Exceeding the Statute of Limitations:
Do Prosecutors Have Consciences?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 26, 2011
In 1996, a young girl named Hsieh was raped and murdered inside the Air Force Air Combat Command. The Special Investigation Unit, the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office, and the High Military Court Prosecutor's Office, formed an ad hoc group to begin a new investigation. Yesterday the group determined that Chiang Kuo-ching, who was executed by firing squad, was not the actual perpetrator. Instead, a former soldier named Hsu Jung-chou committed the crimes. The group called for a prison sentence of 20 years. It found that Air Force counter-intelligence team officers Ke Chung-ching, Teng Cheng-huan, Li Chi-ren, Ho Chu-yao, Li Shu-chiang, and others, used torture to extract a confession from Chiang Kuo-ching. They abandoned the military prosecutor-led investigations headed by counter-intelligence unit commander Chen Chao-min. Because the suspects "were not prosecuted within the 10 year statute of limitations," they would be punished but not prosecuted. When this news broke, people were astounded.
This was a real world example of "officials covering for each other." These officials condoned the abuse of power and used torture to extract confessions. They conspired to minimize, cover up, and eradicate the commission of a crime. Special Investigation Unit investigators spent a full year on a major case. Yet this is all they have to show for their effort. Serious consideration should be given to prosecuting them for criminal abuse of power. How does the Commander in Chief feel as he watches military prosecutors applying this sort of media spin to the administration of justice? What does he have to say for himself? Does he bear any responsibility?
Consider one suspicion. They knew he was guilty. So why didn't they indict him before the statute of limitations expired? The Control Yuan should investigate. Who delayed prosecution? The prosecution must tell us whether those who delayed prosecution bear criminal liability. Even more puzzling, why is the statute of limitations merely 10 years? It turns out the ad hoc group began by prosecuting the suspect for a misdemeanor that carried a maximum sentence of three years. That was why the statute of limitations ran out. A group of officers was assigned to investigate. It tortured prisoners to extract confessions. It convened a courts martial, convicted, and summarily executed the wrong suspect. It abused governmental authority, and murdered him. Yet all its efforts yielded nothing more than a three year sentence for a misdemeanor? Why shouldn't the Special Investigation Unit and the prosecutor be tried for murder? Why not prosecute them for abuse of power, in accordance with Article 125 of the Criminal Code? Why not prosecute them for torture, in accordance with Article 126 of the Criminal Code? These are all felonies that carry a minimum sentence of seven years. The statute of limitations on them is 20 years. Why not make use of them?
The prosecution's legal rhetoric is esoteric. As a result, most people do not understand it, In any event, those who were tortured were not prosecutors or judges. They lacked special status, According to a 1941 Supreme Court case, these articles do not apply to case officers. Put simply, judges who wrongfully hand down death sentences bear no criminal liability. Prosecutors who wrongfully issue indictments bear no criminal responsibility. Military officers who resort to torture bear no criminal responsibility. No one committed a felony. No one will be prosecuted.
Prosecutors, please use your customary logic when responding to the national outcry. Chiang Kuo-ching was innocent. The government took an innocent man, convicted him, and executed him. Do not talk about how one must pay for murder with one's life. Chiang was not even guilty of a felony. Don't you feel ashamed? Over the years, how often have such legal abuses dogged criminal cases? How often were indictments rooted in pure conjecture? What was this, if not the result of long years of officials covering for each other? Years ago these remarkably efficient conspirators, falsely convicted Chiang Kuo-ching and took his life. Today, these skilled conspirators have successfully evaded responsibility, and enabled major and minor criminals within the military hierarchy to get off scot-free. Does the prosecution have any conscience left to speak of?
Consider a second suspicion. Why wait until Hsu Jung-chou was indicted before admitting that Chiang Kuo-ching was wrongfully executed, and that the military used torture to extract a confession? One man was wrongfully executed. Do they really need to wait until another patsy is paraded before the public before admitting that fact? Did they intentionally delay their prosecution? Could the suspect currently under indictment be yet another patsy? Are they merely using him to avoid conducting a genuine investigation? Couldn't they have indicted Hsu Jung-chou long ago, given the evidence in his case file? Is what was false yesterday true today? Is what was true yesterday false today?
Consider a third suspicion. The last time the case was "solved," the crime was depicted as an outrage to heaven and earth. They sought the death penalty. This time however, they are not demanding the death penalty. Do they have a hidden agenda? Is it because Hsu deserves sympathy? Or is it because the evidence against him is weak? If the evidence is weak, they should not have indicted him in the first place. Random prosecution constitutes prosecutorial misconduct. Are they concerned that seeking the death penalty might highlight the military's wrongful execution of Chiang Kuo-ching? Are they aware that their current indictment may be perceived as absurd and ironic. Is that why they are demanding only a light sentence?
In short, the military personnel in this case may be charged only with misdemeanors. Prosecutors and police investigators may also be charged only with misdemeanors. The public sees that indictments for abuse of authority are merely for show. The only thing for real, is conspirators evading punishment. Ordinary citizens who commit crimes are presumed guilty. They are tortured to extract confessions. Military officials, prosecutors, and police who commit crimes, get off scot-free. Can the rule of law and justice still be found on Taiwan?
Now we understand. The Special Investigation Unit and the prosecutors will never be convicted for abuse of authority. But they know in their heart of hearts, that in many people's minds, they have already been found guilty of two crimes. One, they abused their authority by failing to indict. Two, they abused their authority by torturing Hsu Jung-chou. The logic is simple. Military officers who commit murder are not prosecuted. So why should Hsu Jung-chou be prosecuted?