&#91FORUM&#93Hiding behind empty words

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[FORUM]Hiding behind empty words

Early in 1998, the United States was rocked by an enormous scandal involving the president. The chaos stemmed from claims that President Bill Clinton had sexual encounters with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Mr. Clinton denied the accusation at first. But after a special prosecutor was appointed to the case and the investigation started to turn against him, Mr. Clinton exercised constitutional presidential privileges.

A U.S. president can remain mum on events linked to official duties and discussions with an attorney. A president's bodyguard cannot be forced to reveal information obtained while protecting the president.

But these privileges were denied Mr. Clinton after a number of legal challenges.

Seeing the president pushed into a more difficult situation, Mr. Clinton's advisers started considering a political solution.

Their advice was to address the public with a confession and seek a political resolution. They made a realistic assessment that despite a confession Mr. Clin-ton's approval rating would not fall and so the Republicans would not push for impeachment, as elections were appro-aching. Eventually, President Clinton emerged from his abysmal situation victorious after an impeachment trial in the Senate.

An unpleasant event like the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal cannot be compared with an issue like South and North Korean relations. But we can compare the way the two situations were handled.

New facts concerning a secret remittance to North Korea are released daily. The following are reactions from President Kim Dae-jung and President-elect Roh Moo-hyun:

"Done as a 'ruling act,' the situation should be solved politically. Handling things judicially would not be the appropriate thing to do."

The words "ruling act," "solved politically," "handling things judicially" may sound reasonable but there could not be a more inappropriate use of terms and concepts. "Ruling act," despite sounding fit for an absolute monarchy, like Representative Cho Sun-hyeong of the Millennium Democratic Party pointed out, is, in fact, a concept that also exists in countries governed by law. However, the words refer to the exercise of power in rare events, which is not subject to judgment of the court, like the right to dissolve parliament. It is not an expression equivalent to "presidential privilege."

A political solution may occasionally be a good choice, but in no event can it transcend the law. Politics is not above the law, and political practices should remain within the boundary of the law. A political solution is not just a simple way out for politicians when they get into trouble.

"Handling things judicially," as used above, is the wrong term for this situation. When somebody is summoned by the prosecutors' office, people commonly say they are being "handled judicially" but this is a clear misuse of words. A term that does not even exist in the law books, "judicial handling" was first used in 1988 as an ambiguous term to describe various measures taken to handle people under investigation on corruption charges committed during the Chun Doo Hwan administration. In concurrence with the origin, those tried but eventually judged not guilty during trials over responsibility for the country's foreign currency crisis, were also "judicially handled."

People involved in the secret remittance of millions of dollars to the North insist that they are not subject to "judicial handling" before an investigation has taken place or facts revealed. "Ruling act," "solved politically," "handling things judicially" are used everyday, but on closer look, they are completely void of meaning.

President Clinton also did things hard to understand. But concerning his deeds, he did not do or say things that were not understandable. Better yet, he could not since presidents and politics are not above the law.

* The writer is a deputy managing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Su-gil
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