President Ma Should Promptly Declassify the State Confidential Expenses Case Files
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 18, 2008
The High Court has ruled that Chen Shui-bian's classification of incriminating evidence in the State Confidential Expenses scandal as "Top Secret," was legally invalid. Not long ago, the Presidential Office announced that "no Southern Front project file has ever been found." Under the circumstances, President Ma Ying-jeou should make clear that the State Confidential Expenses scandal has nothing to do with state secrets. Prosecutors should investigate and prosecute the case in strict accordance with the law.
As Chen Shui-bian attempts to evade prosecution, he has two magic talismans. One is Wu Shu-chen's health. This allows her to repeatedly file motions for continuances. The other is Chen's classification of incriminating evidence in the State Confidential Expenses scandal as "Top Secret," just prior to leaving office, and demanding that they be returned to him. Wu Shu-chen refused to appear in court, citing health problems. Yet she was healthy enough to go to the polls to vote, not once, but twice. The court has responded by forbidding her to leave the country. The court's actions can be regarded as countermeasures. The High Court rejected Chen Shui-bian's demand for the return of evidence. It also ruled that Chen's classification the evidence against him as "state secrets" was invalid to begin with. This was a slap in Chen Shui-bian's face.
Earlier, the High Court Prosecutor's Office Special Investigative Unit notified the Office of the President, demanding that the transcripts in the State Confidential Expenses scandal be declassified and asked whether there was any such thing as a "Southern Front" project. President Ma Ying-jeou's response was that he would not declassify the files, but would allow the courts to introduce them in evidence. He explained that among the documents turned over to his administration by the outgoing DPP government, he found no "Southern Front" project. If there is no such thing as the "Southern Front" project, then Chen Shui-bian's so-called "Top Secret" files, including receipts and transcripts, are purely evidence in a court case. As the High Court pointed out, the evidence and transcripts were simply evidence in a criminal case. According to the State Secrets Protection Act, they should not have been classified as secret in the first place. President Ma chose not to declassify them, but agreed to allow the courts to use them in evidence. Superficially, this satisfies the needs of the judiciary. In reality, it evades the responsibility to right a wrong, and the President's constitutional duty to safeguard the nation's laws. That is why Ma has been the subject of public criticism.
Furthermore, if Chen Shui-bian's illegal classification of incriminating evidence is not nullified, technically speaking the evidence is still a "state secret." The Judiciary may have qualms about prosecuting. For example, the trial could not be public, not one word could be leaked, and the verdict would be subject to all sorts of restrictions. The public would be kept in the dark about the details of the State Confidential Expenses trial. They would be unable to judge for themselves whether Chen Shui-bian's sentence is too lenient or too severe. This alone shows that President Ma's handling of the matter runs counter to voter aspirations in the wake of ruling party change.
The High Court ruled that Chen Shui-bian's classification of incriminating evidence is "null and void." It said the articles and transcripts were material evidence in a criminal case. President Chen Shui-bian had no right to resort to such legerdemain to cover up crimes. The Judiciary hs determined that Chen Shui-bian's actions were illegal. So why is President Ma still so worried about declassifying the evidence? President Ma should promptly declare that since there is no "Southern Front" project, the evidence Chen Shui-bian classified in the State Confidential Expenses scandals are not state secrets. As soon as they are officially declassified, there will no longer be any excuse to delay prosecuting this case. An investigation and trial could begin right away, without interference. Otherwise, if President Ma refuses to take action, Chen Shui-bian will resist the High Court's ruling to the bitter end, regardless of whether he has the right to appeal or whether an appeal would be reasonable. He will continue to drag out the investigation and the trial, and in the process, subverting the cause of justice.
The High Court's decision reflects the demands of the Supreme Court. It has passed judgment on Chen Shui-bian's demand for the return of documents he classified as "Top Secret" The High Court pointed out that Chen Shui-bian's actions were invalid, and rejected his demand for their return. It also rendered an interpretation on the presidential privilege of secrecy. It did not say that the president may demand the "return of so-called secret evidence that has already been submitted to the court." This shows that court transcripts are not classified documents. After all, if they were classified documents, wouldn't their use in criminal proceedings constitute a mishandling of the affairs of state? Chen Shui-bian has always been adept at finding legal loopholes. One might say that this time the Courts are turning Chen's tricks against him.
The investigation and trial of criminal scandals is serious business -- the upholding of justice. Every citizen has an obligation to pursue the truth, let alone the President, who must shoulder the heavy responsibility of defending the constitution and the rule of law. If he is timid and lacks the courage to what's right, then he is a man without principles.
Under the circumstances, President Ma must take clear and decisive action. Otherwise he must assume responsibility for delaying justice, for covering up the truth, and for obstructing justice.
2008.07.18 02:35 am