Something seems wrongReverberations from the chaotic response of our military to the fatal shooting spree on June 21 by an Army sergeant surnamed Lim at a general outpost (GOP) near the eastern front in Goseong, Gangwon, continue even a month later. The issue now is friendly fire exchanged between two search teams in the course of pursuing and arresting the fugitive soldier. After investigating the case, military authorities charged two lower-level officers and five soldiers with criminal offenses.
The two search teams exchanged friendly fire twice during their missions. In one case, two staff sergeants who shot at a lieutenant, a platoon leader of the other search team, after mistaking him for Sgt. Lim a day after the shooting spree, were accused of unpremeditated homicide. The other five are commanders of the battalion and company, a squad leader, driver and radio man who were on the scene when a soldier was hit in the face on June 23.
However, the military authorities’ decision to file criminal charges against officers and soldiers on a search mission leaves many questions unanswered. If our military arrests soldiers on criminal charges for friendly fire accidents during operations, what soldier would promptly respond in a real battle? What commanders would give orders to their soldiers to fire at an enemy? The military ordered soldiers to fire first and report later after North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, which killed two marines and two civilians. That direction applies to other soldiers on guard at GOPs and on military operations.
Caution is necessary to avoid friendly fire, of course. But charging officers and soldiers with criminal offenses is different as it can damage our military’s morale and combat capability. The military has filed such charges against soldiers only once - during the counter-espionage operation in Gangneung, Gangwon in 1996.
Another issue involves fairness. The military authority excluded a platoon leader who reportedly had opened fire at the lieutenant on June 22, on the grounds that he was injured. Moreover, the military has imposed too light a penalty on top brass, including the commanders of the division and regiment: They were only relieved of their active duties. The Army has come up with the explanation that it charged them with criminal offenses in order to check what really happened, adding that it will take circumstances into account. We wonder why the military hurriedly filed criminal charges against the officers and soldiers. The military must deal with the case as fairly as possible.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 22, Page 30