The 85-year-old Korean War veteran released after more than a month in a North Korean jail said Monday that he was detained because he had asked questions about anti-communist partisans he had helped train more than 60 years ago.
Merrill Newman also said a televised confession he read and signed was fabricated by his North Korean jailers.
“Anyone who has read the text of it or who has seen the video of me reading it knows that the words were not mine and were not delivered voluntarily,” Newman said in a statement issued by his family. “Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have done the things they had me ‘confess’ to.”
Newman was freed by North Korea on Friday — authorities in Pyongyang said he was deported — and returned to his California home over the weekend.
“I just didn’t understand that, for the North Korean regime, the Korean War isn’t over and that even innocent remarks about the war can cause big problems if you are a foreigner,” Newman wrote.
“I’m a Korean War veteran and I’m proud of my military service, when I helped train Korean partisans. The North Koreans still harbor resentment about those partisans,” and other anti-communist guerrillas, Newman added.
He said he did not hide his military service from North Korean authorities and had asked to visit the area near Mount Kuwol where the wartime training took place. Newman said that the visit was on his itinerary at first but that he was later told he could not go because a bridge had washed out.
“Before they told me this, I innocently asked my North Korean guides whether some of those who fought in the war in the Mount Kuwol area might still be alive, and expressed an interest in possibly meeting them if they were,” Newman wrote. “The North Koreans seem to have misinterpreted my curiosity as something more sinister.”
Newman was pulled from a plane in late October as he prepared to leave North Korea after a 10-day visit.
His detention was kept secret by U.S. officials for nearly a month in hopes of winning a quiet release. He was eventually freed after back-channel talks between the United States and North Korea, which have no formal diplomatic ties, U.S. officials said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the diplomacy on the record.