Probe borders on the absurd

The handling of criminal litigation by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) against former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his ex-deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, for their role in the army's crackdown on red-shirt protesters in April-May 2010 seems to have reached a point bordering on absurdity and it could even be viewed as political persecution.

DSI chief Tarit Pengdith said on Tuesday that his department was mulling the possibility of bringing hundreds of additional charges, including attempted murder, against the two Democrat bigwigs for injuring some 1,500 demonstrators during the violent protests two and a half years ago.

As a former committee member of the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), the ad hoc centre set up by then prime minister Abhisit to deal with the violent protests, and a former judge, Mr Tarit should be fully aware that the whole committee was collectively held accountable for the directives it issued, the subsequent actions taken by security forces in accordance with the directives, and the consequences of those actions.

To single out Mr Abhisit in his capacity as then prime minister and Mr Suthep in his capacity as CRES director while ignoring the rest of the committee, including the military top brass and Mr Tarit himself, is tantamount to discrimination and double standards.

Both Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep were charged with murder for, in the DSI's parlance, "intentionally in anticipation of the result" causing other people to kill taxi driver Phan Khamkong on May 14, 2010. What is suspicious about the case is that the DSI did not bring the charge of malfeasance in office for alleged misuse of authority, a standard charge against any public office holder, against the two men.

Had the case against the two Democrats been handled in a straightforward manner, then it would have been the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) that would have investigated it from the beginning and not the DSI, especially with Mr Tarit, who should also be held accountable for all the actions that went wrong and were blamed on the CRES. The NACC investigated the case of the crackdown on yellow-shirt protesters by then prime minister Somchai Wongsawat a few years ago.

As a former committee member of the CRES, Mr Tarit is unfit to head the investigation because of his conflicting roles then and now, although he has persistently maintained that he was not involved in the CRES's decision making, especially concerning the use of live ammunition and the use of force to disperse protesters.

In all fairness, violence was perpetrated by both sides in the conflict - the protesters as well as the security forces. There were gunmen in the midst of the protesters who appeared to mingle with and move among them freely and undeterred.

Gunshots and grenades fired from the direction of the protesters claimed lives, including that of Colonel Romklao Thuwatham at Kok Wua intersection, and maimed several soldiers and innocent bystanders. On the government side, excessive force was used against the protesters resulting in unnecessary deaths and injuries.

Despite the questionable handling of the criminal cases against both Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep, their court trial will hopefully set the record straight about whether the crackdown on the red-shirt protesters was legitimate and who should be held liable if it is deemed unjustified.