Since They are not Secrets, Why Doesn't Ma Declassify Them?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 4, 2008
Ma Ying-jeou has decided not to declassify Chen Shui-bian's "top secret" State Confidential Expenses case files. He has instead authorized their use by justice system officials. His decision may allow the investigation and prosecution of the scandal to go forward, but the sacrificial victim is the cause of justice.
Chen Shui-bian's classification of incriminating evidence as "top secret," to be "sealed in perpetuity," was fundamentally illegal. We will return to this point later. To begin with, government secrecy is fundamentally at odds with the cause of justice. Even assuming we are dealing with bona fide state secrets, does that automatically mean they may not be made public? Other values also require protection. If conflicts arise, is maintaining secrecy really our only option? Take for example the State Special Expenses scandal. If the president can classify incriminating evidence as "top secret," the people have no way of knowing what crimes the president may have committed. It is highly doubtful whether Ma's decision accords with the overarching principles of constitutionalism and the rule of law.
In 1971, the New York Times published a classified U.S. Defense Department report on the Vietnam War, known as the "Pentagon Papers." The U.S. government filed suit against the Times. It demanded a restraining order prohibiting its publication, on the grounds that it "leaked state secrets and endangered national security." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the government, on the grounds that the government may not use such methods to cover up the truth. At the time the United States was mired in the Vietnam War. The Defense Department policy paper on the war was undeniably a "state secret." Nevertheless the media felt the people had a right to know, and the courts agreed. As we can see, even wartime secrets, and by extension controversial issues of national security, must yield to higher demands for justice and the people's right to know. Prosecutors have already investigated Chen Shui-bian's so-called "diplomatic secrets" and exposed them as pure fiction. Chen is already guilty of a crime. Yet the public is being denied its right to know the inside story. Clearly this is not the correct decision.
Chen Shui-bian's classification of incriminating evidence as "top secret," to be "sealed in perpetuity," is nothing more than deceit. The public is perfectly aware it is a charade, but they are denied access to the whole truth and the larger picture. This seriously undermines the cause of justice. The public is well aware that among the incriminating evidence Chen Shui-bian classified as "top secret" is the so-called "Southern Front Project." But according to information released by President Ma after taking office, the documents Chen Shui-bian has turned over to the Ma administration do not include any "Southern Front Project." No file with that name can be found. Had Chen Shui-bian classified documents in accordance with the State Secrets Protection Act, then turned them over to prosecutors or the court, records would show a document number and a chain of custody. But no record of any such document transfers exists. In fact, no record of any such document exist. Do these so-called "top secret documents" even exist? Were they classified in accordance with the law? Clearly everyone has serious doubts. If Chen Shui-bian failed to follow even the most basic procedures in handling these documents, where is the secrecy he speaks of? Obviously no secret documents exist. Therefore how can President Ma allow the justice system to make use of them? The entire affair is a transparent hoax concocted by Chen Shui-bian. What reason can Ma Ying-jeou have for not coming right out and exposing Chen Shui-bian's hoax for what it is?
Even if some "Southern Front Project" actually existed, it is doubtful Chen has the right to withhold knowledge of it from the public on grounds of "national security." The State Secrets Protection Act expressly states that government officials may not conceal incriminating evidence by making it secret. This is the letter and spirit of the law. Chen Shui-bian exhausted every means at his disposal to prevent the State Confidential Expenses scandal from going to trial. After he surrendered the evidence, he suddenly classified it as secret and demanded that the court return it. His intent to conceal evidence of criminal wrongdoing is clear for all to see. His act of classifying them as secret is itself illegal, hence invalid. Therefore even assuming Chen actually classified some documents, the Ma administration ought to declassify them. The Ma administration must do the right thing. It must obey the law. No documents can be found. No document numbers can be found. They cannot be found because they do not exist. Thefore what precisely are these alleged "state secrets" that Chen Shui-bian, Ma Ying-jeou, and the [院檢所] keep referring to?
The "Southern Front Project" is not a state secret. It was not legally classified as such. President Ma, by treating it as if it were, is effectively abetting Chen Shui-bian's crime. Is the one billion NT Papua New Guinea (PNG) scandal a "diplomatic secret?" Taiwan attempted to establish diplomatic relations by buying foreign politicians. Did the exposure of this scandal harm the nation's interests? Of course it did. But if we fail to expose such scandals, how will the public ever learn the truth? How will we ever punish corruption? By the same token, the State Confidential Expenses scandal is a test of our constitution and the rule of law. It is a test of the government's legitimacy, its legal mandate. What excuse does Ma have to stop people from understanding the situation and learning the truth?
The government has an obligation to pursue justice in accordance with the constitution and the nation's laws. The essence of democratic elections is right of the people to replace the nation's ruling authorities. If the "Southern Front Project" and other "top secret" documents are mere fiction, yet President Ma helps Chen maintain the pretense that they are real by refusing to declassify them, he is not merely engaging in moral posturing, he is trampling over justice.
2008.06.04 02:57 am