Watchdog Blasts Military Over Handling of Cheonan Sinking

      June 11, 2010 09:32

      An inquiry into the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan has revealed that military brass distorted or concealed information in reporting the incident, thereby contributing to a confused response and fanning suspicion among the public.

      The 2nd Naval Fleet Command was first informed by the captain of the Cheonan at 9:53 p.m. on March 26 that the ship appeared to have been hit by a torpedo, but it failed to pass this information to the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the headquarters of the Navy's operations command, the Board of Audit and Inspection said Thursday.

      The captain made his report 31 minutes after the Cheonan began to sink at 9:22 p.m. based on observations by the crew. But the 2nd Naval Command deliberately omitted the information in its report to the JCS and Naval operations command, resulting in erroneous decisions in the early stages of the attack. The omission also gave way to widespread rumors that the Cheonan crashed into a reef or split in half due to metal fatigue.

      The JCS in turn distorted crucial information in its briefing to Defense Minister Kim Tae-young. Having been informed by the Navy's operations command that a sailor aboard the Cheonan had "heard an explosion," it omitted to mention this in its briefing to the defense minister and the media. The explosion would have pointed to a torpedo attack, but the minister had to act without that information.

      The JCS also told the defense minister the ship sank at 9:45 p.m., even though it was told by the Navy operations command that it happened at 9:15 p.m. The Cheonan actually began sinking at 9:22 p.m. "Military officers deliberately left out or distorted key information in their report to senior officials and the public because they wanted to avoid being held to account for being unprepared," a BAI official said.

      The BAI asked the defense minister to take disciplinary action against 23 military officers and two high-ranking Defense Ministry staff for failing to ensure combat readiness and other mistakes in reporting and dealing with the situation. The results of the audit, conducted at the request of the defense minister, will be reflected in next week's promotions of top officers.

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