New probe, judge ordered in beaten soldier case

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New probe, judge ordered in beaten soldier case

The military will go back to the drawing board in its clearly botched investigation of a 23-year-old Army private who died after a beating and appoint a general to serve as a judge in the trying of the case.

It is the first time the Korean military has ever had to launch a new probe and replace a judge in an ongoing case by a military tribunal.

“We are planning to launch an additional probe into the case by naming a new investigative team formed of nine officials of the 3rd Army Command to look into allegations raised by media, such as whether to add murder charges against the suspects and find whether there were any more abuses [of the victim],” said Cho Yong-han, an Army official in charge of public affairs at a briefing yesterday.

“Despite the gravity of the case, we conclude the investigation was lax so far, such as it being assigned to an inexperienced judicial official,” he said. “So we decided to hand it over to the highest-level investigative team.”

The new team will be comprised of five military prosecutors and four officials from the Ministry of National Defense, Cho said.

All of the previous investigators will be excluded from the new probe, he said.

The military tribunal will be ruled by three judges, including one general and military judges from the 3rd and 7th Commands.

In the first judicial assignments, the top-ranking judge was a colonel.

The rare reversals by the military came after the JoongAng Ilbo exclusively reported Friday that the senior military prosecutor in charge of the case was a 26-year-old Army lieutenant with nearly no judicial experience.

The lieutenant, who passed the national bar exam and completed two-year mandatory training at the government’s Judicial Research and Training Institute in January, had no previous experience as a professional lawyer and no trial experience.

The explosive case involves the death of a 23-year-old Army private surnamed Yun, who died April 6 after being beaten and sexually humiliated by superiors in a barracks.

It appears to have been the kind of rough treatment common in the Korean military that went too far.

But a cover-up of the facts behind the accidental killing didn’t work. Initially, the military said Yun died of asphyxiation after choking on food.

However, the Center for Military Human Rights, a human rights civic group, claimed on July 31 that based on military investigation records they obtained, Yun’s death was directly due to bodily damage from beatings and negligence afterward.

On May 2, the 26-year-old prosecutor with no judicial experience charged six suspects with involuntary manslaughter, not murder.

He said he assumed the victim died of choking.

The Ministry of National Defense yesterday announced an overhaul of internal regulations to better protect the human rights of soldiers.

A high-level Defense Ministry official will launch and lead a “human rights committee for national defense,” in which some military judicial officials from the Army, the Navy and the Air Forces will participate.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]








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