President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday said the death of a soldier following disciplinary confinement earlier this month was the result of “absolute power leading to absolute corruption,” and he ordered the Ministry of National Defense to thoroughly investigate the incident.
“Regarding the unfortunate death of late Army Corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘), who was subject to inappropriate disciplinary measures by a military brigade, I have ordered the ministry to get to the bottom of the case and to make public the results of its investigation as quickly as possible,” Ma said.
The president made the remarks during a memorial ceremony yesterday morning for victims of political oppression during the Martial Law era, which coincided with the 26th anniversary of the lifting of martial law in 1987.
Ma’s comments came amid a fierce backlash over the death of Hung, 23, who died of multiple organ failure on July 4 after joining a 45-minute routine training session a day earlier, which included running, push-ups and sit-ups.
Prior to his death — which occurred just two days before he was set to be discharged — Hung had been in solitary confinement. He had been sentenced to a week in a solitary cell on June 28 for bringing a smartphone with a camera onto an army base without permission after he returned from vacation on June 23.
To assuage the growing public outcry over the case, the ministry has imposed punitive measures on 27 army officers who have been linked to Hung’s death, 12 of which are facing court-martial.
The ministry must try to put itself in the position of Hung’s family when handling the investigation, Ma said, adding that if a similar incident occurred in the future, the government would lose the public’s faith in its efforts to protect human rights.
“Public servants are particularly vulnerable to committing human rights violations because they have power in their hands and are thus more likely to accidentally or on purpose abuse their powers and infringe on the rights of their subordinates,” the president said.
“Therefore, we must make it clear to all civil servants on their first day in the job that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he added.
The ministry’s Department of Military Justice later yesterday said that given the large scope of the investigation into the case, it had not set a timetable for its completion, the Chinese-language United Evening News reported.
“Military investigators are questioning all parties involved in the case and need time to compare their statements,” the department was quoted by the newspaper as saying. “As for a joint investigation, we currently have no plans to collaborate with judicial agencies in probing the incident.”
Meanwhile, a forensic expert said yesterday that Hung died from heat stroke.
Kao Ta-cheng (高大成), who attended Hung’s autopsy, said that he and Shih Tai-ping (石台平), a senior forensic expert from the Institute of Forensic Medicine under the Ministry of Justice who directed the autopsy, both believe Hung died from disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), adding that rhabdomyolysis or heat stroke can trigger such a condition.
“I believe Hung suffered heat stroke, but those attending the autopsy have a variety of opinions on how it came about. I believe he was harmed by people on purpose, but others think Hung may have suffered heat stroke with no interference,” Kao said.
Kao said there were no obvious injuries to Hung’s body.
Military prosecutor Lee Yung-chi (李詠祺), who is in charge of criminal investigation of the case, told reporters that Hung’s body did not have any significant injuries
Lee said that initial findings indicate that Hung died from heat stroke. He added that the official autopsy report would be released in two or three weeks.
Meanwhile, the soldier’s supporters have launched an Internet protest.
“The Citizen 1985 Action Ally” plan a rally in front of the main building of the defense ministry on Saturday afternoon, and called for people who have ever experienced abuse during military service to join the protest.
The organizers of the rally plan to have attendees perform split jumps (交互蹲跳), push-ups and other physical requirements of military training in front of the ministry. They will also simulate Hung’s confinement.
The organizers also proposed that a candlelit memorial service in Hung’s honor be held at the Freedom Square of National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in the evening.
The military has announced that it intends to punish 27 army officers, including three-star Commander General Lee Hsiang-chou (李翔宙), following Hung’s death, with further investigations ongoing.
Additional reporting by staff writer