North Korea Accuses Detained 85 Year-Old American Of War Crimes


The elderly American veteran who was pulled off a plane just before it left Pyongyan several weeks ago has been accused by the North Korean Government of committing “war crimes”:

BEIJING — North Korea accused an elderly American veteran of war crimes, and released a video Saturday of him confessing to “hostile acts” during the Korean War and while he was a tourist there last month.

The veteran, Merrill Newman, 85, of Palo Alto, Calif., who has been held since Oct. 26, appeared on the video dressed in a blue American-style shirt and wearing rimless spectacles as he read excerpts from the apology from several sheets of white paper.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency released a full text of the apology, in which he asked for forgiveness. The agency said in a separate statement that Mr. Newman was involved in the killing of innocent civilians during the Korean War.

Mr. Newman, a retired technology executive and a world traveler, went to North Korea on a trip organized by a licensed tour group to fulfill a longtime desire to see the country where he had served as an infantry officer during the Korean War, his family said.

There was no indication from North Korea what the next steps would be. The State Department had no immediate comment.

In the written apology, which was dated Nov. 9, Mr. Newman is quoted saying: “If I go back to U.S.A., I will tell the true features of the DPRK and the life the Korean people are leading.” The DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The reference of a possible return to the United States could be interpreted as a sign that the North Koreans were considering sending Mr. Newman home, according to a person familiar with the case and North Korea. The person declined to be identified because of the sensitivities of the matter.

The apology, written in disjointed English, contained details of what Mr. Newman supposedly did during his tour of duty in 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,” the apology said.

The written apology signed by Mr. Newman says he asked his guide to look for surviving soldiers from an action that he participated in against the Korean Peoples Army, and that he had brought into North Korea an “e-book criticizing the Socialist DPRK.”

Mr. Newman was pulled off a plane on Oct. 26 as it was preparing to leave North Korea for Beijing. Something appeared to have gone awry on the last full day of Mr. Newman’s tour when he was asked to talk to one of his tour guides in the presence of another North Korean and without his traveling companion, a fellow retiree from California, said his son, Jeff Newman.

The two retirees traveled with two Korean guides on a trip organized by the London-based Juche Travel Services, an outfit that says it appeals to “smart, independent” travelers.

Mr. Newman told his traveling companion, Bob Hamrdla, that the conversation had not gone well and he had a bad feeling about it, the son said.

The reference to a “UN Korea 6th Partisan Regiment” is likely a reference to the United Nations Partisan Infantry, a clandestine force that existed during the Korean War and which operated as a unit devoted activities such as intelligence gathering, sabotage, and rescuing POWs. It is not clear, however, if Newman was part of this unit during the time he served in Korea some 60 years ago and there is some suggestion that the North Koreans may be mistaking Newman for another American Korean War vet named Merrill Newman who won the Silver Star in 1951 after leading a raid against Chinese forces. In either case, it’s rather obvious that this “confession” was coerced in some way and likely a mere pretext for whatever the real reason for Newman’s detention might be. Where this heads from here is unclear. Likely the U.S. in engaged in some kind of back channel communications about all of this with North Korea’s Chinese patrons, but one cannot tell if they can have much influence over Pyongyang in this matter. Hopefully they can, though, and Newman will be find his way home in short order.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Science & Technology, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Pearce says:

    Urgh, this makes me so mad…..

  2. 11B40 says:


    “Juche Travel Services” ??? Isn’t “Juche” the name of the DPRK Kim’s political ideology ???

    And where the hell is Governor Richardson ??? I thought he had the DPRK franchise.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Obviously this is unconscionable. But Americans really should learn more about that war. There was a major division in Korean society. Some Koreans had bravely and patriotically fought the Japanese invaders and died doing so. Some Koreans had collaborated with the Japanese invaders in order to ensure their own wealth. It was that second group – the collaborators – that we backed for power in Korea. To put it in a more familiar context, it’s as if we backed Vichy and opposed the Free French.

  4. 11B40 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Greetings, michael reynolds:

    Michael, my former dark-eyed beauty, I’m so sorry to hear that once again atrocious America has disappointed you. However, the people of today’s South Korea may not share your analysis.

    Whoever we backed way back when, I now see a kind of vibrant society with an evolving democracy and productive economy that is so able to keep the lights on (if you’ve seen that famous photo) compared to those who had the backing of those social-justice stalwarts Joe Stalin and Moe Tse-dung.

    My understanding is that, at the beginning of the 20th Century, undivided Korea was pretty much a feudalistic Confucian society and the arrival of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere didn’t do anything but complicate that situation firther. To me, that’s a pretty deep socio-political hole to climb out of and yet the South seems to have done so.

    I watch a fair amount of South Korea’s KBS TV broadcasting. From what I’ve seen they have a pretty fair understanding of their 20th Century history and they don’t seem to share your animosity to the USofA. To Japan, certainly and often. Located between Japan and China, Korea has always been about two steps ahead of someone else’s shoeshine. Not exactly a place where I would buy a house, if you drift my get. But, please, blaming the USofA for South Korean is like blaming Henry Ford for the Model T.

    Hope I didn’t spoil you Thanksgiving.

  5. JohnMcC says:

    @11B40: Mr Reynolds can speak for himself of course so I don’t wish to speak for him. But it seems to me that he simply stated the truth about the events in Korea during 1945 to 1953 fairly. It’s been a long time since I actually studied the history of the Republic of Korea and longer since I served there but a quick look at the Wikipedia biographies of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee indicates about what one would expect, that Gen MacArthur’s administration of Seoul had much more to do with maintaining the 38th Parallel than achieving some sort of perfect justice south of it. Given the shape of the world in 1945-53, perhaps that’s the best that could be hoped for. Mr Rhee did indeed surpress opponents of his regime brutally; some were communists but some were not (see the ‘Jeju uprising’). Gen Park was indeed an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army before being rehabilitated and overthrowing a democratically elected government.

    Is it your contention that those who love the United States are bound by that love to believe fairy-stories of our perpetual goodness? Seems to me that real patriots love our country warts and all. Those who believe the fairy tales don’t qualify as patriots at all in my book; the USA that they love is a fictional one.

  6. 11B40 says:

    @JohnMcC: @JohnMcC:

    Greetings, JohnMcC:

    Well, John, to begin with your kind of straw man Obama-esque last question, no I don’t.

    What I was trying to convey, vice “michael’s” chronologically indefinite assertion, was a kind of societal development as a journey not a destination analysis, however hackneyed that idea is these days. I don’t know if there is a philosophical argument for expecting a democracy to spring up quickly from feudalistic Confucian society but I doubt it. My father used to tell me that Moses took the Jews into the desert for 40 years to left the slave culture die off before they could enter the Promised Land. For all the moaning about Iraq these days, I would expect a similar timeframe, though much less optimistically, before the fruit of those vines can be adequately judged.

    What the USofA did was buy the South some protected time during which to evolve. That there were some resulting pimples or bruises is almost a given. Like the warrior, the nation developer uses what is at hand. And, as my mother mentioned a number of times, the proof is in the pudding. South Korea is now a relatively free and prosperous nation known and welcomed all over the world. I can conceived of no way that that would have happened without the USofA’s involvement.

    The social-justice boys north of the 38th are visibly stewing in their own lack of electrical juices.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    John already dealt with you, and very effectively. Love of country does not require ignorance or mis-representation. Your remark was pointlessly tendentious and obnoxious. Your assumed air of superiority was laughable to begin with and was just a sad, deflated balloon once John stuck a pin in you.

  8. JohnMcC says:

    @11B40: I’m “Obama-esque”?! Gee! Thank you!

  9. Tyrell says:

    Send in the Dream team: Bill Clinton, Rodman, and Jimmy Carter.

  10. walt moffett says:

    There was a collective yawn when there were reports the North Koreans were working on their reactor, now maybe somebody will pay attention to them.

  11. 11B40 says:


    Greetings, JohnMcC: ( @ Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 00:18/)

    Actually, JohnMcC, the way I read English, it was your question that was recognized as “Obama-esque”. But if that’s the church you worship at, I’m happy to have supplied a pew.