[Cheonan Warship Report3] Six Problems on the Investigation Process of the Cheonan Sinking
[Cheonan Warship Report3]
Six Problems on the Investigation Process of the Cheonan Sinking
Problem1. The military not disclosing and censoring basic information on the Cheonan vessel
Problem2. Hiding of the TOD video-recordings of the Cheonan breaking into half and sinking and changing of words
Problem3. Imposing political and legal measures and restrictions against ordinary citizens raising doubts
Problem4. The JIG practically excluding civilians
Problem5. The JIG that limited investigative efforts by civilian members
Problem6. Unknown roles of the foreign investigators
● Despite the JIG final report on the cause of the Cheonan sinking on May 20, there are still many questions and doubts regarding the cause of the Cheonan sinking.
● Questions and doubts are being raised because the final report lacks credibility and partly because the military itself maintained no transparency and excluded others in the investigation process and method and forming and operation of the JIG.
● During the process of investigation the cause of the Cheonan sinking, the Lee administration and the military have shown the abuse of serious security power far from the basic principle of the civil democracy control such as (1) monopoly on information and misuse/abuse of military secretes, (2) non-disclosure, selective disclosure and disclosure at convenience of vital information, (3) abuse of legal restrictions to those people raising doubts.
● Thus, PSPD once again points out the problems that have arisen during the investigation of the Cheonan incident.
2. Problems with the military in censoring information and selective disclosure of information
The military not disclosing and censoring basic information on the Cheonan vessel
● The Ministry of Defense has refuged all the requests by PSPD on the releasing of information on 16 items in 4 areas including the communication records and navigation routes of the Cheonan, according the Information Act, to determine the cause of the sinking clearly and objectively.
● The government and the military did not disclose or claimed that there was no record of basic information including the navigation routes, daily logs and records, KNTDS, TOD images of the sinking, and the broken surface and hull bottom immediately after recovery, stating that they are "military secretes"
● More seriously, they disclosed the severed surface and damaged parts critical to investigation immediately after recovery only partially so that the extent of real damage could not been determined.
● Testimonies by the survivors were limitedly disclosed through a press conference in the controlled environment.
● The military could have released the pertinent information transformed into a form of non-classified documents, and even if they were classified, it is very important to resolve any doubts for proving the attack by North Korea; however, it had not disclosed most of the documents by expanding the scope of national secretes.
● On the other hand, it had selectively disclosed the information on the information supporting the military's claim regardless of the information being classified.
● As a result, the people of Korea cannot know the basic information on the Cheonan incident such as what was the mission of the warship, where it was heading, where did it sink, how it sank, etc.
Hiding of the TOD image-recordings of the Cheonan breaking into half and sinking and changing of words
● The military initially had claimed that there was no TOD images, but partially released these images three times on March 30, April 1 and April after refutation by military retirees. However, it did not release the TOD images at the time of the incident and claimed that the released images are all it had every time.
● However, reports followed later that there are no blind spots in taking TOD images because they are taken automatically, and the media reported testimonies from unanimous informants that they have seen images at the time of the incident. National Assembly person Lee Jung-hee also spoke of the same thing at the National Assembly.
● According to testimonies of unanimous witnesses, the Cheonan was sailing with no problem but suddenly broke into half after which the stern sank in five minutes and the bow after floating about 20 minutes on water suddenly tilted toward the right and started to sink. They said that there was no water column.
● Several military officers sued National Assembly person Lee for defamation. However, additional TOD images were released on May 30, claiming that the images were taken after 40 seconds of the incident. There had not been any apology for perjury and they claimed that the suit is still effective against the assembly member.
Imposing political and legal measures and restrictions against ordinary citizens raising doubts
● The military also sued Dr. Park Sun-won, a former NSC(National Security Council) member and currently researcher at Brookings Institute in the US), who had raised doubts over a torpedo attack, and Shin Sang-cheol, civil member of the JIG recommended by Democratic Party are the representative cases of the government restricting those raising doubts against the Cheonan incident for defamation.
● The military also made a series of suits against ordinary citizens who raised the possibility of the Cheonan colliding with a US ship on the Internet.
● On the other hand, Asian studies scholar Kim Yong-ok, who lectured that he could not believe the investigative results released by the military and North Korea would be mortified if it were to be innocent, has been sued by a few conservative citizens based on National Security Law.
3. Problems with the JIG
The JIG practically excluding civilians
● The list of the members of the joint civilian-military investigation group (JIG) that was put into investigation of the Cheonan incident on April 1 were not released from the beginning.
● When civilian organizations including PSPD raised issues with not involving civilians in the JIG, President Lee Myung-bak ordered to change the head of the JIG to a civilian on April 6 and KAIST honorary professor Yoon Duk-yong was appointed to head the JIG on April 11. However, no practically improvement was made even after this change.
● Despite the fact that the JIG naming 'civilian-military', it is not known where these civilians affiliated to and who exerted influence. The only information released by the media was that the JIG is composed of some 20 to 30 members and most of the so-called civilians were a former military serviceman, a former researcher of a military research center, or an executive of a shipbuilding company in the defense industry.
● It is not known that the number of members the JIG was composed with, but saying around 130 to 150 members.
The JIG that limited investigative efforts by civilian members
● Shin Sang-cheol (recommended by Democratic Party) who revealed the status of JIG member on his own detested that the JIG did not provide even briefing materials and basic information needed for investigation such as the navigation course record, KNTDS, and the TOD records.
● He testified that the investigation was conducted based on the assumption that there had been a torpedo attack while excluding other possibilities from the consideration and no investigations were conducted for other possibilities.
● It means that the military conducted the investigation according to its plan and intention if civilian members' activities had been restricted.
Unknown roles of the foreign investigators
● The JIG had been criticized for lacking transparency and independence so that the Lee administration revealed that it had requested four countries including the US to dispatch investigators (24 total) to join the JIG's efforts.
● However, there had not been official announcement from the government on the specific mission and roles of these foreign investigators.
● Thomas Eccles, head of the US investigators, agreed to all the results of the JIG investigation disclosed during the press conference. He stated that the investigation was done in close cooperation between Korea and the U.S. and agreed to it had been conducted based on testimonies and scientific analyses. However, he dodged the questions on the specific roles of foreign investigators. And General Park Jung-e who had been present at the press conference added that the results released on the day had been agreed by all foreign investigators.
● However, within his statement, it is not certain whether the foreign members had participated as observers or whether they played a more active role in fact-finding and finding the cause of sinking. Especially, there had not been any explanation on the roles of these foreign members in providing specific and vital analysis and information such as securing evidence of North Korean torpedo attack and the course charted by North Korean submarines or they just shared the investigation results proposed by the South Korean military. Thus, it is difficult to determine whether foreign investigators are an important group having the power to decide credibility of the investigation or not.