SOUTH KOREANS SHOT THOUSANDS
News-Gazette, April 21, 2000
DOKCHON, South Korea (AP) – South Korean soldiers and police, observed at times by U.S. Army officers, executed more than 2,000 political prisoners without trial in the early weeks of the Korean War, according to declassified U.S. military documents and witnesses. The supreme commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, became aware of at least one of the mass shootings, according to documents originally classified "top secret."
The new information, detailed in reporting by The Associated Press and a Korean researcher, substantiates what some historians have long believed: Large numbers of South Korean leftists arrested by the right-wing regime were secretly killed as its forces retreated before the North Korean army in mid-1950, apparently to keep them from collaborating with the communist invaders. Subsequently, during their brief occupation of the south, the North Koreans executed many suspected rightists. Those killings, once discovered, were widely publicized in the Western press.
Information about the South Korean government’s mass executions was suppressed for decades under the country’s former military rulers. Relevant South Korean records were destroyed, researchers believe. But victims’ families recently began speaking out, and human bones have been unearthed at mass-burial sites.
Witnesses describe brutal mass shootings. A retired South Korean admiral told the AP that 200 people, never put on trial, were taken offshore to be shot and dumped into the sea. Villagers in the Dokchon area remembered truckloads of civilians, trussed together, brought to the hills here and executed by South Korean military police.
The AP learned it was a U.S. Army account of those Dokchon killings that reached MacArthur. Although the legendary U.S. general also commanded the South Korean military at the time, he referred this report to U.S. diplomats "for consideration" and "such action as you deem appropriate." The U.S. ambassador, John Muccio, later reported back that he urged President Syngman Rhee and Defense Minister Shin Sung-mo to end summary executions deemed illegal and inhumane.
"I urged Captain Shin to see that the Korean Army, Police and Youth Groups carry out executions of captured members of the enemy forces, including guerillas, only after due process of law has been observed and that when carried out they should be in a humane manner," Muccio wrote in an Aug. 25, 1950, letter to MacArthur’s top subordinate, the U.S. 8th Army commander, Lt. Gen. Walton L. Walker.
South Korean soldiers had shown "extreme cruelty" toward the condemned prisoners at Dokchon, a U.S. military police investigator, Sgt. 1st Class Frank Pearce, said in a written report to his company commander on the shootings.
He and other American witnesses reported that 200 to 300 prisoners, including women and a girl 12 or 13 years old, were killed by South Korean military police on Aug. 10, 1950, on a mountain near this hamlet 155 miles southeast of Seoul, South Korea’s capital. A South Korean officer told the Americans the prisoners were "spies"—not North Korean soldiers or guerillas.
Pearce, who went to the scene after hearing gunfire, said the Korean soldiers placed 20 prisoners at a time on the edge of a cliff and shot them in the back of the head. Because of poor aim, some did not die immediately. Local Korean witnesses today echo Pearce’s description of cruel treatment. Villagers also claim people were shot.