Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Return of the White Terror

Taiwan's climate is not cold enough to warrant the use of radiators, so the 319 investigation committee lacks the cheap investigatory resources -- tying someone to an overheated radiator until they tell you what you want to hear -- of less torrid climes. Doubtless the pan-blues who dominate the committee will be thrown back on the means they used in the "good old days, when people had hope," as they call it, better known to others as the days of the White Terror. The old hands from the Taiwan Garrison Command haven't forgotten how to wire up someone's genitals to a hand generator, surely? God forbid that the old and valued skills of extracting confessions under duress should have withered in this democratic age.

Why do we paint the investigation commission as resembling the Spanish Inquisition? Because it has armed itself with pretty much the same set of powers and, far more importantly, shown about the same delicacy regarding human and constitutional rights -- ie, none at all. Let us be honest and admit that the issue has been mishandled from the start. There is talk of the new committee being unconstitutional. But the simple fact is that any committee at all would probably be so. The Constitution explicitly says that the Judicial Yuan has charge of civil, criminal and administrative cases. So any committee which impinged on these powers would either be constitutionally dubious or toothless. But given that the investigation of the election-eve shooting seemed to be going nowhere, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) felt pressured into trying to set something up, if only to prove that the investigation wasn't going nowhere on purpose, and to dispel the bizarre fantasies of the "bulletgate" conspiracy theorists.

What was needed was a constitutional amendment to allow criminal investigations, in restricted and exceptional circumstances, by other organs -- some sort of independent counsel's office, for example. This would have required an intelligent appreciation of what was needed, cooperation in the legislature toward passing the measure, and time, none of which the pan-blues were interested in granting.

What we actually got was the pan-blues passing their own bill, which aimed not to find out the truth but to provide them with a political tool to embarrass and harass the government and the pan-greens as much as possible without having to take any responsibility for the consequences. They can accuse whomever of whatever and leave it to seconded prosecutors to press the charges, however vacuous and ill-prepared they might be.

We could talk about the damage to the principle of separation of powers in setting up this committee. The independence of a judiciary from those staples of legislatures the world over, horse-trading, lobbying and the pork barrel, is a basic principle. What the new committee setup gives us is the majority faction in the legislature having the right to interfere in the affairs of the judiciary in any way it pleases, without any check on its power whatsoever. No wonder the committee has been called "a tool to rape justice."

This might violate the basic principles of democratic government, but it is not, however, the most outrageous thing about the new committee and its powers. Nor even is the fact that the committee is to be composed of party political hacks with no legal training. The real scandal, likely to do Taiwan's reputation as a liberal democracy serious damage, is that it dispenses with basic constitutional rights and protections. The statute creating the committee explicitly exempts it from the application of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This means that "due process" simply doesn't have to be followed, which in turn means safeguards against coercion do not apply. There is apparently nothing like a good beating with a rubber hose at the behest of a legislative appointee to find out who shot the president.

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