Monday, November 20, 2017

Valuing the Sacrifice of Soldiers: How Thailand Could Fix a Corrupt Military System so Everybody Wins

By Ann Norman, Research by Red Eagle

If General Prayut Chan-ocha wanted to reform something and eliminate corruption, why didn’t he reform the military, which is something he was actually responsible for and is corrupt to its core?

The corruption in the military begins at the very start of a soldiers’ service. There is a draft for those young men who do not volunteer, and 1/3 of all those who go to the draft are selected for two years of service. This amounts to 100,000 conscripts per year. You can go the YouTube to see videos of the celebrations of those who are not selected and the tears of those who are. Incredibly, the rich will tell you very openly that they can avoid the risk entirely with a bribe.

I meant to write this article in April, after Private Yutthakinun Boonniam had been beaten and tortured while imprisoned in a military jail. In pictures taken at the hospital just before he died, his face was so swollen he was unrecognizable.

Then on November 12, 2017, yet another Thai conscript was beaten to death, 21-year old Adisak Noiphitak, just 10 days after he began his service. The autopsy report said he died of a sudden heart attack, but the family doesn’t believe it because when they received the body of their son, there were big bruises all over him. Pictures clearly reveal the lie by the army.

While we don’t know for sure Adisak Noiphitak was beaten to death, Private Yutthakinun Boonniam was beaten as a punishment. While corporal punishment of soldiers may be officially forbidden, it is prevalent and quickly excused.

Today’s social media regularly reveals shocking sadistic abuses of whole companies of Thai soldiers by their superiors. There are hazing rituals in which lines of naked soldiers are forced into mass sexual positions. And there are sadistic beatings, both of whole companies and individuals. Pictures and videos show masses of soldiers with welts on their backs with fish sauce, salt, or mustard being poured on the wounds). It is unsurprising that in such an abusive climate, several times a year, someone’s child is viciously beaten to death after being called up to serve their country.

In addition, there is the strange phenomenon of soldiers assigned to work as servants at the homes of their superiors. While these assignments may be easy work compared to what regular soldiers must do, and so there is often no complaint, these assignments have nothing to do with defending the country and are, therefore, yet another form of corruption.

In fact, in August 2012 there was a strange story of a young soldier assigned to work at the home of retired Rear Admiral as a servant, who escaped what had become enslavement and walked into a police station with a chain locked around his waist and carrying the tire it was chained to.

In 2015, Pilot Officer Sanan Thongdinok died in training, having been forced to swim back and forth in a pool without rest many tens of times until he sunk of exhaustion and drowned. In 2014, Private Somchai Seueuangdoi died while in the service. The result of the inquiry was that he died of bird flu. But the relatives were suspicious because, before he died, he said he had just been punished using a bucket covering his head and using a weapon to hit him on the head, back, and chest 20 times.

As recounted above, in 2017, so far there have been two notorious cases of soldiers abused and tortured to death. In 2016, there were also two notorious cases:

On April 4, 2016, Private Songtom Mutmat was beaten and tortured to death by an officer at the rank of Sublieutenant and a group of five people.

On February 21, 2016 Sipthokittikon Suthiphan died by violent trauma to the head and a burst stomach from having been attacked with imprisoned by four soldiers at the rank of private.

There could easily have been more cases that didn’t make the news because they were covered up, as you can see the pattern of lies to the families. In the summer of 2017, it happened that a niece of a conscript who had been tortured to death by soldiers then posted pictures of her uncle’s body on facebook with information about the torture he endured, and she WAS THEN SUED by the military for defamation! Naritsarawan Kaewnopparat had already won $200,000 in compensation but she was understandably upset that no one was ever punished for the crime. Some of the killers received awards and got promoted.

These cases remind me of a situation we have here in America where there is a steady stream of stories about young black men accidentally killed by police officers. In fact the case of Private Yutthakinun Boonniam, who was beaten beyond recognition and then died, superficially looks exactly like a case here in Pittsburgh where a black teenager at a prestigious arts high school was misidentified by police as a criminal and beaten beyond recognition. That boy did not die, but his brain was permanently damaged. The underlying cause in both American and Thailand is that the lives of the group being abused are not properly valued by those in power. The response in America is the Black Lives Matter movement, currently underway. We need something similar in Thailand for poor groups from the countryside without a Bangkok accent.

If the root cause of the abuse is that the recruits are not as valued as they should be, I suggest an easy solution. Don’t draft them! Instead, pay them what they are worth. Then they WILL be valued. Yes, the draft has a long tradition in Thailand, but other countries have moved away from having an active draft in peacetime. And now Thailand should look up and consider that it is an outlier in this area. In fact, this proposal to pay soldiers what they are worth should have widespread popular support: Rich or poor, the Thai citizens would be better off without this draft. The poor would not be forcibly conscripted into two years of service and those who chose to join would be fairly paid, and the rich would not have to pay thousands of dollars per bribe to evade the draft. And Thai society would not be corrupted by every single young man facing the huge temptation to cheat and pay a bribe at the very beginning of adulthood. The poor would not have to live with the burning resentment of knowing that they were cheated, or the rich with the guilt of cheating. Thai society would not have so many surplus soldiers with nothing better to do than clean the houses of their superiors or going out in groups of 10 to intimidate dissidents in their homes and monitor the daily lives of citizens, to the point of telling them what color of shirt they must wear.

In fact, the draft system would probably already be gone, were it not for the huge profits being made by those taking the bribes. Which brings me back to Prayut Chan-ocha. He was in charge of the military. Why didn’t he oversee a campaign to remove corporal punishment in the military? And why can’t he get a bill outlawing torture passed through his rubberstamp National junta-appointed Legislature? As of August, the Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance Bill,” which the Prayut government says it wants to enact, was still stalled there.

The solutions to these problems exist. Where is the political will to protect these young soldiers?

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