As if the world needed more proof, the tragic case of Otto Warmbier surfaces to reinforce just how brutal the North Korean regime is, writes Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post. As UN human rights investigators have found, the nation runs a prison system that has echoes of the Soviet Union's gulag and even Nazi Germany's concentration camps. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners have endured the same abuse as Warmbier, and yet Pyongyang is allowed to carry on. Why? The regime is "repugnant but convenient" for many. China's leaders, for instance, don't want "a unified, pro-Western Korea on their border," South Korea isn't thrilled about the expense of bringing millions of North Koreans up to a modern living standard, and the US is more interested in the North's nuclear weapons than helping those in captivity.
"And so, though the country is backward and totally dependent on outside assistance, the regime lives on," writes Hiatt. "The prison camps endure." Hiatt writes that he can't stop thinking about Warmbier, whose high crime seems to have been trying to steal a hotel banner as a souvenir; nor can he stop thinking about all the "smart people" who have argued over the years that the North Korean regime should not be destabilized. Maybe this case will finally change that thinking? "We don’t know whether North Korean guards beat Warmbier into a coma or whether his abuse and maltreatment came in some other form," he writes. "What we do know is that a healthy young man flew to Pyongyang, was unjustly seized and then became lost to the world—with no one bothering to inform his parents." Click for the full column.