DSI probe turning deaths into political tools
The investigation into the deadly crackdowns on anti-government protesters in 2010 is now under way and I strongly support this effort. It is the culture of impunity that has made state violence against the people possible.
We need to end this culture by teaching a lesson to those responsible for the violence.
I believe many people share my view and wish to see at least once in our lives that there is justice in this so-called Buddhist, democratic land _ that there are no first or second or third among us equals.
What we want to see are apologies to the relatives of the dead as well as the removal of the social stigma for those unfairly accused of treason and lese majeste offences.
Those who despise the red-shirt movement, or more precisely fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have become annoyed and dismayed by the many ongoing developments under the leadership of Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.
This is understandable. But it is also undeniable that we have not seen much concrete progress in the investigation by the police, fact-finders and prosecutors into the previous government's decision to violently disperse the red shirts, which was tantamount to a licence to kill.
At present, the law under the emergency decree provides impunity clauses for the authorities involved who acted in the name of the now-defunct Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES), which was set up to deal with the protest.
The CRES was established by then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva and his deputy PM Suthep Thaugsuban was its director.
It is arrangements like this that make state violence possible.
The Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT), whose chairman was appointed by Mr Abhisit, did not receive cooperation or information from the military.
So, inevitably, when the government presiding over the lethal crackdown was removed from office, the investigations under the following Pheu Thai-led government were therefore speeded up.
A series of inquests into the deaths has been processed and the Criminal Court has already ruled that the killings of taxi driver Phan Khamkong and Charnarong Polsila were caused by the authorities' operations.
On Dec 6, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) announced that Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep would be charged over the use of live ammunition that led to civilian deaths during the protests.
The decision to press charges, said Tarit Pengdith, chief of the DSI, was influenced by an inquest ruling into the death of Phan in May 2010.
In September, the court found that troops, acting on orders from state officials, killed Phan.
Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep have been summoned for questioning this week.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut immediately blasted the DSI as working at the behest of the government and claiming that the investigations are completely one-sided.
But this is not a clean-slate case. The fact is society remains polarised, perhaps more than ever. This means there will always be doubts from the other side even if the investigations are credible and fair.
At the peak of state propaganda against the red-shirt protests, Mr Tarit was seen on a TV pool which was broadcast on every terrestrial channel reading the CRES orders several times.
His stoic face and wording presented a convincing case for the viewers that the protesters were breaching the law instead of exercising their political rights.
Perhaps it would be less questionable if the DSI chief who announced the charges against Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep was not the same Mr Tarit who was part of the tainted team.
Mr Tarit issued a rebuttal that there was no reason to investigate his own actions as a member of CRES because he never took part in any CRES meetings that involved military operations.
"The decision to use force was made by the committee in charge of operations, and the decision makers were Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep," Mr Tarit said.
More disturbing is that only two politicians, and no army leaders, were charged along with the Democrat members.
The military, like Mr Tarit, insisted they were acting under the name of the government's CRES.
The army has offered numerous justifications for state violence. Top of the list is that the belief that the protesters were trying to topple the monarchy.
That is the same as one of the four reasons Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin gave to the public when justifying the 2006 coup _ that the Thaksin government had to be removed because it was disloyal to the monarchy.
Politicians are an easy target for anyone to direct their hatred at, to blame for their daily troubles, to look down upon.
The anti-corruption campaign and many surveys and polls show again and again that politicians are viewed as the most corrupt kind of people.
That is why all we focus only on politicians. We ignore the fact that without the collusion or initiation from business, corporations, civil servants and the law, corruption would not be possible.
Now it looks like the investigation of Mr Abhisit and Mr Suthep is yet another political tool; a chip for the Pheu Thai Party to trade for Democrat support for the charter amendment and reconciliation bills.
This has led many _ including those who voted for Pheu Thai in last year's general election _ to ask if if the government is able to initiate change without resorting to having to twist arms.
To fulfil the promises Pheu Thai gave to the red-shirt movement and to the relatives of those killed in the protest, Pheu Thai must also have the political guts to bring the military to justice as well, and not just token politicians. But this is simply happening.
The red shirts are becoming increasingly frustrated with this government, which they see as compromising too much with conservative forces, and particularly the military.
In fact, what the DSI should have done to gain public trust is to do what it said it would do _ investigate how the red shirts were also responsible for the 2010 casualties.
The TRCT has already failed to get leaders of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship to provide their accounts.
A colonel who showed up at one of the TRCT hearings told the Bangkok Post that he had to talk to some Pheu Thai MPs present on the night of April 10, 2010, to get them to clear the way for injured soldiers, including Maj Gen Walit Rojanapakdi and Col Romklao Tuwatham, to be taken to hospital.
The public needs a balanced investigation _ but this political show seems not to care about the audience.
Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.
Senior reporter on socio-political issues
Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.