North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is releasing one of his four American captives, Virginia student Otto Warmbier.

But it’s not a happy story.

The dictatorship revealed this week Warmbier has been in a coma since March of 2016, which they claim was a reaction to a sleeping pill given after a bout of botulism.

So why release him now?

It’s all about a flamboyant NBA Hall of Famer and Kim’s gamble that he can force President Trump to the negotiating table.

Warmbier was arrested in January 2016 after hotel surveillance video captured him breaking into a staff-only area and attempting to steal a sign off a wall.

Even worse for Warmbier, the sign included the name of former dictator Kim Jong Il, making the attempted theft an act of blasphemy.

After a televised “trial” in March 2016 in which he falsely “confessed” to be paid by the United States government to steal the sign, he was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

Just weeks after his “conviction”, Warmbier mysteriously slipped into a coma.

North Korea claims it was a reaction to a sleeping pill given to Warmbier after a case of botulism.

His family claims Warmbier was brutally beaten, leading to a traumatic brain injury.

While North Korean prisons are unspeakably brutal, and North Korean prison guards utterly subhuman in their violence and brutality, Americans are generally treated better than Korean captives.

Unlike Koreans, Americans are valuable hostages and more useful alive than dead or seriously injured.

Some past American captives report that despite their illegal detention and abusive interrogation, they are largely spared from the physical torture and violence guards gleefully inflict on their fellow Korean captives.

However, this more favorable treatment does not appear to be the case with Warmbier.

While botulism could easily be contracted through bad fish – and there are cases where an overdose of sleeping pills can lead to a coma, American doctors are skeptical.

It’s more likely Warmbier was savagely beaten by his captors, leading to brain damage, especially since North Korea did not inform the United States of Warmbier’s condition until his release.

The conditions of Warmbier’s release makes it appear as though the North Korean regime desperately wanted to be rid of a comatose American who could die in their custody, but also did not want to release him on terms that would make it appear as though the regime feared Americans.

All Americans given similar sentences were released early, after negotiations with the U.S. The outgoing Obama administration reached out to North Korea, but held no formal visits or talks to negotiate his release.

The Trump administration has followed suit.

Had North Korea released Warmbier after Trump’s election, it would make it appear as though Jong Un feared Trump in anticipation.

Had North Korea released Warmbier after Trump had taken office, and held no talks with them, it would be a propaganda defeat for Kim, making him appear weak and subservient to Trump.

That left North Korea with a comatose hostage, and no easy way to get rid of him.

But flamboyant NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman paid his third visit to the socialist dictatorship Monday, affording Pyongyang the perfect opportunity to appear gracious, greeting the American sports legend with the release of an American prisoner.

Rodman was unaware of Warmbier’s release or condition until the rest of the public learned – but a dead hostage is useless and the visit gave North Korea the perfect opportunity to cut Warmbier loose before they had to explain how an American died in their custody.

North Korea hoped the arrest and detention of an American student would force the United States to send yet another emissary to the dictatorship, so they could negotiate additional foreign aid or relief from sanctions.

Warmbier’s quick descent into a coma left the regime with a bargaining chip that couldn’t be brought to the table.

The prognosis for Warmbier’s recovery is grim.

After a year in a coma, the damage to the brain is often irreversible.

New drugs, however, are increasing the chances for recovery, which his family is optimistic will happen.