Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma's White Terror opportunity

Kudos to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for remembering and lamenting the sufferings of the White Terror era during his Sunday trip to Green Island (綠島) -- the site of a former jail for political prisoners under the then authoritarian KMT regime.

As many might say: It's the thought that counts. Ma's pledge to open new investigations into several unsolved cases of political persecution during the White Terror period is encouraging to the victims' surviving relatives and friends, many of whom live to this day with the grief and agony of not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

But Ma's new role as champion of this cause comes with a condition: He will open an investigation if he is elected president next year.

With the weight of such a condition, his desire to uncover the truth falters in its sincerity.

But what if Ma fails in his presidential bid next March? Would he still publicly press for investigations? Does he really want to solve these White Terror cases?

What is the value of justice to a public figure when it comes with a condition?

In that dark time, many innocent citizens were imprisoned, tortured and executed on groundless charges of espionage by the Taiwan Garrison Command, the KMT's security apparatus.

The KMT's web-like secret agent system did not just operate domestically; citizens living abroad were also caught up in the fear.

Overseas pro-independence Taiwanese students risked being blacklisted under the watchful eyes of the "professional students" -- those who were subsidized by the KMT to study abroad and spy on them for the party.

In the worst cases, students disappeared mysteriously, leaving their relatives and friends back home completely unaware of their whereabouts.

The cases of Carnegie Mellon University professor Chen Wen-chen (陳文成) and former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) are the best-known unsolved crimes of the White Terror era, as cited by Ma on Sunday.

Chen was active in the independence movement in the US. He was found dead on the lawn of National Taiwan University on July 2, 1981 -- just one day after returning to Taiwan to visit his family.

At the time, the KMT government claimed he had committed suicide. A Carnegie Mellon team however concluded that he had been murdered.

And, 27 years on, the gruesome murders of Lin's mother and twin daughters remain unsolved. The three were killed when Lin was in jail for his involvement in the Kaohsiung Incident in December 1979, a human rights rally that turned violent.

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in 2004 vowed to push the legislature to set up an investigation committee to look into these unsolved cases. Yet now, three years later, and within months of the conclusion of Chen's presidency, his words remain just that -- words.

If Ma is sincere about caring for the victims of the White Terror era and their surviving loved ones, he should not wait until he is elected. He could easily ask the KMT caucus to map out drafts and set up legislative committees that complement the judicial process but do not exceed the limits of legislative oversight.

Doing so will prove to the public not only that Ma is serious about seeing justice served but also that he could be more efficient than the DPP in accomplishing transitional justice.

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