The campaign to see former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) released from jail on medical parole received a shot in the arm earlier this week with the arrival in Taiwan of former US attorney-general Ramsey Clark, who warned President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration that it risked being regarded as a “murderer” if it allowed Chen’s health to continue to deteriorate while in prison.
For months now, a small number of people within the pan-green camp have argued that Chen’s jail conditions are detrimental to his health, while others maintain that his incarceration for corruption is purely the result of political repression by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Here is not the place to debate the merits of those arguments. Suffice it to say that the complexity of the case, not to mention its future implications, requires minds both sober and fair.
Having failed to rally a sufficiently large segment of Taiwanese society to the cause, which until recently had allowed the administration to downplay the matter, some Chen supporters have turned to the US for help, a gambit that resulted in a visit by medical experts (who unsurprisingly determined that Chen’s condition was deteriorating) and a handful of impassioned — and sometimes hyperbolic — op-eds that went largely ignored.
Granted, major human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch seem to have forgotten about Taiwan, attributing this to a lack of resources and, they argue, the much worse human rights violations that occur elsewhere. This disinterest has forced Taiwanese activists, who use US pressure on the Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) regime in the 1980s as a precedent for positive interventionism, to look elsewhere for support.
The problem, both for the activists and ultimately for Chen, is that the support they have managed to garner comes from rather dubious sources, so much so that rather than help the cause, it risks undermining the very legitimacy of their purpose. Clark, unfortunately, is a perfect example of this. It is one thing to seek outside help; it’s another to do so regardless of the cost to one’s integrity.
The issue with Clark is that he brings along baggage that harms his credibility as a human rights defender. There is no denying that he got off to a good start in 1980 when he flew here to bring international attention to the situation in Taiwan following the Kaohsiung Incident, a move that, years later, some Taiwanese dissidents of the time say probably saved their lives. Clark’s odd turn, and what ultimately harms his image, occurred decades later in his career, when he decided to side with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, two tyrants who were responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of their own people.
It is hard to take Clark seriously when, attending the butcher of the Balkans’ funeral in 2006 (Milosevic died in a UN war crimes tribunal detention center in The Hague), he said that history would prove Milosevic right and that he and Saddam, were “both commanders who were courageous enough to fight more powerful countries.”
Rights organizations rightly pointed out flaws in the process surrounding the two former leaders’ trials, but to argue that history would prove them right, or to draw a moral equivalence between despots and the world leaders who, along with NATO, tried to end their genocidal acts, is irresponsible in the extreme.
Chen’s fate, as are the problems of corruption by government officials and the independence of the judiciary, are matters of great importance for the future of this country.
Consequently, those who are called upon to intervene in such matters must be chosen carefully lest their involvement turn into a circus performance, which in the end can only harm the very fabric of our society as well as those who deserve justice.