Why is no one held to account?

By Lin Feng-jeng 林峰正  / 

Mon, Jun 06, 2011 - Page 8

Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) recently issued a statement in which he expressed views related to the fact that prosecutors have said members of the military tortured former Air Force Command serviceman Chiang Kuo-ching (江國慶) and that this led to the wrongful conviction and execution of Chiang.

Lo addressed the fact that the so-called “true killer,” Hsu Jung-chou (許榮洲), was being charged with rape and murder and that former defense minister and then-commander of the Air Force Command, Chen Chao-min (陳肇敏), and eight other officers would not face charges because the statute of limitations has expired.

Speaking on behalf of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Lo said Ma thinks the government should carefully reflect on the mistakes committed by the military staff concerned and that these mistakes would not be repeated. Lo said Ma had to respect that as president he should not interfere in any ongoing investigation.

Lo said that since the military was re-opening the Chiang case to allow it to reverse the verdict and clear Chiang’s name, in accordance with legal procedure, Ma would respect the outcome of the re-examinations of the case.

The military judicial re--examination has not produced any results, but the prosecutors’ investigation into the case shows that Chiang was indeed tortured. However, because the statute of limitations has passed, nobody will be charged. In simpler terms, nobody needs to take responsibility for what happened. Is this what Ma must respect?

When the Chiang case became an issue once again this year, Ma said, via Lo, that since coming to office he has always placed an emphasis on human rights, that he was opposed to wrongful convictions and that he would continue to carry out judicial reform. Not until public criticism was directed at the Ministry of National Defense for reacting too slowly did Ma change his tune.

On Feb 1, he visited Chiang’s mother, to whom he apologized and declared that case would be re-investigated and Chiang’s innocence proven. He also said those responsible would be held to account and that the family would be given help to obtain compensation.

Efforts toward clearing Chiang’s name are only about to begin and there seems to be no hope that those responsible will be held to account. There is not sign of compensation for the Chiang family.

The reason prosecutors have now charged “the real culprit” Hsu is that they think the examination shows that a palm print left behind by the murderer on the wooden frame of the window in the toilet where the victim’s body was found matched Hsu’s right palm print. In addition, the reappraisal of the original report on tissue paper taken from the murder scene was not sufficient to prove that Chiang was guilty and a test of the utility knife found at the scene did not find any evidence to prove it was Chiang’s or show any signs of blood from the victim.

In other words, not a single piece of evidence — not palm prints, tissue paper or the utility knife — proved Chiang was involved in the murder. Prosecutors have also proved that Chiang was threatened and tortured by several members of Air Force Command’s counterintelligence unit, who abused their powers to illegally obtain a confession. The torture produced the involuntary confession.

If things are really like the prosecutors said, then they fit Article 125 of the Criminal Code and its prescriptions on the statute of limitations for those who abuse their power. This is because if the material evidence does not match the accused in anyway, then according to the law, a confession alone is not enough to issue a guilty verdict.

The “confession” was obviously inconsistent with the facts and Article 125 of the Criminal Code states that those causing someone known to be innocent to be charged and given the death sentence should be given a prison sentence of seven years or more. This constitutes a felony for which the statute of limitation is at least 20 years.

Therefore, these military officers can still be charged, so one wonders why the prosecutors cannot charge them.

Furthermore, Chen and the other military officers involved in the Chiang case were not military prosecutors or judges and so it was not part of their official duties to prosecute or punish criminals. That means that they are not subject to the regulations regarding abuse of power prescribed in the Criminal Code.

However, according to Article 31 of the code, if someone lacking the appropriate status and someone with the appropriate status jointly commit a crime, the person without the appropriate status should still be considered an accomplice and convicted for abuse of power.

The best example of such a case is one involving former first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍), who was prosecuted as an accomplice in the corruption case against her husband, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

So why should a case that is also being handled by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Panel (SIP) be handled according to a different set of standards? The task force set up to re-investigate the Chiang case is a complete joke as it is only trying to prevent certain officials from being held to account.

The latest investigation by prosecutors may have helped prove Chiang’s innocence, but as far as holding those responsible to account goes, we have merely seen how good the SIP is at covering up for officials.

Ma’s visit to the Chiang family on Feb 1 seemed to show that he wanted to become involved in this case, but at this crucial juncture he has pulled his head in again and is ignoring the issue. It is deeply worrying that it will prove impossible to bring an end to the use of torture and that all Ma’s talk about the government carefully reflecting on its past mistakes is nothing more than a bunch of lies.

Can Ma seriously “respect” the way the military judiciary is helping officials shirk responsibility?

Lin Feng-jeng is a lawyer and executive director of the Judicial Reform Foundation.