Monday, August 05, 2013

Hung's Death, Protests, and justice

A truckload of mushrooms outside Hsinshe waiting to be distributed to small family processors who will cut off the stems.

The Taipei Times hosted a commentary on the low probability of anything like justice occurring in the Hung case....
The Criminal Code sets rather strict conditions for making a group of offenders “joint principal offenders.” Apart from acting jointly in the commission of a crime, the group must also share criminal intent. In this case, Hung was abused to death by a group who tortured him by exploiting flaws in the military’s disciplinary system. Although they acted jointly, there is no evidence that they shared criminal intent. It appears to be difficult to make all the suspects “joint principal offenders” based on Article 44 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces (陸海空軍刑法), which states that if a soldier is abused to death, the offender or offenders “shall be punished with imprisonment for life or no less than seven years.”

As a result, Staff Sergeant Chen Yi-hsun (陳毅勳), who oversaw Hung’s confinement, is the only “principal offender” and so faces the heaviest punishment for the corporal’s death. The others were charged according to Article 45 of the Criminal Code of the Armed Forces and face a maximum sentence of one year.

Even if they were tried in the civil judicial system, they would only be charged with “minor offenses” under the Criminal Code. This is tantamount to blaming the front-line personnel executing the punishment, while ignoring the structural nature of the offense. The indictment’s suggestion of heavy punishment for several of those indicted is only a declaration of intent and will not necessarily be carried out.

Hung’s death highlights the difficulty of assigning responsibility for perpetrators of structural crimes. This is particularly true because high-ranking officers are unlikely to commit any offense in person, or order their subordinates to do so in writing. This allows them to pass the buck to their subordinates without much effort. Even if high-ranking personnel are punished, they will be charged with minor offenses or receive demerits.
All, true, as I noted a few posts ago. The military's problems with punishment are structural. After the finding of low ranking scapegoats, another structural feature of the System -- as in the Ma case, where Ma was found innocent even though government funds were downloaded into his private accounts, but a low ranking government employee did time. Ma stopped by to pay his respects and promise "justice" yesterday:
Ma, accompanied by Greater Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (胡志強), newly appointed Minister of National Defense Andrew Yang (楊念祖) and former defense minister Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), again promised the family that they would seek to uncover the truth behind Hung’s death.

“Just as protesters rallied on Ketagalan Boulevard yesterday [Saturday] demanding truth, yes, the truth is the point, this must be clear,” Ma said.

Ma said the facts of the case would be revealed during the trial for the 18 military personnel who have been indicted.
But the protesters are essentially demanding two things, justice for Hung, and reform of the military. Ma only appears to have responded on the first: the "truth" about the Hung case. Unless the protests can compel the Administration to make meaningful changes in the military, then the future holds more Hungs. The KMT introduced a bill to enable certain types of cases to be tried under civilian law instead of military law, but again, it does not call for wholesale review and changes in the military's culture and atmosphere. The president does have a 13 point proposal for reforms....
Stressing the importance of reforms to the military justice system, Ma has asked three top government organs -- the Executive Yuan, Legislation Yuan, and Judicial Yuan -- to begin discussions and conduct a joint study on the reform of military law.

He has also asked relevant authorities to study the practices followed in the United States, Britain, Japan, and Singapore before arriving at a decision with regard to the mechanisms of solitary confinement, self-reflection and correction in the military.
....but it looks more like tinkering at the margins. Since the KMT needs the military's support -- and one of the first things that Ma did in 2008 was to put the Party back into the military....

REF: Ketty Chen's blog entry on the protest
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1 comment:

Mike Fagan said...

Ma's request for a study of punishment mechanisms in other States would seem to be unnecessary; what killed Hung was not the mechanism of punishment per se (exercise in the sun & solitary confinement), but the extent to which it was applied. And Hung's death was unjust due to the ludicrous premises under which the punishment was applied, not the mechanism of punishment itself.

So there should be no need for any study of punishment mechanisms under foreign militaries; what has to change are the ethical premises underlying the military and its drug culture of unearned authority - and that means, to start with, an immediate end to conscription.

To take that problem further: not only are Taiwanese soldiers basically just temporary slaves with little to no loyalty to or respect for the command structure they are in, but Chinese "face" culture and the de-facto prohibition on criticism of superior officers precludes the possibility of that changing. Were I in president Ma's position, I would only look toward foreign countries - and necessarily western States (i.e. the U.S., Britain & Israel) - with an eye to hiring as many officers as possible to replace the Taiwanese.

I'm from England; when I voluntarily spent just over a year in the TA (Durham Light Infantry), between the ages of 17 to 18+ before I went to University, I had a lot of fun. Partly this was because I liked almost everything we had to do (lots of exercise, cleaning rifles, shooting practice, learning drills, reading maps, learning basic tactics etc) but it was also because the NCOs allowed us to have a laugh. I remember me and my mate Dan taking the piss out of our Colour Sergeant during morning runs because he was too fat to keep up; he just told us to shut up 'cos we were skinny 17 year olds who wouldn't be able to hack a proper march in full gear (and he was right, although I remember I was a bit better at it that than Dan and the others). I remember us another time laughing at a staff corporal assigned to our team as he tried too late to swim back across the river after a mock attempt on an enemy position (as sod's law would have it I had to borrow his smelly spare socks later). It was great, and you knew the NCOs were alright because at the end of a full day's training they would drink a few cans of cheap lager with us and have a laugh. Can you imagine anything remotely like that in Taiwan's military?

Of course getting in foreigners with translators to try to change the culture in the military would be especially difficult, in the first place because they're not going to come here for buttons. But then it's not like there aren't thousands of useless academics lounging around in the universities eating up tax dollars to defecate endless op-eds for that clown at the Taipei Times to publish...