Truth Submerged Under Secrecy
By Cho Jae-hyon
While I worked the night shift last Friday, I received a phone call from a woman just 20 minutes from deadline.
The woman, who sounded as if she was in her 40s, asked me why even ranking government officials of the United States, led by liberal President Barack Obama, are making remarks indicating that North Korea is behind the sinking of the Naval ship Cheonan, shifting its previous stance of being quite doubtful of the North's involvement.
She also inquired why KBS and other media companies, without presenting any concrete evidence, are reporting that a North Korean torpedo is the cause of the mysterious blast that broke the ship in two in waters near the disputed inter-Korean border on March 26.
The housewife seemed frustrated by the clumsy handling of the tragic incident by the government and the way it has been covered by the press.
She talked for more than five minutes and yet seemed to have a lot more to say. She sounded fairly logical in her own way and seemed to have closely followed the news. She knew the names of ranking U.S. officials who had commented on the incident.
The housewife accused the defense ministry of lying to the people on the back of the uncritical media. As I politely told her that my deadline was just minutes away and needed to get back to work, she said the people wouldn't be messed around by the government or the media, before hanging up.
I felt sorry for her as I could not answer any of her questions clearly.
She is one of those who doesn't buy government officials' recounts of the tragedy.
The government has caused public distrust by keeping much of the key information confidential and tightly controlling the access of the press to survivors and their families.
It has sent conflicting and confusing messages from the moment the ship sank.
Much of the key information has been kept veiled, stoking public discontent and suspicion.
It has released only some fractions of images of the ship taken by infrared thermal observation devices (TOD) on the date of the sinking.
It, however, said the military surveillance devices installed at observation points on the coast did not capture the critical moment when the ship split in two.
The clip containing the images of the ship at the moment of breaking apart is one of most important clues to solving the mystery. Strangely, however, the ministry is saying that no surveillance camera captured the crucial scene as soldiers on duty did not take aim at the ship.
When it showed the first video footage earlier this month, it said that was the only footage, but days later it came forward with another clip. Its back-and-forth statements have kept the public suspicious. Some retired sailors told the media it is nonsense that the ship was not filmed at the moment of its splitting.
At the same time, the military should have been more honest about the chance of survival for the sailors. Defense officials said survivors would have 69 hours of air after the ship went down. But they later admitted that most of the cabins were not waterproof. If the search for the missing sailors had not been pressed so hard, Han Joon-ho, a warrant officer, might not have lost his life while searching for those trapped.
However, even those 69 hours were wasted as the Navy failed to locate the sunken stern of the ship for days after the ship went down. It was located by a small fishing boat in just three hours of searching. It's unbelievable that the Navy and Coast Guard failed to locate the sunken stern for days.
One of the most suspicious parts is the government's flip-flop of the exact time of the incident. It changed its estimation of the time on multiple occasions.
After sending contradictory messages for weeks, the government is now pointing a finger at the North. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young says the most probable scenario is a torpedo that created a shock wave or bubble jet underwater to bring down the frigate. But ministry officials say they are unsure whether Pyongyang has such weapons.
Though the cause of the sinking of the ship has remained veiled for nearly a month after the incident, KBS is holding a campaign to raise funds for the families of the victims, calling the dead sailors heroes.
Before pointing a finger at the North and beautifying the victims as heroes, all the questions and suspicions raised by experts and online bloggers should first be answered and dissipated.
To do so, the military needs to scrap its secretive attitude. Understandably, it will try to control information for what it calls security reasons. But too heavy-handed control of information always leads to doubts and suspicions. They also won't be able to keep the lid on it forever.