U.S. veteran held in N. Korea says he was comfortable
SAN FRANCISCO - A day after arriving home to California, the 85-year-old U.S. veteran detained for weeks by North Korea said Sunday that he had been well-fed and kept comfortable in a hotel room, not a jail cell.
Merrill Newman spoke briefly with the Santa Cruz Sentinel outside his vacation home steps from the beach in Santa Cruz, a coastal community about 75 miles south of San Francisco. Newman and his wife also live about 45 miles north in a Palo Alto retirement home.
He was detained in late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.
Newman told the newspaper, "That's not my English," when asked about the video North Korean state media released last month showing him reading an awkwardly worded alleged confession apologizing for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war.
Analysts questioned whether the statement was coerced. Newman hasn't discussed the circumstances of the alleged apology, but it was riddled with stilted English and grammatical errors, such as "I want not punish me."
Asked if he planned any more travel, Newman said his wife was now in charge of his passport.
The veteran's family did not respond to an e-mail from the Associated Press requesting an interview. His son, Jeff Newman, said the family planned to talk about Newman's experience in greater detail sometime later after he has recuperated.
Newman arrived at San Francisco International Airport from Beijing shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday and was greeted by his wife, son, and friends.
"I'm delighted to be home," he said. "It's been a great homecoming. I'm tired, but ready to be with my family."
He also thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping secure his release.
North Korea cited Newman's age and medical condition in allowing him to leave the country.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat whose district encompasses Newman's Palo Alto home, said on CNN Sunday morning that North Korea's reason for detaining Newman may never be completely explained.
He said North Korea's internal politics, the country's desire for global attention, and other wants could have prompted Newman's detention.