[FORUM]Stonewalling on official killings

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[FORUM]Stonewalling on official killings

"A Few Good Men," starring Tom Cruise, is about the search for the truth in an incident involving a marine private who was brutally beaten and killed in his bed at a U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two marines acted on what they called a "code red," an illegal order to rough up their fellow marine William Santiago, who did not fit in with the rest of the unit. They are charged with homicide. The base's commanding officer, Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson), who issued the code red order, is trying to block the investigation. Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Daniel Kaffee (Cruise), who is defending the marines, unravels the case step by step but is frustrated by a cover-up by senior officers. Forensic specialists and a platoon leader give false testimony. Air traffic control records and transfer orders for Private Santiago presented to the court as evidence were fabricated after the incident.

The movie reaches a climax when the defense team stages a showdown by letting Colonel Jessup speak at the court martial. Jessup, irritated by Lieutenant Kaffee's shrewd questioning, blurts out that he ordered the beating. Colonel Jessup is arrested in the courtroom and jurors declare the two defendants not guilty of murder but guilty of negligence of duty. Afterward, one of the defendants says to himself, "Failing to defend the weak amounts to negligence of duty."

The Presidential Truth Com-mission on Suspicious Deaths reported last month that the Korean Army trumped up the homicide of a soldier in 1984 to make it look like a suicide, which reminded me of the Hollywood movie. Private First Class Heo Won-geun served as the messenger of a dyspeptic company commander. He had entered the army six months earlier and was reportedly looking forward to his first leave at the time of his death. How did Private Heo really die? If the truth was concealed, how could it be hidden for 18 years? Why did the military tell Private Heo's father that there was no use in presenting petitions? They reportedly warned the elder Private Heo, who struggled to bring out the truth of his son's death, to be cautious.

Private Heo's fellow soldiers said that he committed suicide but the Truth Commission said it has solid evidence that Mr. Heo was a homicide victim. The commission believes that the soldiers were ordered by their senior officers to remain silent about the killing and were too afraid of retaliation to speak the truth.

There is a saying that no secret can be kept forever. The truth of the incident, in which many people were involved, will be revealed sooner or later. But Truth Commission officials said they are skeptical about many cases it has looked at. The panel, which was established in October 2000, has investigated 82 suspicious deaths, including 26 incidents that occurred in the army. The commission has completed its investigations of 33 deaths. Among them, eight were ackno-wledged as deaths caused by unjust exercise of state authority to suppress Korea's democratic movement. The government refused to acknowledge 20 cases and the panel gave up its investigations of five incidents. Govern-ment agencies have been uncooperative toward the Truth Com-mission all along, commission officials said. Those who were investigated seldom told the truth.

Former presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae-woo refused to budge in the face of the Truth Commission's demand that they testify on the suspicious deaths of university students related to the Korean Army's so-called "affor-estation campaign." That was an attempt to retrain college students suspected of supporting North Korean communist ideology during the early 1980. The Defense Security Command refused to provide documents. The National Intelligence Service refused to cooperate. None of the officials or government agencies has apologized for past mistakes although the commission continues to bring forward examples of "homicide by state authorities."

Commission officials are considering how to strengthen their investigative authority and extend the deadline for commission activities; the group is to be disbanded on Sept. 16. The reason for finding out the truth is to make aggressors confess their guilt and repent of their sins and allow the victims to forgive the past. Is that a vain hope?


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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