What was the cause of death for army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘)? According to the first death certificate issued by the military, it was recorded as “accidental” in a cover-up attempt. On the second certificate, it was recorded as the rather ambiguous “other.”
This stood all the way until Hung’s relatives met President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Sunday. On the same day, a third death certificate was hurriedly issued and delivered in person to the Presidential Office, on which the cause of death was recorded as “homicide.” That this was all done so efficiently was admittedly due to the fact that the president had ordered it, but more importantly it was because of the mass vigil for Hung held outside the Presidential Office the previous night.
If the white T-shirt-clad masses attending the protest had not put such extraordinary pressure on Ma, it is extremely unlikely that the new death certificate, the one on which the recorded cause of death most closely approaches the truth, would have been issued.
The third death certificate not only represents belated justice, it also reveals the unsavory nature of the military justice system. To be more specific, the military justice system in this country is the end result of a process of evolution from military rule to a period of political tutelage to the present day, with its top-down model of administrative power as opposed to the guarantees of due process and respect for human rights of judicial power.
Had a commanding officer not given the order, it would have been pure delusion to expect the military to issue the third death certificate with homicide as the recorded cause of death. However, as soon as a commanding officer — the commander-in-chief himself, no less — had given the order, the certificate was indeed issued, despite the lack of precedence. It was on expedited service, too: Ask for it to be done in the morning, and have it delivered that same afternoon.
It seems obvious that the so-called military justice system is little more than a convenient edifice, and that the actual shape of military justice is what commanding officers deem desirable, or order to be so. The three death certificates are a prime example.
This military justice, which marches to the beat of the drum of those who wield power within the system, is measured mainly in the trial shows performed in its kangaroo courts. In its trials, rules are made on the fly and justice is not invited into the courtroom. Anyone hoping for exoneration in a military court is likely to be disappointed.
Citizen 1985, the activist group behind the white T-shirt vigil, made three demands related to human rights guarantees for people within the armed forces. The most important of those demands was that military trials be conducted according to judicial law, not the military’s idea of law.
What the public wants is the immediate implementation of a completely new system. Members of the armed forces charged with crimes committed during peacetime should be tried in ordinary courts, not military courts.
What the public most certainly does not want is for the government to fob off the white T-shirt movement. It should not attempt to dissipate public anger by coming up with perfunctory, hastily knocked out, spliced together amendment proposals. The only thing that will help is real change.