On March 18, media revealed that a large quantity of materials related to political cases from the 1950s White Terror, as well as ordinary criminal cases, had been uncovered at the Investigation Bureau’s investigation center, known as the “Ankang Guesthouse” (安康招待所) in the Ankeng (安坑) area in Taipei County’s Xindian City. The discovery came as a shock to everyone who cares about transitional justice and the history of Taiwan’s struggle for democracy. The Ankang Guesthouse case is, however, merely the tip of the iceberg.
Most of the cases of political persecution under the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) authoritarian regime that have been made public are cases that had already been turned over to military courts. There are very few records of what happened at the pre-trial stages of arrest, interrogation and extraction of confessions. This most important piece of the puzzle has been missing for those attempting to find out the truth about what happened during the White Terror era.
As many of the departments concerned have been reorganized or disbanded over the years, their records are now distributed among various agencies. For example, files from the former Secrecy Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense (MND), which was responsible for investigating cases related to the underground communist Taiwan Province Work Committee in 1949 and the early 1950s, are now in the hands of Department No. 4 of the Investigation Bureau under the Ministry of Justice. Those of the former Peace Preservation Department under the Police Headquarters, which handled political cases besides those related to the Taiwan Province Work Committee, may have been handed over to the Intelligence Department of the Coast Guard Administration, and then given to the Reserve Command, and so on.
Considering this state of affairs, the National Archives Administration (NAC), which is the central government agency with overall responsibility for public records, is the department best suited for finding and collecting all records of political cases, wherever they may be.
The Archives Act (檔案法) stipulates that files may be marked for permanent or fixed-period archiving. Files designated for permanent archiving must be handed over to the NAC for preservation as state archives. Those marked for fixed-period archiving may be destroyed at the end of the designated storage period, but first they are supposed to be collated and sent to be checked by the NAC.
However, many people doubt whether the NAC is really able to ensure that other departments catalog their files in the proper detailed manner. Moreover, it is up to the various departments themselves to decide how long files must be kept. If the people in charge of intelligence agencies fail to recognize the value of these historical documents, they may mark them for fixed-period archiving, in which case they are likely to be destroyed when the time is up. If that happens, organizations and individuals who seek to probe the truth about how Taiwan was governed in the past will draw a blank. Once lost, the records can never be replaced.
To ensure the preservation of these records, the NAC should quickly instruct all departments that were ever responsible for investigating political cases or collecting political intelligence to check their own records of such cases, as well as files that may have been passed on to them by departments that no longer exist, and to mark all such files for permanent archiving. Departments that should be notified include the Investigation Bureau under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), the Military Intelligence Department under the Reserve Command, the National Security Bureau, the Presidential Office, the Judge Advocates Bureau and General Political Warfare Bureau under the Ministry of National Defense, the Military Police Command, the National Police Administration under the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.