Bring back courts martial
Having read Chao Hsuey-wen’s (趙萃文) article on reinstating military trials (“Military trials might need to be reinstated,” Nov. 28, page 8), I would like to share my opinion on the issue.
Over the past few years, there have been a number of criminal offenses, including insubordination, sexual harassment, drinking, drug use and drunk driving in the armed forces. For me, the final straw was the news that former army colonel Hsiang Te-en (向德恩) had allegedly signed a “pledge of surrender” to the Chinese Communist Party — which he held in a photograph while dressed in his military uniform — and was charged with corruption instead of treason.
That decision triggered a debate on the reinstatement of military trials.
Military personnel, when suited, booted and armed, need to follow protocols and be subjected to constraints. Judges don robes in court and doctors wear white coats.
Likewise, military uniforms are meant to represent impartiality, selflessness and empathy. Any intentional contravention of the law should therefore be dealt with seriously.
If a colonel who allegedly committed treason is not tried in a court martial, he can only be regarded as a “civilian,” and not military personnel.
The Republic of China’s founder Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) believed that “military personnel have no freedom,” meaning that they should all fall under the jurisdiction of military law, and not the civilian judicial system, to uphold order and troop discipline.
If not, how can deterrence be deployed if a soldier is tried as a civilian?
As the saying goes: “Military orders are like a mountain, military discipline is hard as iron.”
If the military cannot enforce these principles by imposing punitive measures such as solitary confinement, how can we expect the army to have the combat readiness to protect the nation?
Following the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) in 2013, former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration swiftly passed the amendment to the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) to mollify public opinion.
The reason was simple: As Taiwan is in peacetime, military personnel should be tried in civilian courts and serve sentences in civilian prisons, and only be subjected to military trials during wartime.
However, the distinction between wartime and peacetime is becoming blurred.
Military drills are being treated as if they were the real thing, so if a member of the armed forces makes a mistake during the drills or flees from the line of battle, would they be tried in a court martial or a civilian court?
The military would be hard-pressed to deter further misconduct or treason if the culprits are let off with lenient sentences.
Former premier Hau Pei-tsun (郝柏村) said in his memoir that Ma, to assuage the growing public outcry over the death of Hung, had destroyed the foundation of military leadership by abolishing courts martial, thereby committing a grave mistake of compromising professionalism in the military.
On that point, I could not agree more.
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