On Friday, North Korea responded for the first time to American accusations that they fatally brutalized Otto Warmbier. Warmbier was held captive in North Korea for 17 months before being returned to the United States in a coma earlier in June. He died less than a week after release. American doctors said that Warmbier suffered severe brain damage, but could not explain the cause of it. They suspected that it was due to “respiratory distress” and that the oxygen supply to his brain had been cut off.

North Korea denies such claims

In an article published by the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea claims that it dealt with Warmbier according to domestic law and international standards.

Warmbier was arrested and convicted for committing a “hostile act” by trying to steal a political poster from his hotel in Pyongyang.

The article featured a statement from an unnamed spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry that assured that Warmbier had not been abused or tortured, saying that even though they “had no reason at all to show mercy to such a criminal of the enemy state, we provided him with medical treatment and care with all sincerity on a humanitarian basis…”

The spokesman also said that US doctors recognized that the North Korean provided Warmbier with the best possible medical treatment and were the reason he was still alive. He went on to say that they did not understand why Warmbier died suddenly following release, since his health was stable when he left the country.

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North Korea’s statement also said that Warmbier’s death could be put on the Obama administration with its “policy of strategic patience.” This refers to Obama’s policy of focusing on sanctions and pressuring North Korea. The statement said that they honored the Trump administration’s requests for Warmbier’s release and did so on humanitarian grounds.

Warning about the “smear campaign” against North Korea, the spokesman said that North Korea felt compelled to “make [a] firm determination that humanitarianism and benevolence for the enemy are taboo and we should further sharpen the blade of law.” (New York Times).

Americans outraged

Americans are outraged over Warmbier’s death, with some people saying that he was another casualty of Kim Jun-un’s infamous executions. President Trump called the treatment of Warmbier “a total disgrace,” and said that the North Korean government is a “brutal regime.” He signaled that the US could be ready to act alone to contain the rogue and belligerent North Korean regime.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that North Korea will be held accountable for Warmbier’s unjust imprisonment and treatment. He is also demanding the release of three other Americans who are currently detained. “The North Korean regime is mistaken,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) said, “if it believes that its barbaric mistreatments of an American citizen held in depraved captivity for over a year will pass quietly.”

US officials do not see the KCNA article as an official statement from the North Korean government and are waiting to hear from Pyongyang regarding Warmbier's death.