Recently in launching her campaign for President, Nikki Haley’s team announced an endorsement from the parents of Otto Warmbier who was imprisoned by North Korea in January of 2016 and released June of 2017. The endorsement stated “I’m here to tell you we need @NikkiHaley fighting for all our children the way she fought for Otto.”
The statement took many by surprise considering the common recollection was not that Haley had much if anything to do with the release of Otto Warmbier. The statement seems to imply that Haley went to bat for Otto and was part of the reason that he was returned to the United States.
So let’s look back at the facts of history: Did Nikki Haley save Otto Warmbier?
Otto Warmbier was “arrested” (more like spirited away) on January 15, 2016. He reemerged for the first time since that “arrest” in March of 2016 when he made a terrifying and tearful confession on television which many believed was made under extreme duress. Despite his plea to be sent home to America, he was sentenced to 15-years hard labor in North Korea’s infamous prison camps.
Nikki Haley didn’t do anything on record when the United States began work to bring Otto home but the Obama Administration, which in no way included Nikki Haley, was not successful in their efforts. From March 2016 to May 2017, I found no record that Nikki Haley even knew Otto Warmbier existed let alone worked toward his freedom. It isn’t to say she didn’t but there is no record of it whatsoever. No statement from her and none from others involved that she was party to any effort to save Otto Warmbier.
Nikki Haley didn’t do anything on record in January of 2017, when Secretary Rex Tillerson immediately briefed President Trump on the status of Otto Warmbier and immediately the President gave him authority to take any and all appropriate measures to bring home Otto. There is no record of Nikki Haley’s participation in these meetings or briefings though she was appointed as UN Ambassador the same month.
Nikki Haley didn’t do anything on record when in May of 2017, the State Department sent a special office, not Nikki Haley but actually Joseph Yun, to meet with North Korea in Oslo, Norway. The North Koreans agree that the U.S. may send Sweden into North Korea to check on Otto. After Sweden was permitted to check on Otto, they immediately returned to the U.S. with the urgent news that Otto’s condition was dire.
Nikki Haley didn’t do anything on record when on June 6, 2017, President Trump ordered Joseph Yun to assemble a medical team and travel to North Korea to retrieve Otto Warmbier regardless of any agreement to leave discussions to Sweden. Joseph Yun was landing in enemy airspace without permission from their government, which was a serious risk to his and the medical team’s own lives. Fortunately, the North Korean government relented and allowed Yun to land safely and the medical team was allowed to inspect Otto. Yun demanded that Otto be released on humanitarian grounds and in no uncertain terms told the North Korean government he was not leaving without him. Fearing retaliation from President Trump, the North Korean government – unbelievably – did release Otto Warmbier into American custody with no trade of prisoners, financial aid or lifting of sanctions.
Nikki Haley, despite being the United States UN Ambassador, was not even the person in charge of calling on North Korea for answers on why Otto Warmbier fell into a coma.
The UN Ambassador’s job is to report on UN activities and policies to the Secretary of State and advise the Secretary on UN related policies. The ambassador does not have voting autonomy outside of the direction of the Secretary of State. The ambassador must follow the direction of the Secretary of State and failure to do so is grounds for removal, though, the position is at-will anyway. So while Nikki Haley at the time of becoming the UN Ambassador may have become aware of the situation with Otto Warmbier, it certainly was not part of her job description. North Korea has an observer’s position in the UN, the business of Otto Warmbier and North Korean human rights issues were not addressed by the body until after his release when he was in an unresponsive state. The last time the UN addressed North Korea’s human rights violations was 2014 before Otto Warmbier was taken and prior to Nikki Haley’s appointment.
Even when the UN did engage with North Korea on the issue of Otto Warmbier’s health status when he was finally released to the U.S. There wasn’t any real effort prior to his release to do anything about his status as prisoner. Not from the UN and certainly not from Nikki Haley.
The first time Nikki Haley is on record regarding Otto Warmbier was May 3, 2017 when she was actually quoted speaking about another American prisoner kept in North Korea. Haley said, dismissively, that she was “hoping to work with China” to get them released because of course no one likes to see prisoners being held.The plan that was well underway to release the prisoners had nothing at all to do with China and centered around the neutral countries of Norway and Sweden proving Nikki had absolutely no idea what was going on internally regarding the plan to save the prisoners.
In July of 2017, after Otto Warmbier passed away, Nikki Haley then made a speech at the UN condemning North Korea for their treatment of Warmbier but primarily letting them know that President Trump had authorized significant military action if the country continued to escalate its missile program.
In October of 2018, long after Otto Warmbier’s death, Nikki Haley invoked his name at a political fundraiser criticizing President Trump, who ordered the rescue of Otto Warmbier, for not being very nice to Elizabeth Warren and calling North Korea evil in a somehow related rambling about political opponent courtesy.
Granted, in 2018 and 2019 Nikki Haley sure took a lot of pictures with the Warmbiers. Which, really, are photo opportunities not the real work of Washington?
Finally in 2019, years after she had nothing to do with saving Otto Warmbier, Nikk Haley had the audacity to contradict President Trump who was softening his public commentary on the culpability of North Korea because he was attempting to avoid a World War. Nikki Haley tweeted (so brave to tweet) that Americans knew that North Korea really was responsible.
So if the Warmbiers believe that Nikki Haley “fought for their son” because after he was brought home by other smart, braver people she took their side in a tweet saying North Korea was bad then okay good for them. But the reality is simply that President Trump, Rex Tillerson, and the bravest of them all, Joseph Yun and his team of medical professionals actually fought for Otto Warmbier. And Nikki Haley had absolutely nothing to do with it.
If the record does not properly reflect Nikki Haley’s involvement in the rescue of Otto Warmbier, it would be great if Haley’s team or anyone who was involved would describe what actions Haley took to bring Warmbier home, if any.