Soldier’s family step up efforts to prove cover-up
The family of a young Army private who awoke from a coma after 19 months released a photograph yesterday of a wound on the back of his head, which they said resulted from a beating he endured at the hands of his superiors.
The first class private, now identified as 22-year-old Gu Sang-hoon, awoke from a vegetative state in September 2013. He previously served in the Army’s 15th Infantry Division.
The injury he sustained on his head is now likely to become a crucial piece of evidence in a lawsuit that aims to disprove the Army’s claim in initial military police reports in 2012 that the injury was a bed sore.
The photograph released yesterday by the family, which was taken with a cellphone five days after the incident on Feb. 23, 2012, clearly shows the wound on the back of Gu’s head, even through his buzz cut.
However, medical experts point out that, based on the picture, it is difficult to conclude whether the wound is simply an ulcer.
“Even right after the accident, there was a wound, but the Army didn’t properly look into whether this was a case of abuse,” Gu’s father said.
Private Gu’s parents recently told the JoongAng Ilbo that their son claims to have been beaten by seven higher-ranking Army soldiers with a piece of lumber on Feb. 18, 2012, before falling into a coma.
Their son reportedly made the disclosure this year, shortly after he regained the ability to communicate.
Despite their suspicions, the military told Gu’s parents at the time that he had suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage due to a congenital disorder.
The family is in the process of filing a criminal lawsuit against the alleged assailants, though the suspected soldiers have denied accusations that they assaulted Gu behind an abandoned warehouse, and the military maintains that “there was no wound after the incident.”
“At the time of the incident, the Army, Gu’s fellow soldiers, the military doctor and his family did not discover a wound,” said an official from the Army’s 15th Division. “Private Gu’s parents first raised the issue with the Army more than two weeks after the incident, on March 5.”
“Regarding the wound, it was a civilian doctor, not a military medic, who concluded that it was a bed sore, and the parents agreed at that time,” the official continued.
According to the Army, the doctor charged with overseeing Private Gu at the hospital in Chuncheon, Gangwon, where he was treated, told his parents that the injury appeared to be a bed sore that resulted from the private being bedridden for such an extended period.
The Army then drew the conclusion that the wound was a bed sore.
However, Gu’s family maintains that the Army has attempted to cover up the incident, and that the doctor in charge at the time never said the wound was a bed sore.
A nurse at that time mentioned in passing that the wound might be a bed sore, and the military took those words and simply concluded it was a bed sore, Gu’s father said.
The doctor in charge of Gu at that time has not given an official statement yet.
But one forensic expert, who requested anonymity, claimed that even young patients in a vegetative state, with active blood circulation and an active metabolism, were unlikely to develop bed sores in such a short time.
“Compared to other parts of the body, the head, in particular, has faster circulation,” the source said. “Furthermore, patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) receive special care from nurses and doctors, so it is not convincing that a bed sore would have developed somewhere so easy to spot like the head.”
BY YOON JUNG-MIN, SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]