On Sunday last week — Mothers’ Day, one mother started an indefinite hunger strike in front of the Ministry of Defense. She is Yu Jui-ming (尤瑞敏), whose son, air force staff sergeant Tsai Hsueh-liang (蔡學良), died during target practice on a shooting range on May 9, 2008.
Following Tsai’s death, military authorities quickly concluded that he had committed suicide, but there are many suspicious aspects to the case that have prevented Yu from accepting the official story. Over the years, she has done the rounds of government departments, asking for a live-round ballistics test and an incident reconstruction to be carried out.
A death during shooting practice could be suicide, homicide, or an accident. From the military’s point of view, suicide is the best of these options, and the least troublesome. The other options, apart from suicide, would both require the military authorities to look into where they went wrong and seek to apportion blame.
If Tsai did kill himself, why choose to do it during one of his company’s firearms training sessions, when everyone could see him? What did he do and say before killing himself? Did he want to make a statement with his death, or was it a protest against abuse within the military? These are all matters that should be investigated and clarified — all the more so if it was homicide or an accident.
A crime scene reconstruction might provide answers to these questions. Incident reconstruction is a well-developed method of investigation that is often employed in Taiwan. The most well-known case in Taiwan was when a court invited US forensic scientist Henry Lee (李昌鈺) to conduct a crime scene reconstruction, from which he concluded that the 1991 murder of a couple in Sijhih (汐止) in what was then-Taipei County, for which one person was executed and three others condemned to death, could have been committed by one person acting alone, thus establishing the innocence of the three men on death row.
Only six years have passed since Tsai’s death. The list of names of officers and men who served in his company is still available, so it would not be hard to locate all the people who were present on the day of his death.
The shooting range is reportedly still in its original condition. Photographs and video footage taken from the original on-site investigation, in combination with the autopsy report, would be of some help in reconstructing the scene of the incident. If experienced and trusted investigation experts were invited to handle the case, they should be able to get close to the truth and provide answers to the doubts plaguing Yu.
Yu is very keen for an incident reconstruction to be held, but according to existing laws the results of such a reconstruction would not be acceptable as evidence unless ordered by court judges. Despite all Yu’s efforts over the years, she has not found any department that is both authorized and willing to carry out a reconstruction.
Last year, the case of Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), who died because of alleged abuse just before completing his mandatory military service, brought 250,000 white-shirted protesters out onto Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) responded to public indignation by announcing the establishment of the Military Injustice Petitions Committee to handle and reopen if necessary investigations into cases of suspicious death in the military. This gave Yu hope that the committee, formed under the authority of the Cabinet and with abundant resources at its disposal, would carry out a substantial investigation into her son’s death.