Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Another Classic Example that Justice for GIs is Hard to Find in Korea

This comment by DMZ Dave provides a perfect example that justice for American servicemembers in Korea remains little changed over the years:

As a new contributor to this blog, I apologize for this long post but believe I can provide some additional perspective.

Although I had spent years in Korea and speak Korean fluently having graduated from the Korean Army College, it wasn’t until I entered the “Twilight Zone” of a false accusation and in police custody at the Itaewon Police Box that I received my post-graduate education in Korean justice.

The year was 1989, on this particular evening, I had just left the UN Compound and was about to pull out from some apartments near Itaewon heading up the hill to the main road at the Burger King intersection. As I sat in my car waiting to make a left turn onto the street, I observed two young girls holding hands and preparing to run across the busy street and I thought it looked like a bad situation. As I watched, to my horror, the girls suddenly dashed into the street, were struck by a taxi and thrown to the side of the road. The taxi sped on without looking back.

I jumped out of my car, ran to the girls, checked them for injuries (I started my military career as a Navy Corpsman) picked one up, checked her for serious injuries and moved her to the sidewalk, consoled the other and began shouting directions in Korean to the those standing by to call an ambulance. I asked if anyone knew the children and asked someone to call their parents. Soon an ambulance arrived and one child left for the hospital and the other less injured child was taken to her home. I then returned to my car and drove toward the main drag in Itaewon where I had been headed when this all took place. As I stopped at the light in front of the Burger King, a small mob suddenly surrounded my car and began slapping and pounding on it. I recall thinking “what the hell?” I had no idea what was going on but some policeman appeared and literally dragged me from my car and hustled me off to the Itaewon Police Box where I was told to sit and wait. This was the time you would expect Rod Sterling voice to announce “you have just entered the Twilight Zone.” It was that unreal.

I protested that I had done nothing except try to aid the children who had been struck by a taxi. “If you were not at fault, why would you have stopped” I was asked by one incredulous policeman? I explained what had happened and he took me roughly by the arm and suggested we both go to the “scene of the crime.”

Make sure to read the rest of the story because it is incredible, but not surprising to those of us who are familiar with justice for GIs in Korea.

This incident happened in 1989 and it is interesting to compare it with later incidents involving US servicemembers such as the 1995 subway brawl:

It all began when an American soldier put his hand on a Korean woman’s rump.

The version that has captured the local imagination is that a group of drunken American soldiers were rampaging through the subway, molesting Korean women, and that the soldiers then attacked good citizens who dared protest the errant hand.

The American understanding of events starts with a fact that the Koreans tend to leave out: The American soldier and the Korean woman whose behind he patted were in fact a married couple.

The Americans say the problems arose when some angry young Koreans on the subway accused the American of sexually harassing the Korean woman. When the Korean woman explained that she was the American’s wife, the Korean men allegedly spat at her and slapped her — leading the woman’s husband to punch the man who slapped her.

In any case, the result that evening in May was a huge brawl in the subway. It has reverberated through the country and underscored the delicacy of the mission of the 37,000 American military personnel in bases in South Korea.

Now fast forward to 2002 when three US soldiers were kidnapped from the subway, beaten, and forced to make coerced statements in front of a large stadium audience and televised on national television:

3 US soldiers and a group of university student activists (and one elder leader) promoting a large anti-US/USFK rally were involved in a big brawl on the subway in Seoul.

1 GI was held captive by the students and forced to participate in the rally and write out a “confession” against himself for the subway incident and write statements against USFK concerning the recent tank accident.

Guess who was charged with assault? The GIs of course.

Fast forward once again, this time to 2006 where in two separate incidents GIs were assaulted by Korean mobs and since the soldiers retaliated they were convicted of crimes while the Koreans received no punishment:

So one kid who got the crap beaten out of him by a mob including get hit across the face with a pipe has paid $9,000 in compensation money and is looking at 18 months in Korean jail, while another GI whose sole crime was pushing a bar owner after being grabbed first by the bar owner, and he then proceeded to get the crap beaten out him by a Korean mob and the GI has since paid $18,000 in compensation money and is looking at a year in Korean jail for that push.

The latest example comes just last year where a GI was jailed for months before finely being released on appeal because the conviction against him was so dubious:

PFC Feldman was clearly innocent when he was originally convicted. Feldman claimed he was trying to hail a taxi while SGT Basel went to use the restroom. This alibi is highly likely since the victim did not remember seeing Feldman in the restroom. Also the Korean restaurant owner who heard the woman yell in the bathroom originally wrote on a sworn statement after the incident that he saw only one man in the restroom. Then days later after the police got a hold of him he changed his statement to say he saw Feldman in the restroom. Additionally the Korean prosecutors were linked to trying to coerce Basel into writing a statement saying that Feldman was in the restroom for a lighter sentence.

The evidence against Feldmann was so dubious that when he was convicted the chief judge encouraged Feldmann to appeal the sentence which is what he did. Finally, on appeal Feldmann was found not guilty and when look at the evidence he should have never had any charges brought against him in the first place.

It is pretty bad when you are convicted of a crime and the chief justice pretty much admits the conviction is dubious but goes ahead and convicts you anyway. These are just a small sampling of how GIs have not been receiving fair treatment in the Korean justice system and is something that has obviously been going on for quite some time. It makes you wonder who is really getting unequal treatment in the US-ROK Status of Forces Agreement?

The important thing to remember is that one of the things all these incidents have in common is that Korean witnesses lie and often encouraged to do so by the police. Also keep in mind the lies and travesties of justice are not just limited to GIs either but foreigners as well.

Despite USFK having an extremely low crime rate when compared to the surrounding civilian population, clearly justice for GIs will continue to be hard to find in Korea.

No comments: