Merrill Newman, the 85-year-old California man who had been imprisoned in North Korea since late October, is back home.
The Korean War veteran was held in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea after going there as a tourist as part of a 10-day organized private tour of the impoverished country. North Korea did not say why he was removed from his flight back to Beijing on October 26 until it released a video of Newman appearing to confess to crimes, including killing soldiers and civilians in the North after the war. It's not known if the confession was coerced, but it was written in stilted English and it came more than a week after his initial detention.
North Korea officially "deported" him, which feels like more than just a bit of semantic trickery.
It's all excellent news, and by all accounts, Newman's family and friends are thrilled to have him back. It's also good news for Vice President Joe Biden, right? This is, at the very least, a tangible saving grace of Biden's gaffe-filled Asia tour, right?
Biden told reporters in South Korea that he "played no direct role" in the release. He added that his office offered to let Newman fly home with him on Air Force Two, but State Department officials said he'd take a direct commercial flight to San Francisco.
Well, at least it's not like he got the VP job specifically because of his strengths in foreign affairs.
Instead, CNN reports that Newman's release "was the result of direct contact between Washington and Pyongyang." Bill Richardson, former presidential candidate and ex-governor of New Mexico, was involved in private talks.
At the end of Newman's initial confession, there was this bit of writing:
If I go back to (the) U.S.A., I will tell the true features of the D.P.R.K. and the life the Korean people are leading.