Capitol.
“The regime unjustly imprisoned him and then lied about his severe medical condition. By the way, they continue to tell stories that make no sense. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati, some of the best doctors in the world, and just the type of medical professionals Otto should have been able to see from the start, say that North Korea’s claims as to what happened simply don’t stand up to the evidence.
“They called him a Prisoner of War, but they also violated the Geneva Convention. But for North Korea to imprison Otto Warmbier with no consular access for more than a year, with his medical condition and severe brain injury, it goes well beyond that: it demonstrates a complete failure to recognize fundamental human rights. Because of these actions by the North Koreans, Otto is dead. His promise has been cut short. If there were any doubt about the nature of the North Korean regime, that pariah country, then Otto’s case should erase all doubt.
“We know this regime has no regard for the rule of law or the freedoms we enjoy here. But they also have no regard for basic human rights and dignity. They have subjected hundreds of thousands of their own people to mistreatment, torture and death for decades. They are now extending that treatment to innocent Americans. North Korea should be universally condemned for its abhorrent behavior and held accountable for their actions.
“Otto’s family, God bless them, they tried everything they could to bring Otto home. For 18 months, and for almost 16 months not knowing of his dire condition, they were steadfast and resilient trying everything they could.
“I was there with Fred and Cindy Warmbier when Otto finally returned from North Korea. He came home. It was incredibly emotional to watch Otto be reunited with his loving family. I believe he knew he was back home. I believe he knew he was among those who loved him. I want to thank State Department Special Representative Joe Yun, Deputy Secretary Sullivan, and Secretary Tillerson for their work to help secure Otto’s release last week and to bring him home.
“There are still three Americans being detained by the North Koreans. They should be released immediately. And we should do everything that we can do as a country to secure their release.
“Otto’s case is a reminder that we must on the one hand increase pressure on North Korea to force them to change and there will be more to discuss soon on that. But at the same time we’ve got to maintain an open line of communication to deal with the deadly, serious issues we face. Those are some of the lessons I’ve taken from the last 18 months.
“Fred, Cindy, and the entire Warmbier family have been incredibly strong through this ordeal. No one should have to go through what that family has experienced. My wife Jane and I will continue to be at their side, including, of course, at the funeral service tomorrow in Wyoming, Ohio.
“So I urge my colleagues, and everybody listening at home, continue to hold this family up in prayer. But also let’s ensure that this tragedy is a wake-up call about the true nature of this brutal regime.”