Military judicial reform necessary

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Military judicial reform necessary

The suspicions turned out to be true: Military officials interfered with an internal probe looking into reports of systematic physical and mental abuse that eventually led to the death of a 23-year-old Army private. They even attempted to talk a key witness out of testifying.

One of the victim’s fellow comrades, surnamed Kim, who also served in the Army’s 28th Infantry Division, blew the whistle on the events behind the conscript’s death and was asked by unit superiors who were accused of torturing and eventually killing the victim to keep quiet. Kim, who was released from the military before completing his service, made his statement to the higher Third Army headquarters, which took over the investigation and trial jurisdiction from the 28th Division, in response to the death of Private First Class Yun. His additional testimony is indicative of how sloppy the early-stage response to Yun’s death was. Kim was at the military’s medical unit and witnessed most of the scenes leading up to the young private’s death. Military investigators and police only knew that the perpetrators told Kim to pretend to be asleep.

Lawyers for Yun’s family also claimed that testimonies from division police were omitted in the arraignment written up by the military prosecutor. A human rights group also accused the military of trying to prevent Kim from meeting Yun’s family. Authorities denied the accusations, but they have already lost the public’s confidence with their negligent handling of the victim’s death. Lawyers are now demanding the trial to be led by the Ministry of National Defense instead of the Army.

The tragedy calls for accelerated reform in the military’s judicial system. Under the current system, the law officer of the Army unit acts both as the prosecutor and the judge. The commander also has the authority to reduce sentence terms. Common commissioned officers can be appointed as judges. This authority allows the commander to manipulate or cover up the case in favor of his unit and himself. In fact, there are few cases where officers received prison sentences for brutality against peers.

Bullying in the barracks and violence cannot be eradicated under such lenient judiciary orders. The commander must be stripped of judiciary authority or allowed less power. Korean society is no longer ignorant and tolerant of military excesses and inhumane conditions.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 30, Page 30

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