[FOUNTAIN]Tortured innocents

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[FOUNTAIN]Tortured innocents

"You put me through terrible torture. You've done terrible things, and there was nothing I could do. I was so terrorized that I did not dare to get angry. Damn you, you evil people."

Kim Keun-tae, a Millennium Democratic Party assemblyman, says he spoke those words to himself when he asked to shake hands with the officers who held and tortured him for 20 days in September 1985 on charges of anti-government activities.

Torture kills humanity. For Mr. Kim, the police who tortured him were devils. In reverse, the police officers of the military regime probably did not consider Mr. Kim to be part of the Korean community.

In ancient history, torture was not practiced in normal human relationships. It was done by people with power over those whom they believed were lesser forms of humanity. It was often cruelty reserved for slaves.

Torture is mentioned in the records of an Egyptian pharaoh in connection with the questioning of his slaves more than 3,300 years ago. It became widespread in the Roman Empire; the Romans tortured slaves before they were put on trial in a ritual of cleansing the slaves' sins as they were brought before the sacred court.

Perhaps the most shameful acts of torture were the witch hunts in Europe in the Middle Ages, when masses of innocent women were burned to death. The Christians of the time blamed even simple natural phenomena like hail on the witches, and accused women who could not prove their innocence were put to death by fire. Torture was also responsible for the large number of confessed witches. A woman accused of being a witch could only find relief from the torture if she admitted to being one and then accused another woman of being a witch. She could then walk to her death.

Torture begins with the idea of presumed guilt, forcing an admission of wrongdoing. The accused faces punishment unless he is able to prove his innocence. But most countries in the modern age choose the principle of presumed innocence. Confessions drawn by torture are not admissible as evidence.

Still, torture exists here. It was recently used on the presumption that a man was guilty just because he was a member of an organized crime gang.

But the man is dead, and he will remain innocent forever because there was no sentence to the contrary.

The writer is the popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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