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Martial law probe does not include Army figures

July 14,2018
A special investigation team probing the military intelligence unit’s drawing up of plans for martial law if the Constitutional Court did not oust President Park Geun-hye in 2017 was launched Friday, starting a month-long probe that could ensnare former top military and presidential officials, including Park.

The special probe team led by Air Force Col. Jeon Ik-soo, chief of the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General Office, is comprised of 10 military prosecutors from the Navy and Air Force and two dozen investigators dispatched from the prosecutors’ office. Jeon was tapped to lead the probe Wednesday by Defense Minister Song Young-moo.

No prosecutor or investigator was chosen from the Army.

“There is no investigator from the Army because the conceived martial law plan had the Army heavily involved,” said a senior presidential official Friday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Of the 10 military prosecutors, five to six of them are veterans with more than 10 years in the field. The special team will occupy a building inside the Defense Ministry complex and lead the probe until Aug. 10. The team can extend its probe for up to 120 days.

The probe’s focus will be on who ordered and were involved in the drawing up of the martial law plan, which was reported to former Defense Chief Han Min-koo by then-head of the Defense Security Command (DSC) Cho Hyun-chun in March 2017 just before the Constitutional Court’s ruling on March 10 that removed Park from power for abuse of power, corruption and breach of trust.

In the nine-page report, the DSC detailed options for declaring martial law if the court ruled against Park’s removal and angry mobs poured into the streets. The report is entitled “Wartime Martial Law and Joint Action Plan” with the date March 2017.

It said that martial law would be necessary if the functioning of the three branches of government became paralyzed due to social instability caused by violent protests, “therefore making it necessary to end the social unrest at an early stage” by the military.

In the report, the military’s intelligence unit described progressive protesters as “North Korea-followers,” a link commonly made by authoritarian Korean governments from the 1960s to the 1980s to suppress political dissent in the name of national security.

It also laid out options that would allow the military to open fire on protesters, which was if military forces were attacked by mobs or when there were no means to bring protesters under control.

The report also said the military would be spared direct legal responsibility even after unconstitutional infringements on the basic rights of citizens.

If martial law was declared, the DSC specified three brigades that would be mobilized to take control of the Blue House, the Constitutional Court, the central government complex in Seoul and the Defense Ministry headquarters. Another brigade was to be dispatched to Yeouido, home to the National Assembly. A group of 48 DSC officials would censor media reports to prevent the spread of false information, the report reads.

The report also called for “prudent judgement” if the military pushes ahead with declaring martial law because “a majority of the Korean people have negative perceptions due to past instances of martial law” declared by the military governments of Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan.

The special investigation team is expected to call in DSC officials involved in the drafting of the martial law plan for questioning next week.

Former Defense Chief Han and former national security adviser to President Park, Kim Kwan-jin, are also expected to be questioned about their involvement.

Park herself could also be subject to questioning if evidence emerges she was aware that martial law was being planned.

She is appealing a 24-year prison sentence for abuse of power and corruption.

Since the special investigation team led by Air Force Col. Jeon can only question military personnel, close cooperation with prosecutors will be necessary to summon civilians for questioning including former Defense Chief Han and former DSC Chief Cho.

On media reports that the current Blue House’s civil affairs office was briefed on the martial law plan document before the issue first came to light, Cho Kuk, the presidential senior secretary for civil affairs, denied them Friday in a statement, saying he learned of the issue only after it was reported last week.

“I had not been briefed on the martial law document until a recent media report,” he said.

The Friday launch of the special probe came just three days after President Moon Jae-in gave an order to carry out a “speedy and fair” investigation into the case while he was on a state visit to India, adding that the DSC should also be investigated on suspicions it spied on relatives of people who died in the Sewol ferry sinking.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]