In a four-page handwritten confession, Merrill Newman has admitted to “hostile acts” against the DPRK. Redacted versions of the spectacle are already up on You Tube, clear evidence--if any were needed--of the way the regime plans to exploit Newman's detention for propaganda purposes. One part of the confession deals with the present: that while in North Korea as a tourist in October, Mr. Newman tried to contact the families of South Korean soldiers that he trained to fight the North during the Korean War, along with other transgressions such as bringing a contraband e-book into the country. From the little we could piece together, it appears that Newman made the mistake of being forthcoming with his minder about his quest, and particularly the effort to connect North Koreans to an association of partisan veterans. Even if naive, the episode is a reminder of the risks of traveling in authoritarian countries where tourists do not enjoy the freedom of expression they have at home. We hope that the growing tourist industry in North Korea is explicit with its clients about the risks.
But other parts of the confession appear to deal with the past: what Merrill, his unit and South Korean irregular or partisan units did during the Korean War. This aspect of the spectacle is even more disturbing. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the Korean War, a war which was instigated by the North. Some of those deaths were military; it is not clear how Newman can be held responsible for doing the job of a soldier in war, which is precisely to kill and harass enemy combatants and destroy supporting infrastructure. Some of the civilian deaths--on both sides of the 38th parallel--no doubt occurred as a result of what we would consider war crimes. Does the North--or we--want to open this massive can of worms? To what practical end?
And of course to persecute (not prosecute) Newman without representation is perfectly emblematic of the entire North Korean legal system. Newman's confession is riddled with grammatical errors that no native English speaker would make, effectively confirming that the confession was coerced; let's hope that the coercion was "only" through the threat of indefinite detention and not a result of physical abuse.
The only silver lining is that Mr. Newman may now be released given that he has played his assigned villain role. The AP highlights a few such signals, including the likelihood that the confession pre-empts a trial. Newman’s confession apparently states that if he returns to the US he "will tell the true features of the DPRK." Even the North Koreans probably recognize that it is not too politic for a country with a stated interest in tourism to keep Newman in detention given his age and health issues. We can only hope that they come to the same conclusion about Kenneth Bae.
Mr. Newman's full "confession" as reported by BNOnews is appended below; note the date on the confession is November 9.
N. Korea releases 'confession' of U.S. veteran
Posted on 11-30 at 04:29:06 CST
[As released by the North Korean government]
I am Merrill Newman living in California, USA.
During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command.
As I gave 300 people with barbarity gone to the South who had ill feelings toward the DPRK from Chodo military education and guerilla training they later did attack against the DPRK although the armistice was signed.
I also gave 200 soldiers under my command in Mt. Kuwol the task to harass the rear base such as collecting information on the movement and the arm equipment in KPA, attacking and destruction on the communication system, the rice storage, railroad and munitions train by dispatching the several elements to Hwanghae Province Area.
According to my order they collected information of the KPA and attacked the communication system and killed 3 innocent operators, delayed the munitions supply using explosives obtained from attacking the mine and they attacked the KPA and harassing operations of the rear base 10 times in the Hwanghae Province Area.
They killed about 50 soldiers in the process of the operation. In the process of following tasks given by me I believe they would kill more innocent people.
As I killed so many civilians and KPA soldiers and destroyed strategic objects in the DPRK during the Korean War, I committed indelible offensive acts against the DPRK government and Korean people.
Although 60 years have gone by, I came to DPRK on the excuse of the tour as a member of 33 Tour Group from U.S. on October 17, 2013.
Shamelessly I had a plan to meet any surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead soldiers in Kuwol Mt. during the Korean war. Following the itinerary I asked my guide to help me look for the surviving soldiers and their families and descendents because it was too hard for me to do myself.
If I had the opportunity to visit Kuwol Mt. I was going to pray for the souls of dead soldiers. If I saw surviving soldiers in Mt. Kuwol, I was going to connect them with the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association which I had already connected with, anti-Communist strategic plot organization.
All the members of the Kuwol Partisan Comrades-in-Arms Association escaped from the DPRK to South Korea. So I asked the guide to help me to look for their families and relatives living in DPRK and I gave the document written with their address and e-mail address to the guide in the Yanggakdo Hotel.
I also brought the e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK on this trip and criticizing DPRK.
Although I committed the indelible offensive acts against the Korean people in the period of the Korean War, I have been guilty of big crimes against the DPRK government and Korean People again.
I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me.
Please forgive me.
I will never commit the offensive act against the DPRK Government and the Korean People again.
On this trip I can understand that in US and western countries there is misleading information and propaganda about DPRK. If I go back to USA, I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.
Nov 9, 2013