Thursday, February 12, 2015

Prison Break Kaoshiung & ROC Politics

Wow. The prison break story in Kaoshiung by Bamboo Union gang members has turned out to be quite an interesting political tale. It ended with their mass suicide. But new details are emerging that are quite suggestive. As the Apple Daily reports, the dead bodies were deliberately arranged in the shape of an ROC blossom. The Taipei Times reported on the basics:
Authorities were continuing negotiation efforts last night with the six prisoners, reportedly led by Cheng Li-te (鄭立德), a member of the Bamboo Union (竹聯幫) triad imprisoned for murder, who were holding warden Chen Shih-chih (陳世志) hostage.
Among the facts causing conspiracy theorists' hearts to flutter (see Cole's take on the politics in The Diplomat):
  1. The prisoners demanded to know why they couldn't get medical parole and Chen Shui-bian could.
  2. White Wolf, longtime gangster and new leader of pro-China political party, with old connections to that gang and to the ROC security services in the martial law era, came down to attempt to negotiate. The police blocked that.
  3. The prisoners had good access to media, including a 15 minute interview with a local pro-China station, and their demands were read on TV
  4. There was the usual speculation about the prisoners having an inside connection, to make the breakout possible. But this looks like the usual chabuduo incompetence and complacency rather than malicious intent.
It doesn't look like a United Front (KMT-CCP) anti-Taiwan operation to me as Cole speculates it might be, but there is no denying its obviously political aspects. The Bamboo Union gang is intimately involved with pro-China, pro-KMT politics, not only bodyguarding China's negotiators when they come to Taiwan, but also providing protection for the Shih Ming-te's Red Ant army, the faux KMT protests against Chen Shui-bian. As FocusTaiwan reports, Taiwan's golden retriever media didn't help, sending drones over the prison that caused the prisoners to fire at them. This might have caused a much bigger incident, but fortunately did not.

Overlooked is this simple fact:
After the first hostages were taken, the deputy warden and head guard offered to take their place. The warden later took Lai's place alongside Wang.
If the breakout was authentic, and not planned as political theatre, then these men put their lives at risk. Kudos.

This story has "we'll probably never know the whole story" written all over it.
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David said...

"we'll probably never know the whole story" are probably the only true words that have been written about this incident. While I don't want to promote any conspiracy theories, it is a good idea to read any media reports about this incident with skepticism and remember that dead men can't talk.

Mike Fagan said...

Occam's Razor, for fuck's sake.

The simplest explanation for the suicides is the obvious one: they were depressed at being stuck in prison for so long and had nothing else to value other than their nationalist myths. Why did Chang An-le go there? Probably because he sympathized with them, being in thrall to the same brand of collectivism himself, and perhaps partly because he wanted the media attention.

Michael Turton said...

Yes, pretty much what I think too. I doubt very much that they were mysteriously executed by mysterious persons....


paul said...

gee even prison riots are more peaceful than the ones here in the u.s. prisoners committing suicide just cuz their demands arent met?? ha!! i doubt that will ever happen at u.s. prisons. most times they get shot to death by guards!! man what a difference in culture between this east and west!! westerners are definitely more violent.

Eric Lin said...

A few conspiracy theories about Taiwan's last events are listed here actually. I don't believe in conspiracy theories but it's true that many questions are unanswered and many details feel odds to me.

Mike Fagan said...

"...westerners are definitely more violent."

That's not really germane to the subject, but ignoring that point...

We are not historically "more" violent than other civilizations (consider the brutality of the Japanese during the second world war for instance), but it's certainly true that, historically, the West has long been much much better at organized violence than anyone else.

yunhsuan said...

Organized violence.. *crusade* cough cough

Mike Fagan said...

As this thread is already getting away from the original topic, I might as well pose a question I find interesting to drag it back vaguely on topic (prisons and criminal justice). And because I am waiting for my hangover to dissipate.

Should the justice system be reformed such that prisons could be abolished?Obviously I don't have time and space to go to the necessary length here but...

Prisons are financially expensive obviously, but they are also expensive in other ways - the costs of labour and other resources that could have been better spent on more productive activities, and the loss to society of so many potentially productive people who are incarcerated, often for silly "crimes" such as the sale of cannabis. There is also the matter of crimes committed by prison inmates against other inmates; rape for example is typically discussed under the heading of "women's issues" when in fact more men are raped in prison by other men than women are raped outside of prison.

And it is not as if there are no viable alternatives to prison sentences. Theft, for example, used to be punished by a public lashing. I imagine most people convicted (rightly or wrongly) of theft would, if given the choice, opt for say 15 lashes of the whip over a year or two in jail. And they would be right to make that choice because broken skin will heal in time, but the damage that two lost years in prison could inflict on you is considerably greater. Might not physical punishments be both more humane and more cost effective than prison sentences? But what about their comparative deterrent value?

Of course we probably wouldn't want to address all or even most offenses with physical punishments. Currently, prisons often contain labour programs to put inmates to work. But why not have, for crimes whose cost can be calculated in financial terms, competing "prisons" in which inmates are put to productive work for a long enough period to pay off the cost of their offense? These institutions would compete with each other in terms of how quickly they could get the inmates to pay off the cost of their offenses.

Brian Castle said...

"Organized violence.. *crusade* cough cough"

You're right. Counter-attack is a form of violence.

And let's not forget out violent westerners tried to resist the Mongol horde. Resistance is just plain wrong.

And the French, who could forget those evil French defending their lands from Muslim invaders. And if that wasn't bad enough The Spanish actually fought back and through the invaders out.

I don't know how much resistance the Africans engaged in, but surely it would be better to spend hundreds of years having slaves taken from your lands where they are treated so badly they don't reproduce.

Sure, the Ottomans took European slaves too, but those evil Europeans used violence to resist, eventually ending slavery in Europe and America (though even American slavers didn't capture as many slaves as the Ottomans did), while curtailing the enslavement of Europeans by the Ottomans.

(yes, that was sarcasm if you were wondering)

Brian Castle said...

@Mike Fagan
I have to agree with you on the lashing. I don't understand how a few lashings can be considered cruel, but taking 5 years away from someone's life -time they can never get back - time when their children are growing up and they don't see them - time where they get raped and beaten in prison - somehow isn't considered cruel.

Mike Fagan said...

Out of sight, out of mind. I think it is another example of how important and yet how often forgotten aesthetics is.

Whipping people in public is a spectacle, and one which comfortable people (thankfully) are not accustomed to. Putting someone in prison is a way of sweeping them under the rug, and more particularly, sweeping the spectacle of punishment under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind. That might be part of it.

Mike Fagan said...

Another thing about prisons is their justification as "correctional facilities". I suspect that probably had a lot to do with the puritanical Christians of the 17th century. Their attempts to expunge what they regarded as sins from society are somewhat similar to the modern progressives with their code of political correctness which they use to identify an updated list of sins - sexism, racism, insufficient ecological sensitivity, "homophobia" etc etc...