Moon orders probe of plan for martial law

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Moon orders probe of plan for martial law

President Moon Jae-in ordered an independent investigation Tuesday into allegations that the military’s intelligence unit drew up plans to declare martial law early last year in case the Constitutional Court ruled against the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and angry mobs stormed the streets.

The Blue House said Moon gave an “urgent order” to National Defense Minister Song Young-moo to carry out a “speedy and fair” investigation into the case, adding that the unit, the Defense Security Command, should also be probed on suspicions it spied on relatives of people who died in the Sewol ferry sinking.

The Park administration was blamed for botching the rescue operation when the ferry capsized off the country’s southwestern waters on April 16, 2014, killing more than 300 passengers on board, mostly high school juniors on a field trip to Jeju Island.

The independent investigation team will be composed of military prosecutors outside the Army and Defense Security Command, with the head of the team tapped by Minister Song.

A Blue House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said civil prosecutors or “people with related requirements” could be added to the team if it turns out civilians were involved since military prosecutors have no right to investigate people outside the military.

It is not known yet whether Park, who’s currently appealing corruption and abuse of power convictions, was aware of the potential crackdown - or masterminded it.

Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said Moon thought it necessary to launch an independent probe because the president feared former and current officials in the Defense Ministry could have been “vastly involved” in drawing up the martial law plan. The ministry’s own slow progress in getting to the bottom of the case when suspicions first surfaced was another reason why Moon made the urgent order while on a state visit to India, said Kim.

The anonymous Blue House official said the independent investigation will be asked to figure out who initially ordered the Defense Security Command to prepare for martial law, and whether the unit actually reviewed any options to deploy troops and tanks on the streets to crack down on potential protesters.

Last Thursday, Rep. Rhee Cheol-hee of the ruling Democratic Party revealed an internal report from the Defense Security Command dated March 2017, apparently before the Constitutional Court impeached President Park Geun-hye on March 10, which showed plans to declare martial law in case the court decided not to oust her.

Rhee, who did not disclose the source of the report, said the plan was directly reported to the defense minister at the time, Han Min-koo.

In justifying martial law, the Defense Security Command stressed North Korea’s ongoing provocations as a major external factor, while pointing to possible public security and safety risks as an internal factor.

A garrison decree was to be reviewed in case a large group of protesters tried to storm the Blue House, according to the report, while the level of martial law would be decided depending on the degree of social unrest, either between “security status martial law” or “emergency martial law.”

The declaration of security status martial law allows the martial law commander to oversee administrative and judicial work of a designated area. In the case of emergency martial law, the military controls and commands the entire government, directly takes judicial action and submits cases to military courts.

The intelligence unit, however, warned that “prudent judgement” would be required to actually push through martial law because the majority of the public thought negatively of it, even as “some people in the conservative bloc” claim it was needed. In explaining the process of declaring martial law, the report said the president was the final person needed to give approval.

Revealing the report to local media last week, Rep. Rhee called for the Defense Security Command to be reformed. But a Blue House official implied Tuesday that issue won’t be directly examined during the independent probe.

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