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The ROK Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating civilian deaths during the Korean War is nearly finished, but any conclusions it reaches are undercut by a glaring problem.

The ROK Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigating civilian deaths during the Korean War is nearly finished, but any conclusions it reaches are undercut by a glaring problem.

The commission was handicapped from its inception by political battles between liberals and conservatives. One of the most contentious issues of all was how to deal with wartime killings by American forces.

The eight mass killings that the commission determined as unlawful and eligible for compensation by Washington were all investigated by commissioners appointed under Mr. Roh’s government.

Citing witness accounts and declassified American documents, the commission found that American pilots, warned about potential North Korean infiltrators, indiscriminately attacked refugee groups, hitting them with machine-gun fire, missiles and napalm.

An estimated 855 refugees were killed, including 200 crammed inside a cave and suffocated by fires set off by air attacks; 100 huddled on a beach and shelled by an American ship; and 35 attacked by American aircraft in Kyongju, a town behind the lines in the south.

The commission — which had no power to force testimony, indict or offer reparations — said the attacks violated international conventions on war and asked the Korean government to seek compensation from Washington. It also asked the government to enact laws to compensate victims of the killings by South Korean authorities.

The government has yet to respond to those requests, and victims fear that it is unlikely to, with a conservative pro-American president in power in Seoul.

In December, the government began replacing liberal commissioners whose terms had ended with conservatives. The commission has since dismissed victims’ calls for extending its work.

"They have so far uncovered just a tip of the iceberg," said Oh Won-rok, 70, who said his father was killed without trial by the South Korean police in July 1950. "So many victims did not come forward, out of fear. The current conservative government wants to keep it all buried." Mr. Oh leads a national association of 80 survivors’ groups.

Mr. Lee, who became president of the commission last December, said that since he took over, the panel had shifted the criteria for faulting American wartime actions. It gave more consideration to "military necessity," the difficult situations the troops faced during the war and the need for testimony from American veterans.

The panel gave up hopes of seeking help from Washington in acquiring such testimony when President George W. Bush was in office, said Kim Dong-choon, a former liberal commissioner.

Between the old and current panel, "there was a fundamental difference over how to view the U.S. intervention in the Korean War," Mr. Kim said. "It’s sad that this work could not be finished by those who had fought for the investigations but is coming to an end under those who had doubts about them."

How can anyone accept the conclusions of a panel so maladroitly executed? The division between cons and libs, believers and skeptics, should have been manifest from the beginning. GI Korea has excellent commentary, too.

Originally posted to InfidelWorld on Tue Jul 13, 2010 at 12:09 AM PDT.

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