Prominent K-blog commenter and lawyer Brendon Carr offers some outstanding advice in today’s Stars and Stripes newspaper. Brendon hits on a number of potential issues with soldiers who get in trouble in Korea. Here is probably the most telling statement from the article:
Beyond language difficulties is the prospect that South Koreans who give testimony might feel it culturally acceptable to lie, especially if it will increase their chances of winning bigger damages, Carr said.
This culture, Carr said, does not place the same value on truth or view the truth through the same prism that Americans do. There is very little social disapproval of making false official statements in order to achieve an objective for your friend or relative or for a tribemate.
Once it breaks down to ˜those Americans versus us Koreans, many, many Koreans will perceive it as their duty to make sure that the Korean is the winner of the dispute. So there’s a lot of lying when witnesses come forward, Carr said.
This does not just happens to Americans because it is quite common for Koreans to lie against each other in order to win legal cases as well. As Brendon said it is part of the culture. Here is more advice:
Because there’s such a public bias against them and a political desire to kick the United States in the teeth by kicking a soldier said Carr, labor against this Korean domestic perception that soldiers are never punished.
But there’s also the prospect that anti-American groups might try to pressure authorities against the accused servicemember, said Jin.
About three years ago, Jin represented a soldier who, while drunk, stabbed a Korean in the neck. At first, Korean investigators concluded the assault had not involved an intent to kill, so authorities charged the soldier with battery, Jin said.
But anti-American activist groups weighed in, pressing police and prosecutors to charge the soldier with attempted murder, Jin said, and the prosecutor changed his mind.
The incident Brendon is referring to is the Shinchon Stabbing Incident. In May of 2004 4 GI’s and a KATUSA went and partied in the Shinchon area of Seoul. Apparently one of the soldiers stood on the back of a taxi to take a picture. Some concerned citizens exchanged some heated words with the soldiers about standing on the taxi to take a picture. I believe it is safe to assume that the Korean students who were the “concerned citizens” were probably equally drunk at the time considering it was 2AM in Shinchon.
Anyway a fight broke out which according to the court transcripts the “concerned citizens” started, but after the fight broke out more Koreans jumped in on a chance to pound on the soldiers. One of the soldiers who had just arrived at the scene because he was meeting his friends, pulled out a pocket knife in an effort to defend himself and his friends from the “concerned citizens” who were throwing bricks at him and even assaulting him with a broken beer bottle. As the soldier was assaulted by the mob the soldier held the knife to the throat of one of the attackers that was choking him for up to two minutes and during the struggle cut him. This pocket knife would later go on to be described in the Korean media as a military issue knife conjuring up images of some Rambo blade when in fact it was a simple pocket knife. The soldiers were eventually subdued by the mob and arrested by the police department not before they were able to take one of the soldiers and pose him for a propaganda picture:
This soldier fit the rogue GI profile the best, so he was taken by the mob and had his shirt ripped off to expose his tattoos that are often associated with gangsters in Korea and then had his pants pulled down in order to get this great picture to beam around Korea in order to build righteous outrage against the soldiers. Kim Jong-il’s ministry of propaganda couldn’t have done a better job than this. What is even more outrageous about this picture is that this soldier is not even the stabber. The guy who pulled the knife was to busy getting the crap kicked out of him and strangled by all the “concerned citizens”:
I had predicted at the time nothing would happen to the students and the soldier would get slammed and nobody would care and that is unfortunately what happened. The soldier in question, Pvt. John C. Humphrey was convicted of attempted homicide and was given a 2 1/2 year sentence in Korean prison. The only reason he was charged with attempted homicide was because of the anti-US groups lobbying the Korean justice system. What I found most outrageous about this case is that not one Korean in the mob that was fighting the soldiers was charged with anything. In fact they were treated as heroes.
Just to add to the excellent legal advice from Brendon Carr, remember if you are a foreigner in Korea you have no expectation of self defense even when a Korean takes a metal pipe and cracks you across the head with it:
Even after a Korean hits you with a metal pipe you cannot retaliate especially with a weapon like a knife. Pulling a knife in Korea is like pulling a gun in America. You just don’t do it without the possibility of serious repercussions. That is why I have always advocated swallowing your pride and walking away so you don’t have to face a “fair” Korean trial as one to many GI’s have already found out.
You can read more over at Lost Nomad.