Amid the Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) scandal and Da-an by-election, the latest outrage at the controversy-plagued Ministry of Justice might almost have gone unnoticed.
After the Investigation Bureau’s long-disused Ankeng Guesthouse was found full of interrogation documents from the White Terror era and jars containing body parts, the ministry last week presented a report in which it suggested destroying any of the documents that did not “need” to be archived.
The ministry’s reasoning: Preserving the documents could violate the privacy of the people named in them — the interrogation victims of the Taiwan Garrison Command, the government’s Martial Law-era terror apparatus.
At best, the report was stunningly incompetent, particularly in terms of public relations. At worst, it was a move to prevent the contents and history of these documents from coming to light.
The mere suggestion of destroying them is sinister: They are decades-old items of evidence from events that have long haunted the nation’s memory. Year after year, families whose loved ones disappeared with no trace beg the government for closure. Their need to know the fates of those they lost has not diminished.
The discoveries at the Ankeng Guesthouse have layers of significance. Victims and bereaved family members have a right to know what has been found. Additionally, it raises questions that both the former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration and members of the former and current Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administrations must face: How did these documents come to be abandoned in the Ankeng building and who knew about them? There can be no doubt that the answers will be ugly.
What the ministry does with the evidence and how it proceeds with an investigation will also reflect on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) efforts to reach out to the victims of his party’s authoritarian past. If Ma does not follow through on his annual call for uncovering “the truth” behind the party’s sins, his credibility on the issue will be irreparably tarnished.
On his first 228 Incident anniversary as president, Ma said that although he was not responsible for the 1947 massacre, he recognized that he had a responsibility to uncover the truth.
“I will focus all my efforts to look into the truth and give the justice that the families deserve,” Ma said.
With a building full of potentially implicating documents from the White Terror era now in his hands, Ma must do the same for these victims of persecution as he has pledged for those of 228.
Members of both the DPP and KMT have called for the truth behind the 228 Incident and White Terror murders to be revealed, yet neither party has backed its words with actions on the Ankeng material. This is why the possibilty of the destruction of the Ankeng evidence so soon after its discovery is disturbing. It raises the concern that a thorough investigation will never materialize and that questions of responsibility will be swept under the carpet.
Considering that staff at the ministry and Investigation Bureau did not take appropriate care of the Ankeng files in the first place, it is unclear why the ministry should now be entrusted with determining which documents are worth keeping and which are disposable. If this opportunity to shed light on the nation’s most shameful secrets is sabotaged, it will be another crime against the Taiwan Garrison Command’s victims.