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Defense, justice ministries to launch joint probe team into Defense Security Command

The defense and justice ministries on Monday announced a plan to launch a joint investigation into the scandal-ridden Defense Security Command, amid mounting controversy concerning the military organization’s involvement in drafting a martial law document.

According to the Ministry of National Defense, the joint probe team will consist of military and civilian prosecutors. The measure is expected to boost the transparency of the investigation into retired military and civilian government officials, the ministry said.

Investigators will also probe the Defense Security Command’s alleged surveillance of families of the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014. The command is suspected of having monitored the families’ daily activities amid criticism against the government’s mishandling of the sinking.

“Those in uniform will be subject to investigation by the military’s prosecutors, while civilian prosecutors will probe into those who have left the military,” Park Gyung-soo, who is in charge of legal affairs at the Defense Ministry, told reporters.

A military official enters the office of the military’s special investigation team at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul on Monday. Yonhap
A military official enters the office of the military’s special investigation team at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul on Monday. Yonhap

The investigation is expected to focus on who issued the command to draft the martial law document and whether it was designed for implementation. The document was drafted in March last year when South Korea was engulfed by massive protests against former President Park Geun-hye.

Former Defense Minister Han Min-koo, who was reportedly briefed about the document by then-Defense Security Commander Cho Hyun-chun, claimed the document was simply a contingency plan in the event that protestors forced their way into the presidential office.

But President Moon Jae-in’s aides and his governing Democratic Party of Korea countered that the document was more of an implementation plan, as it is much more detailed than the military’s usual plan of overseeing a national emergency.

“The military is supposed to serve the people, but it was trying to point guns at the people. ... We will hold everyone involved accountable and find out whether they committed treason,” said Rep. Choo Mi-ae, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, Monday.

Debate also continues to escalate over who instructed the Defense Security Command to draft the martial law document, which even included a plan to deploy tanks in downtown Seoul, censor the media and block lawmakers from ending the emergency action.

While Han and former Defense Security Commander Cho claimed there were no separate orders from higher-ups, doubts persists over whether security aides close to former President Park ordered the military to draw up an emergency plan.

Later in the day, human right activist groups filed a lawsuit against Han, former chief of the National Security Office Kim Kwan-jin and former chief of the Presidential Security Service Park Heung-ryul. All of them are retired four-star Army generals.

“We don’t think the Defense Security Command is the only agency involved (with drafting the martial law document). It was designed to overthrow the government,” said the Center for Military Human Rights Korea in a joint statement with other human right advocacy groups.

Meanwhile, an allegation has emerged that former Defense Minister Han ordered his staff to consider a plan to appoint the Army’s chief of staff as a martial law commander -- an indication that Han was more involved in drafting the controversial document than he has claimed.

According to Yonhap News Agency, an internal document was found showing that Han changed the military’s usual plan of appointing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a supreme commander overseeing a national emergency.

By Yeo Jun-suk(