Sat, Sep 08, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Rubbing salt in the wound

It is a shame to realize that you can get away with murder in Taiwan, never reaping the penalties for your misdeeds, at least if you were a senior military officer at the time of the crime.

Former ministers of national defense Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏) and Lee Tien-yu (李天羽), former air force commander-in-chief Huang Hsien-jung (黃顯榮) and the many other military officers involved in the Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) travesty of justice can rest assured that they are unlikely to ever see the inside of a courtroom as defendants.

Chiang, a 21-year-old airman, was executed in 1997 for the sexual abuse and murder of a five-year-old girl on an airbase in 1996. Despite a weeks-long investigation and questioning by Taipei police and military police — after a colleague had alleged that Chiang might be involved — the case remained open until Chen ordered the air force’s counterintelligence unit to take over. Chiang was then subjected to 37 hours of interrogation, including physical and psychological torture, and, not surprisingly, he confessed. He was court-martialed and executed.

After years of battling to clear Chiang’s name, his family finally got some relief in May 2010, when the Control Yuan censured a military court over the case, citing seven major flaws in the trial. In January last year, the Ministry of Defense officially issued an apology over the case, while the following month President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) first apologized to the family and then visited them. A retrial finally cleared Chiang’s name in September last year, and the following month the Ministry of National Defense said it would pay NT$103.18 million (US$3.4 million) to the family in compensation.

For Chiang’s mother, Wang Tsai-lien (王彩蓮), money will not make up for her loss. Last year she sued Chen and other military officers for dereliction of duty over her son’s wrongful execution, but the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office decided in May last year that there was nothing it could do to remedy the matter.

It affirmed that decision late last month after Wang appealed, saying that while Chen and the other officers had resorted to torture to extract a confession, it could not intervene in a military trial. As for the allegations of illegal detention and abuse of power leading to a death, the office said that the term of litigating the violations had already expired.

That might be true, but the office then rubbed salt in the family’s wounds by saying that while Chen and the other officers had sought to close the case and win accolades for speedily resolving the much-publicized case, they did not have any intention of killing Chiang.

No intention of killing Chiang? Why the 37 hours of torture and interrogation? What did they think would happen to someone who confessed to the rape and murder of a five-year-old? Did they think a military court, amid all the uproar that the case had generated, was just going to sentence such a defendant to a couple of years in prison? These were career military officers who knew the punishment for infractions of duty as well as more serious charges. Chen clearly set the wheels of injustice turning by referring Chiang’s case to the counterintelligence agency instead of the judiciary, a violation of the Code of Court Martial Procedure.

The spokesperson for the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office said if Wang was dissatisfied with the office’s ruling, she could try to appeal again. It looks like she may have to spend the rest of her life appealing, as the system ensures that the big players remain immune from punishment. It is easier to say sorry than to actually take action to ensure that similar miscarriages of justice do not occur again.

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