John McCain Says U.S. Shouldn’t Be Responsible For “Stupid” Americans Who Go To North Korea

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Arizona Sen. John McCain waded into controversy on Tuesday with his remarks about Otto Warmbier, the American college student whose imprisonment in North Korea resulted in a coma. Warmbier died on Monday, less than a week after his return to the U.S. Just one day later, McCain called Americans who visit North Korea "stupid," and argued they should have to sign waivers absolving the U.S. government of responsibility if something happens to them.

McCain, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and a longtime critic of the North Korean regime, made the comment on Monday morning. According to the Associated Press, he argued that Americans who travel to the hyper-repressive state should have to sign a waiver before doing so, ostensibly to reduce pressure on the U.S. to act in the event that there's a kidnapping, arrest, or conviction.

There should at least be a form for them to fill out that says, ‘If I go to North Korea, I understand I am taking great risk, and I do not hold the American government responsible. ... If people are that stupid that they still want to go to that country, then at least they assume the responsibility for their welfare.

It's a comment that some have criticized as harsh in the immediate aftermath of Warmbier's death. McCain didn't actually mention Warmbier by name when making the case, though he did implicitly call him ― as well as any other Americans who travel to North Korea as tourists ― stupid.

When McCain actually addressed Warmbier's case specifically, he offered a far more resolute condemnation of North Korea, saying the 22-year-old University of Virginia student was "murdered" by the authoritarian state.

Now it has escalated to brutalizing Americans, including three other citizens currently imprisoned in North Korea. The United States of America cannot and should not tolerate the murder of its citizens by hostile powers. ... In the final year of his life, he lived the nightmare in which the North Korean people have been trapped for 70 years: forced labor, mass starvation, systematic cruelty, torture and murder.

It remains to be seen what actions, if any, the U.S. government will take in response to Warmbier's death. President Trump has delivered some tough-talking rhetoric on the isolated nation before, but given that it's a notoriously belligerent nuclear-armed power, it's unclear what responses are on the table.