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[Opinion] The Boasting of a Crown Prince

Posted August. 13, 2005 03:06,   


It was a day in early August 1980. At the Supreme Court building, back then located in Seosomoon, Seoul, a Supreme Court justice came into the room of the Supreme Court Chief Justice in the second floor of the building. He did not utter a word and handed in his resignation letter. He looked as if he had lost his mind. Although he was holding a cup of coffee, he could not put it into this mouth, and spilled the coffee all over his clothes. He even seemed not to be aware of his actions. That is the stunning story of former Supreme Court Justice Yang Byung-ho, told by the Chief Justice of that time.

Before presenting his letter of resignation, Justice Yang had been put through harsh torture for three days at a cell in Seobingo run by the Defense Security Command. It was his mistake to bring up a dissenting opinion, during the appeal of Kim Jae-kyu, who had murdered President Park Jung-hee, that murder for the intent of civil war could not be applied to Kim. The new military government that grabbed power through the December 12 Coup was using all types of means to seize control of the judicial branch in face of Kim Dae-joon’s trial for conspiring to incite civil war. The first victim of this action was former Supreme Court Justice Yang, who died this March. It was an era where guns were the law.

The judiciary branch under the Chun Doo-hwan regime underwent continuous suffering. In place of being politically independent, it was busy supporting political logic with judicial logic. Some started to call the judiciary branch, “the judiciary branch under the administrative branch,” and some even called it the “dead judiciary branch under the administrative branch.” Former Chief Justice Lee Young-sup, who quit in April 1981 after suffering from the outside pressure of the new military regime, said in his retirement speech, “When I look back, there is nothing more but stains of remorse and humiliation.”

Park Chul-eun, who joined the National Security Emergency Measures Committee while being a prosecutor and helped the rule of the new military regime, and who was known as the crown prince of the Roh Tae-woo regime, disclosed that in 1981 he interviewed Chief Justice candidates at the order of former President Chun. At the time a candidate reportedly said, “If a big mission is given to us, I will make the judges cooperate with the government.” It is another hidden aspect of the disgraceful history of the judiciary branch. Park said it as if he was boasting, but how will he cope with the historic responsibility of having shaken the judiciary branch above the law?

Editorial Writer Song Dae-keun dksong@donga.com