[THIS WEEK IN HISTORY]Martial law is declared; a torturer surrendersOct. 25, 1948
After liberation from Japanese colonial rule, the Korean Peninsula was faced with an unwanted division into north and south. The South Korean government was established with Syngman Rhee as the first president, in close cooperation with the U.S. administration.
Yet the South Korean government was not in complete control of the country, which led to a riot by leftist soldiers of the 14th regiment, based in Yeosu, South Jeolla province. The government proclaimed martial law on this date, five days after the rebellion broke out. The soldiers were protesting the government’s order to dispatch the force to Jejudo island, where a movement developed against the establishment of a government in South Korea only.
This group of soldiers held the city of Yeosu for the first few days and their influence swept to the neighboring city of Suncheon. Hence it was called the Yeosu-Suncheon Riot; the soldiers held the cities for days before both the South Korean and U.S. governments began to put down the rebellion.
The government was successful in suppressing the riot, but in the process many civilians were killed. The remaining soldiers went to Mount Jiri to become partisan fighters. After the insurrection, discipline was tightened in the army.
Oct. 28, 1999
Around 8:30 p.m. on this date, a man with gray hair arrived at the Seongnam district prosecutor’s office alone in a taxi. Wearing a plain green jacket and black pants, the man went to the duty officer and said, “I am Lee Geun-an. I came to surrender myself.”
Mr. Lee, then 65, looked too feeble and fatigued to fit his reputation as a torture expert for the past military regimes. He showed up voluntarily for the first time after 11 years in hiding.
Mr. Lee, in the 1970s and 1980s, was known for all sorts of torture skills. Anything ― electricity, ballpoint pens, hot pepper powder, water, you name it ― could be an implement of torture for him. Once placed on his torture rack, activists, no matter how strong they were, could not hold out.
Truth, however, was not what Mr. Lee cared most about. Faithful to the regimes, Mr. Lee was determined to extract confessions, which often led to fabricated stories.
His victims included the current health and welfare minister, Kim Geun-tae, and numerous other political figures. Torture, according to the victims’ testimonies, would continue for days, sometimes months.
On Mr. Kim, Mr. Lee used electric torture, with a method that he himself created. He first tied wires from an electric motor to each of Mr. Kim’s toes, and then turned on the motor.
Another victim, Kim Seong-hak, a fisherman suspected of aiding North Korea, found his spine damaged from electric torture and had to give up his work. Mr. Lee’s threat ― “no one can resist me” ― was not an idle one. His fellow officers used to say, “Without Lee Geun-an, there’s no progress in an investigation,” which was true. During the military regimes, he received special promotions, along with 16 awards, including one from the president.
In 1988, however, the country saw the end of Chun Doo Hwan’s regime, which was not a good omen for Mr. Lee. He heard the news that he was soon to be arrested, and thus began the long and tedious years of hiding.
Based in a tiny apartment in southern Seoul, he sometimes traveled around the country by himself by train. But he mostly secluded himself in his apartment, where he took extra precautions not to be exposed, putting cloth around the water tap to minimize the sound, and using water only when others on the same floor did.
Spending time reading the Bible and other books, Mr. Lee in the meantime wrote more than 30 books about acupuncture, his childhood days during the Korean War and learning foreign languages. He even had exercise equipment in his apartment, to keep himself healthy.
He could no longer stand a life in hiding, however, and he came clean on this date.
To the press, he said, “My fellow officers that I worked with in torture recently were sentenced to serve one to two years in prison or given probation, instead of long terms. I considered that to be not too bad, so I decided to turn myself in. I’m too exhausted from my time in hiding.”
Mr. Lee, however, was sentenced to seven years in prison, and is still there.
by Chun Su-jin