For the first time in Taiwan history, the SID investigation and the military court had identified the perpetrators as well as the victims in a case of state torture.
By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI: Human rights activists warn that Taiwan government prosecutors have sent a message that torture is permissible by refusing to indict a former defence minister and eight other former military officers behind the wrongful execution of a young Air Force private by torturing him into confessing rape and murder.
A young girl was found dead after being raped in the Taiwan Air Force headquarters complex in Taipei in September 1996.
A month later, 20-year-old Air Force private Chiang Kuo-ching was indicted by military prosecutors for the rape-murder. After being convicted by a military tribunal even though he recanted his confession, he was executed by a shot to his head on Aug 13, 1997.
Chiang’s case became a benchmark human rights issue through a decade-long campaign by his father Chiang Chih-an and his mother Wang Tsai-lien to clear his name. They insisted that Chiang was innocent, and had been tortured into making a false confession.
In May 2010 Control Yuan, Taiwan’s official watchdog, ordered reopening of the case. This led to a re-investigation by the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors Office early last year. A military re-trial exonerated the late Air Force private in September last year.
Hsu Jung-chou, 35, who had also served in the AOC, was convicted last December of the crime and given an 18-year sentence.
The military court acknowledged that Chiang’s ‘confession’, the prime basis for his conviction by the military tribunal, had been extracted under torture by officers under then Air Force Combat Operations Command (AOC) commander Chen Chao-min, who was later defence minister from May 2008 to September 2009.
For the first time in Taiwan history, the SID investigation and the military court had identified the perpetrators as well as the victims in a case of state torture. But in May 2011, Taipei District Court prosecutors refrained from indicting any of the implicated former officers on the grounds that the 10-year statute of limitation for offences of “coercion” and “intimidation and endangerment” had expired. The offences carry a maximum punishment of less than three years imprisonment.
After being ordered by the Taiwan High Court Prosecutors Office to re-investigate the case, the Taipei District Court Prosecutors Office again refused Aug 24 to issue any indictments. It rejected calls by lawyers for the Chiang family that Chao and the other officers should be indicated for murder or for “causing death through abuse of the power of prosecution.”
Taipei District Prosecutor Office spokesman Huang Tieh-hsin said on Aug 24 that Chen Chao-min and the others could not be indicted for murder even though they had used electric cattle prods to beat and torture Chiang to confess because they aimed to “gain merit by solving the case” and did not deliberately intend to cause Chiang’s wrongful death.
“Since there was no cause and effect relationship, we have decided not to issue any indictment,” Huang stated.
Lawyer Greg Yo Po-hsiang told IPS that Chiang’s mother Wang Tsai-lien, who had earlier said that her son’s exoneration would be “meaningless” unless his torturers were brought to justice, was “furious” when informed of the new finding.
“Since these reasons fly in the face of common sense, her anger is understandable,” said Yo, who is also an executive director of the Taipei Bar Association.
“Chao and the other officers were fully aware that conviction of rape-murder would carry a mandatory death penalty under military law and that therefore it was a virtual certainty that a confession would result in Chiang’s execution,” Yo told IPS.
Yo said the claim that Chen Chao-min and the other officers could not have known that forcing Chiang to confess would result in his death “might have a shred of credibility if there had been any precedents in which persons convicted by military courts of crimes carrying mandatory death sentences had not actually been executed.
“I have not heard of even one such case,” said Yo. Neither Ms Wang nor any of her legal team were asked for their views during the investigation, Yo said.
Lawyers representing Chiang’s mother will now file a motion for “reconsideration”, Yo said, after receiving the official notification of the Taipei District Prosecutor Office’s decision.
Taiwan Alliance Against the Death Penalty executive director Lin Hsin-yi told IPS that the decision not to indict “sends a chilling message that the Taiwan judicial system believes that there is nothing wrong with torture” and shows that “victims of torture will never receive justice and that the persons who tortured them will never need to bear responsibility.”
Lin said there are several death row inmates who have been victims of torture, notably Chiou Ho-shun, now in his 50s, who was arrested in 1989 on suspicion of the kidnap and murder of nine-year old boy and a female insurance agent. He was sentenced to death based almost entirely on confessions obtained in police interrogations.
Despite appeals by Amnesty International, Chiou’s conviction and death sentence were finalised in July 2011 by the Taiwan Supreme Court even though an investigation by Control Yuan in 1994 had found that the investigating police had tortured Chiou and other defendants during their interrogations.
Covenants Watch executive director Kao Yung-cheng told IPS that the decision also cast serious doubt on the willingness and capability of the Taiwan government to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified and incorporated into domestic law effective December 2009.
Kao, a former prosecutor, told IPS that the ICCPR’s Article 2 requires states which ratify the covenant to ensure that persons who have their rights violated have effective remedies, and to enforce those remedies.
“The most important responsibility of the State is to find and expose the truth and the prosecutors have refused to face this obligation,” Kao told IPS.