Colucci reflects on Warmbier case in North Korea

In June, an opinion piece by Associate Professor of Politics and Government Lamont Colucci was published on Usnews.com reflecting on the death of Otto Warmbier. Warmbier, a college student, was imprisoned in North Korea last year for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster from his hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and died in June from a vague cause.

In “Protect Americans Everywhere,” Colucci argues that the United States needs to be the one prosecuting its citizens, not foreign nations such as North Korea. Colucci proposes that extraterritoriality is the best approach for the United States to take when it comes to its allies and citizens. “The actual crime committed by any particular American is entirely irrelevant,” he writes. “If a crime is determined to be so heinous as to warrant punishment, an American court can hear the case.”

Extraterritoriality is the concept that countries should prosecute their own citizens for crimes, even if those citizens were in a different country when it was committed. “It was primarily abolished because, as nation states interacted with each other, there was a belief that those national courts could handle individual cases in some impartial manner,” Colucci explains. “The assumption was that any person brought back to their homeland would receive a more lenient punishment, if at all, by their home court system.”

Against this notion, Colucci points out that in places like North Korea, impartial justice is not possible. “How is an American expected to receive any fairness in a system that is inherently evil and corrupt even to its own citizens?”

The legalities are not as important as the diplomacy of the matter, Colucci states.“The only issue that is of concern is whether or not the person brutalized, captured, incarcerated or obstructed is perceived as an American citizen, legal resident or ally,” he wrote.

“The United States should adopt an unambiguous position that no American can be maltreated on pain of retribution. The retribution should be aggressive, quick and robust,” he explains. “Those harming Americans should lose tangible assets, whether those are Iranian oil platforms as in the case of President Ronald Reagan, or military targets in Libya.”

Colucci also rallies against the notion that Americans should be held responsible for the extreme punishments they may receive in other countries for minor crimes. “What were those backpackers thinking getting so close to Iran? Did Fay not realize that vandalizing cars is illegal anywhere? Don’t Christian missionaries know that evangelizing in North Korea is suicide? None of this is relevant. The world’s superpower cannot create its own tattered fig leaf because the Department of State issued some internet travel warning.”

Finally, Colucci states that America’s stance needs to be bigger than individual cases. “In the end, this is an issue of America foreign policy, not of individual cases. American leadership and American honor are grander than any individual mistake or misadventure. There should be zero tolerance for those that engage in terror against Americans or those states that allow such terror to occur.”


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