April 05, 2010 13:03
In a briefing about the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, the Defense Ministry on Sunday said "routine communication" took place at around 9:19 p.m. between the vessel and the Second Navy Fleet Command on the day of the sinking. That means there was no emergency until 9:19 p.m. and that the ship was not in danger until that time. The military made that announcement because of increasing suspicions about the exact time when the Cheonan began to sink amid all kinds of rumors being spread on the internet.
Heightening these suspicions, the Maritime Police Agency in a press release on March 28 had said that the ship began to sink at 9:15 p.m. on March 26, seven minutes before the time of the Navy had announced earlier. The Navy said the discrepancy was due to "miscommunication."
One broadcaster reported on Saturday that the military recorded the initial time of the shipwreck at 9:15 p.m. in its logs and revealed a document supporting that claim. The military denied it. But when controversy intensified, it presented a portion of its communications records as evidence.
The military actually ended up making the suspicions worse. It changed the time of the sinking several times from 9:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and 9:25 p.m. before finally arriving at 9:22 p.m. And military authorities have blocked all access to survivors of the Cheonan, stoking suspicions that the government is hiding something. Its initial response to the emergency was also suspicious. A KF-16 fighter jet lifted off from an Air Force base in Seosan at 10:40 p.m. in response to the Cheonan's sinking. That means a fighter plane responded to the emergency one hour and 18 minutes after the ship began to sink. This has raised questions about the effectiveness of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in responding to emergencies and the level of cooperation with other branches of the military. It is common practice to dispatch standby support teams within five minutes in situations involving even a single North Korean infiltrator.
The basic facts must be utterly reliable in determining the exact cause of the Cheonan's sinking. This does not mean that the military must unveil every piece of confidential information, but it cannot shilly-shally endlessly until the public no longer believe a word it says. The families of the missing sailors and civilian experts must be allowed to verify the contents of secure records even if they have to sign confidentiality agreements. The rumors cannot be laid to rest unless the public can trust the information it is given.
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