Wednesday, December 05, 2012

My Letter on Chen Shui-bian Incarceration Issues

Letter on Chen Shui-bian incarceration in Taipei Times today. My thanks to the editors for printing it. They cleaned up a typo and strengthened the beginning. Title is also better than I could have thought of...


Focus on urgent issues

William Cox’s letter (Nov. 26, page 8) is obviously well meant, but illustrates several major problems with foreigners commenting on former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) medical issues. Such foreigners frequently err, as Cox does.

For example, Chen has a desk and does not write on the floor. Errors like that enable opponents to discredit pro-Chen foreigners as well-meaning fools who know little about Taiwan. Cox also appears to be unaware that prisoners in Taiwan are generally treated the same way as Chen is, and that, in fact, his incarceration is good by Taiwanese standards. For example, he was sent to one of the best hospitals in the nation for treatment, a privilege no ordinary prisoner would have received.

Few Taiwanese share this strange desire to help Chen. Most see him as, at best, a traitor to the pro-Taiwan cause; at worst, as a thief. Chen’s son recently admitted that their homes in the US were purchased with campaign funds. While converting campaign funds to personal use is legal, that money belongs to the Democratic Progressive Party on behalf of all people who worked to put him in power, as well as those murdered during the Martial Law era. Yes, Chen is a political prisoner. However, his incarceration might have been avoided had Chen behaved in a modest and ethical manner.

The truth is that the issues surrounding Chen’s detention are a minor issue not worth well-meaning outsiders’ time. Foreigners who want to help Taiwan should be focusing on more urgent issues that affect many lives, such as the forced conversion of farmland to industrial parks, the environment, carbon dioxide emissions, traffic, official corruption, human trafficking, the north-south divide, the plight of foreign workers, farmers, fisheries, urban livability, deepening democratization and so on.

If Chen comes up, it should only be as a minor poster boy for an urgently needed general program of prison reform. Taiwan-supporting foreigners, please stop wasting your time with a man who abused and betrayed your trust and whose case will merely divert your energy and impair your credibility as a speaker in Taiwan.

Michael Turton
Greater Taichung


The last sentence pretty much encapsulates how I see Chen, which is why I almost never discuss him on this blog anymore.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


MKL said...

Very well written, I completely agree with you. I do have many Taiwanese friends who would express compassion for Chen, but they would not really go beyond some "off the record" cursing of the party in charge. I feel there's only so much we can do as foreigners in politics and always bemoaning the general situation won't do much, our voices are very rarely heard and if they are, they have no effect. It's better to pick a niche-problem and try to do something. A good example is a doctor from Slovenia (my countryman), who served for 38 years in Luodong and did so voluntarily. He is my inspiration, but I admit, I'm not the half a person he is.

Michael Turton said...

A good example is a doctor from Slovenia (my countryman), who served for 38 years in Luodong and did so voluntarily.

That's awesome. What an inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Milk, not voluntarily. He did it for

Tommy said...

I think it is fair to talk about Chen in the context of double standards. Why did Chen get the treatment he got when various KMT politicians do not? I think that this is the Chen angle that many international commentators are missing. Is Chen being treated well compared to most prisoners. Probably. Is he a sign of a grave problem with Taiwan's political environment? Most certainly.

Andrew E said...

The KMT jailing Chen is the modern equivalent of putting the leader of an opposing army's head on a pike in front of your castle; it serves as a warning to those who might dare to oppose you. It says: If we can do this to HIM, then just think how we'd crush YOU if you dared to oppose us on any of the other issues. Fear is an important weapon to an authoritarian goverment.

Chen remaining in jail is a constant reminder of the degree to which the KMT still controls the country and can punish its opposition. Don't like what the judge did? we'll change him. Don't have any real evidence? we'll drop charges against criminals so they'll fabricate testimony.

I can understand why you don't like Chen the man and feel betrayed, but I think it's important for Taiwan's future that he is freed.

Michael Turton said...

I think it is more important for Taiwan's future that the problems you list be highlighted in future foreign writing about Chen Shui-bian.

Madisonian said...

Well said Andrew! I cannot agree with you more. CSB is by no means a saint. He has flaws just like everyone does. But … he is nowhere near the monster they made him out to be.

Anonymous said...

I sent this to TT, not sure if they would run it.

Following Michael Turton’s plead to “Focus on the Urgent Issues” ( News/editorials/archives/2012/ 12/05/2003549378), I expect some people would contend that the former president Chen Shui-bian (CSB 陳水扁) is the victim of injustice imposed by the KMT administration. Some may also claim it’s the resurgence of the “white terror”, the great conspiracy between the CCP and the KMT to deter or humiliate the Taiwanese , or even that Chen “bears the crusade for the sake of Taiwan”. Alternatively, some would argue that Chen might have committed sins "morally" but he is innocent "legally”. Several persons have referred to the case of John Edwards, during his presidential bid, as a precedent. Edwards was found not-guilty of 6 allegation counts despite his use of campaign donations to hide a pregnant mistress while his wife was battling breast cancer.

One certainly is justified to suspect political interference on the CSB trial.
Indeed, prosecutorial misconducts/irregularities were rampant during the course of Chen’s trial. In addition, a “not guilty” verdict has been rendered to Ma Ying Jeou regarding a similar allegation on the “discretionary fund” ( 國務機要費). One certainly is justified to suspect political interference on the CSB trial

Leagally speaking, Chen and his supporters have rights to appeal the 18 and a half year sentence. He is also entitled to all basic human rights , including those of a reasonable condition of incarceration and adequate access to the medical care he needs.

That said, Chen is not a pure victim in the whole CSB debacle. He and his family's indiscretion dragged the pro-Taiwan camp to a bottomless pit; all the momentum gathered toward Taiwan’s Independence was squandered after his 8 years in office. Unfortunately his supporters would even try to explain away Chen's family off-shore bank account as the “Nation Building Fund”, asserting it to be a “necessary evil” ! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that purchasing the NYC condo for Chen’s son has nothing to do with the nation building of Taiwan !

As a contrast to Chen's situation, when general Petraeus’ scandal broke out, he apologized immediately and resigned. Many argued that he doesn’t need to resign since the national intelligence has not been compromised with his affair. Some also suspected that Petraeus is the “victim” of some purported conspiracy. Still Patraeus takes full responsibility without blaming others. For that I respect him even though he clearly has made a huge mistake. By the same token, former president Chen will earn more respect if he owns up to his wrongdoings, even if he might not be legallyl guilty. Taiwanese are mostly gracious and forgiving. A heart-felt apology would most likely facilitate his own medical parole. Without Chen to serve as the smokescreen for Ma, (or the ATM machine referenced by the Taiwanese talk heads), the Ma administration will be forced to face the music, which is a win-win for Taiwan.

Dave H said...

Michael, I appreciate your writing but I really must disagree with the comments raised in the letter to the ditor. Yes, I saw your letter while reading the newspaper. I don't agree that former president Chen desrves such treatment. I've agreed with my own countrymen who have voiced concerns about Chen's treatment. It doesn't befit a nation like Taiwan to treat Chen, much less anyone like they have. I think Chen's greatest transgression in the eys of the current government is that he opposed KMT rule after the KMT had single-handedly ruled Taiwan for decades. Chen has served prison time twice for opposing KMT rule. To bring peace to a divided nation the release of Chen would go far in healing wounds in Taiwan. I appreciate your views but respectfully disagree, Michael.

Michael Turton said...

I know lots of people don't agree with my position. But it needs to be said aloud.

I don't think that releasing Chen will heal wounds, partly because local culture doesn't work that way, partly because Chen himself does not have the kind of modest, strong, gentle, restrained personality that such a move would require, and partly because Chen himself is as much a wound as he is a wounded victim. People like Mandela were not self-serving politicians who stabbed their own party in the back -- Chen's own son ran for a seat in Kaohsiung and split the DPP vote, losing a seat for the good guys. How much betrayal has to occur before you all on the "release Chen" side say "enough"?

Those who promote the "release Chen" POV should take note that it is entirely a movement of a few pro-Chen locals and foreigners. You don't do yourself any favors by aligning yourself with Chen's Shui-bian's personal faction.


Readin said...

I haven't followed the timelines carefully so this is an honest question: Did Chen's son's actions - the use of campaign funds for buying a house and the splitting of the vote in Kaohsiung, occur before or after the DPP calculated they had more to lose than gain by sticking up for Chen parents and abandoned them to their fate?

Anonymous said...

If CSB is the closest thing the TI movement has to a Madela figure, people will be sleeping very easy in Washington DC and Beijing.

Anonymous said...

When any law offender gets caught, using "double standard" is certainly not a good defend strategy. One breaks the law, one gets caught, one pays the price. It's that simple.

Michael Turton said...

When any law offender gets caught, using "double standard" is certainly not a good defend strategy. One breaks the law, one gets caught, one pays the price. It's that simple

...except there is no strong evidence that Chen broke the law.

Michael Turton said...

Did Chen's son's actions - the use of campaign funds for buying a house and the splitting of the vote in Kaohsiung, occur before or after the DPP calculated they had more to lose than gain by sticking up for Chen parents and abandoned them to their fate?

houses date from before, as I recall. His son ran for election in order to become a legislator and become immune from prosecution.

1stCMalaysia said...

So was CSB convicted on not so strong legal grounds?

And I actually see a large groups of for CSB campaigners, though their motives are kind of dubious and not straight from the point that CSB is innocence kind of way. Some of them showing him support as a mean to serve their own interests, instead of seeking social justice.

And legislators are immune from presecutions? in Taiwan?

And how come no else questions Ma about his using“discretionary fund” ( 國務機要費) as personal donation to charities?

Michael Turton said...


Offhand, CSB is in jail for two crimes. The first is accepting a bribe from the Koo family in the Longtan Land Deal. The second for accepting a bribe to make Diana Chen the head of Taipei 101.

Jeff Koo Jr, who testified against Chen, was on the lam in Japan. The prosecutor flew there and brought him back. They deny a deal was made. In a subsequent case, the Koo family claimed they never gave Chen the money, then backtracked and said yes they did. I've commented extensively on the case on this blog. That's the same Jeff Koo who is one of the purchasers of NextMedia.

I won't comment on the second case.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael

i just want to say i am surprised to see so many chen's supporters here, everytime i see those posts online, i always wonder if some of them are actually written by the PR team hired by Chen family.

Anyway, as a former taiwan expat who has been living in the west for 20 years, i have to say i am not too familiar with the chen case.

However, i do have one question, i read this report saying chen's daughter bought this apartment for 90 million taiwanese dollars ( as i recall, maybe more). now that is peculiar, i mean, yes, Chen was a successful lawyer before he went into politics,but he did spent majority of his working life as a public servant, so how does a humble public servant daughter manages to purchase such an expensive apartment?

i mean she is a dentist and her husband is a doctor, there is no way they could afford it themselves, neither should her parents be able to!

you mention Chen misappropriate campaign funds, but then again, i have also heard many accusation of bribary, and since i grew up in Taiwan and have a good understanding of our culture, i would say such bribary is common place, and most of them would exchange hands wthout evidences, so i do not think it would be far fetched for Chen family to engage in practice.

now some people on this forum keep saying there were no evidences, i am not goin to comment on that, as i am not too familiar with the case itself, but the very fact his daugther is able to come up with that kind money is very fishy indeed.

futhermore, i have read so repost that states Chen keep claiming he feeling unwell this and that, only after examination, the doctor has found nothing wrong with him, i mean what is going on with that?

Anonymous said...

correction: there are conflicting reports in terms of how much Chen daughter really paid for the apartment. some says it is NT 90 millions, some says it is NT 80 millions.

She also seem to suggest she took out mortgage on it while some claims she paid the whole sum upfront.