Fourteen years after Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) was executed for a crime he did not commit, the Control Yuan has censured the military for its handling of the case, the president has personally apologized to Chiang’s family and two new probes have been launched, one by prosecutors and one by the military.
While prosecutors work on their case against Hsu Jung-chou (許榮洲), who has confessed — for a second time — to the 1996 rape and murder of the five-year-old girl that Chiang was wrongly executed for, there has been a rush to criticize those involved in the prosecution of Chiang and yet an equally quick effort to absolve the government and those who bayed for Chiang’s blood of responsibility.
Questions about Chiang’s arrest, prosecution and execution are nothing new, including questions about his “confession” and allegations of torture. Chiang’s father first appealed to the Control Yuan to look into the case on Sept. 15, 1996, three days after his son was accused of killing the girl.
What has largely been left out of recent reporting about Chiang’s case is discussion about the media frenzy and public hysteria aroused by the murder of a young girl on an air force base and the subsequent pressure on the military and the government to find a suspect. There has also been little discussion of the fact that confessions extracted under torture have played a prominent role in several high-profile death penalty cases in civilian courts — some of which have dragged on for as long or longer than Chiang’s.
The 1987 kidnap-murder of nine-year-old Lu Cheng (陸正) was also “solved” on the basis of confessions extracted under torture — torture that was recorded on audio tapes of the interrogations and led to the conviction of several police officers for torture and perjury. However, all 12 defendants were convicted solely on the basis of those confessions, despite the lack of any forensic evidence against them, including Chiou Ho-shun (邱和順), who was sentenced to death. Years later, another man confessed to killing Lu, but his confession has been ignored and Chiou and two co-defendants are still behind bars as their case bounces back and forth between the High Court and Supreme Court.
Then there is the Hsichih Trio — Liu Bing-lang (劉秉郎), Su Chien-ho (蘇建和) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) — who retracted confessions they said were the result of torture. No forensic evidence tied them to the bloody 1991 murder of a couple, besides the ludicrous claim that NT$24 found in a closet had been stolen from the victims’ apartment. This is another case that has clogged the courts for far too long.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has said a serious violation of human rights in the military, such as Chiang’s, can never be allowed to happen again. However, he has failed to comment on other prominent cases of tortured confessions and serious abuses of human rights.
The Code of Criminal Procedure (刑事訴訟法) says confessions cannot serve as the sole basis of evidence of guilt and prohibits courts from using evidence extracted by means of torture, and yet these cases drag on with no one willing to admit that there have been major miscarriages of justice.
It is time that the government — and the public — take a long, hard look at the inadequacies of the legal system, especially in terms of the rights of defendants, and move to reform the system that has been too quick to condemn and too unwilling to admit mistakes. For example, one reason the Hsichih Trio’s case continues to clog the courts is that the defense doesn’t have the right to call its own forensic experts.