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Jun. 20  2018
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Tribunal: U.S. crimes against Korean people

On May 18, after five hours of eyewitness and expert testimony and the presentation of documented evidence, the Kwangju People's Tribunal found the U.S. government guilty of crimes against the people of Korea.

Source  :  Workers World



By Sharon Ayling
Kwangju, south Korea

On May 18, after five hours of eyewitness and expert testimony and the presentation of documented evidence, the Kwangju People's Tribunal found the U.S. government guilty of crimes against the people of Korea.

The guilty verdict was related to U.S. involvement in the murderous suppression of a people's uprising here 22 years ago.

On May 18, 1980, the people of Kwangju rebelled against a violent assault on students who were protesting the former military regime's declaration of martial law.

Students and workers joined together. With massive street demonstrations and a quickly formed people's militia, they battled police and Korean Special Forces troops, managing to seize control of the city for several days.

At least 2,000 people were killed in these battles and when the military brutally retook control of the city on May 27.

The Tribunal found 10 U.S. government officials at the time guilty of complicity in this suppression. They include President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea William Gleysteen, and U.S.-Korean Combined Forces Commander in South Korea John Wickham.

The most damaging evidence of U.S. criminal involvement was Wickham's decision to release four divisions of south Korean army special forces troops for deployment in Kwangju. This approval was required because the south Korean army is under direct U.S. command.

Recently declassified documents showed that U.S. officials said the decision to release the troops should be kept quiet because it would fuel anti-U.S. sentiment if it became known. The United States also ordered a naval carrier to south Korea from the Philippines.

U.S. soldier tells of alert

Ellen Barfield, a sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed at Camp Humphreys in Korea during the Kwangju events, submitted videotaped testimony. She said that all 40,000 U.S. troops occupying Korea at the time were put on high alert. This meant that all routine was suspended. For two to three days they received riot training instead. This mostly consisted of classroom discussion about what to do when face-to-face with people rebelling in the streets.

She also expressed the hope that the truth about the U.S. role in Kwangju would come out. And she commended the citizens of Kwangju for their efforts.

The Carter cabinet set up a special task force on the Korea crisis, code-naming it "Cherokee." Messages from this task force to the U.S. Embassy expressed deep fear of a revolutionary situation in Korea like the one that had just shaken the U.S. grip on Iran. They called the Korean student struggle a challenge to law and order.

Publicly, the U.S. government only voiced concern about Korean stability and security, with no expression of concern about the deliberate killing of civilians. Washington also fabricated unspecified "threats" from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north.

The tribunal was held in Province Hall, a government office building that was the scene of many battles during the uprising and where many of the rebels perished in a final stand. A huge banner in the hall read, "Today we are victims, tomorrow we will be winners," a quote from the head of the citizens' army who died in Province Hall with 200 of his compatriots.

More than 300 people attended the one-day tribunal, including many long-time political prisoners, participants in the uprising and survivors of the suppression.

The May tribunal here in Kwangju opened with introduction of the judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and jury. The people's jury was composed of workers, farmers, religious leaders and students from all the regions outside Kwangju.

The lead prosecutor explained that this tribunal was historic for the people of Kwangju because it was the first time that the role of the U.S. government in suppressing the Kwangju uprising was being examined. While two former Korean presidents were found guilty in 1989 of crimes against the citizens of Kwangju, the crimes of the United States have been covered up until now.

Tribunal organizers had to put up a struggle just to hold it. On May 14, the tribunal committee delivered papers to the U.S. Embassy informing the United States that 10 of its former officials were being charged with crimes against peace in relation to the Kwangju suppression, and requesting their appearance before the tribunal.

A few days later, the organizers received a call from the Korean National Security Office informing them that Province Hall could not be used as the venue for the tribunal and warning that the United States could sue for defamation if the defendants were found guilty. Local police also called.

While a struggle won the right to use the hall, organizers were denied the use of a sound system.

Heart-wrenching testimony

Many survivors of the repression came forward to testify about their suffering at the hand of the special-forces troops--including indiscriminate bayoneting of demonstrators, shooting civilians in the head and beating prisoners to death.

A woman testified that soldiers shot her in the back of the head at 7 a.m. in front of her home. There was no combat in the area at the time. She had only gone outside to look for her 7-year-old son.

At the hospital, she was repeatedly interrogated about whether she was a communist. Her family was interrogated as well. When her father asked a soldier why he shot at civilians, he replied that they were told to shoot all Kwangju residents who were out on the street.

A Buddhist monk testified that he witnessed the killing of 200 citizen soldiers holed up inside the Catholic Center. He had organized a medical team during the uprising. He was shot in the back and paralyzed while taking care of injured people in an ambulance.

After hearing closing remarks and deliberating on the evidence, the chief jurist--the Rev. Jung-hyun Moon, a Catholic priest--stepped forward. Moon is a well-known militant against U.S. occupation who was permanently disabled by riot police at an anti-U.S. protest.

He read the verdict: The jury found the 10 U.S. officials guilty on all counts.

The jury verdict also included a list of demands: that the officials and the United States issue official apologies, pay just compensation, and release all relevant documents; that command of Korean troops be transferred from the U.S. government to south Korea, all U.S. troops be withdrawn and the SOFA agreement between U.S. and Korea governing GIs be revised so that Pentagon troops can be held accountable in Korean courts for their criminal behavior.

The next day, a militant crowd of 10,000 youths outside Province Hall cheered this verdict and led a triumphant march throughout the city.

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