Mon, Nov 07, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Vote for a legal system that is just

By Lin Feng-jeng 林峰正

How do you put a price on a human life? You cannot. Although most people would probably agree that, recent events could force us to revisit that supposition.

Fourteen years ago, air force Private Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) was found guilty of murder by a court martial and executed. The government said the legal process was followed to the letter of the law.

However, it was subsequently revealed that mistakes had been made and the same military court determined Chiang was innocent of the crime for which he had been executed.

Again, this was all done in strict adherence to the law the government says.

Last week, the court, again in line with the law, ruled that Chiang’s mother, Wang Tsai-lien (王彩蓮), would receive more than NT$103.18 million (US$3.4 million) in compensation for the loss of her beloved son.

That is how a price is put on a human life, though I doubt anyone would be willing to sell his or her own life for that amount.

When interviewed about the proposed compensation, Wang said that no amount of money could bring back her child. It was heartrending to hear. It is a lot of money, but what does that mean?

The thing that strikes me most is that the killing of her child was done according to the law, but so was changing the verdict to “not guilty,” absolving Chiang of any wrongdoing and leading to the proposed compensation.

The presiding judge said that no further action would be brought against the officers responsible for this terrible error, including former minister of national defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏), who was chief of the Air Force Combat Command at the time, because the statute of limitations for their possible crimes had already expired. Once again this has all been done to the letter of the law.

Is there something I am missing here or is this not meant to be understandable? It seems that Taiwanese just have to grin and bear anything the government decides to do, whether it is right or wrong, as long as the government claims “it was all done to the letter of the law.”

Taiwanese do not have any choice in the matter; we must simply accept what we are given. The law now instructs that the public must foot the bill for this blood money paid to “correct” the injustice done to Chiang and his family.

The Ministry of National Defense now says that it is going to convene a panel of experts to look into how it might seek compensation from the individuals involved, which I am sure is completely in line with the law. However, will the panel conclude — as did the presiding judge — that, according to the law, these people cannot be prosecuted and that the ministry has no recourse in seeking compensation from them? It is certainly possible.

The government’s attitude seems to be that all it needs to do is hold up its hands and say: “Yes, we wrongfully executed Chiang, and that was unfortunate, but we have been as sincere as we can about it and paid out an unprecedented amount in compensation,” and that is that.

If the government fails to clarify who was responsible for this miscarriage of justice, Chiang’s life and death will have been in vain. Such clarification would include addressing the role of the Taipei Prosecutors’ Office, which initially ruled that Chen and another eight individuals could not be prosecuted because the statue of limitations had expired.

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