Blogs and other online media challenge the claims that North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan
The South Korean government headed by Lee Myung-bak is trying to dispel criticism that its accusation that North Korea is responsible for the sinking on March 26 of the Cheonan warship is politically motivated and a cover-up or possible false flag operation.
On May 20, the South Korean government presented as uncontestable fact its conclusion that the warship Cheonan split in two and sank because of hostile action by North Korea. Online discussion seriously challenged that presentation. Not coincidently, May 20, the date of the presentation coincided with the date when campaigning for the June 2 provincial and local elections in South Korea was to officially begin.
The military communication logs show that the first message from the Cheonan of trouble said „aground on rocks”. The ship, was in shallow waters. Similarly, numerous early statements by both South Korean and US officials assured the public that North Korea was not involved with the incident.
The rescue operation only saved 58 of the crew members. Forty-six of the 104 members of the ship’s crew died as a result of the ship’s breaking in two and sinking. Public criticism of the Lee government grew regarding how it was handling the ship disaster. A so called international group was charged with the task of assessing blame for the disaster. That Joint Investigation Group (JIG) was under the Korean military.
When the five page investigation statement was presented on May 20, however, North Korea was accused of being the cause of the disaster. The accusation was based on a part of a torpedo allegedly dredged up from the ocean which bore a supposed pen marked number on a rusted surface.
The sinking of the Cheonan occurred during a period when the US military and the South Korean military were conducting joint military exercises named Key Resolve/Foal Eagle. The joint South Korean-U.S. naval action involved several Aegis class warships. The Cheonan was a patrol combat corvette (PCC) specializing in anti-submarine warfare.
The investigation statement claims that somehow an undetected North Korean submarine pierced a highly protected arena of US-South Korean military maneuvers and released a torpedo in shallow waters, and then escaped totally undetected.
A newspaper article in the Korean newspaper Hankyoreh points out the unlikely scenario that “a North Korean submarine (would be able-ed) to infiltrate the maritime cordon at a time when security reached its tightest level and without detection by the Cheonan.”
No evidence was presented as to the actual firing of the torpedo or the actual presence of a North Korean submarine in the vicinity of the Cheonan. There is no actual observation of a North Korean submarine in the area of the Cheonan, despite the fact that there was sophisticated surveillance equipment used for the military exercises. Also, the shallowness of the sea where the Cheonan sunk, about 40 to 50 m and the rocky bottom would make submarine travel there almost impossible
The statement of the investigation is unsigned. The parties who allegedly conducted the investigation are unnamed. Instead of facts to document a basis for the accusations, a number of allegations are followed by the statement that “There is no other plausible explanation.”
Blogs and other online media
The accusations made by the conservative media in South Korea about North Korea have taken on a James Bond quality given the mismatch between the reality of North Korean capability and the claims being made of how it has been able to perform amazing deeds. Blogs and other online media in both the US and South Korea have presented facts and discussion challenging the claims in the investigation statement, and proposing other alternative explanations of the cause of the sinking of the Cheonan. These online discussions and questions have begun not only to supplement newspaper accounts but also to become the subject of newspaper articles in South Korea.
Questions discussed on blogs included whether there was a North Korean or German made torpedo involved in the sinking of the Cheonan, or whether there was any involvement of a torpedo at all1. An online letter addressed to Hillary Clinton by one of the members of the investigation questions whether the marks on the ship came from being run aground or a collision with some other vessel or both.
The whole story of the South Korean government as a false account?
The nature of the pen mark on the torpedo part offered by South Korea as its main evidence that the torpedo was fired by North Korea was challenged as not being a reliable piece of evidence of North Korean involvement because there was rust under the pen mark.
Another blog challenges the whole story of the South Korean government as a false account like the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Some of the Korean netizens and political activists who challenged the South Korean government about the cause of the Cheonan sinking have been referred to the prosecutor for charges.
The South Korean government has been cited by both the Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur for the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Amnesty International for interfering with the rights of South Korean citizens and netizens.
They need teeth
Given the growing set of questions about the South Korean government account of the sinking of the Cheonan, the government has invited some chosen bloggers and twitter users to a session “to dispel any doubts among the young that North Korea was behind the deadly attack”.
A Yonhap News Agency press release explains that it will select 20 twitter users, 10 defense bloggers and 30 college reporters “to take a trip to Pyeongtaek naval port south of Seoul where the salavaged parts of Cheonan are being kept.” The article explains that “The event is aimed at removing skepticism among young Internet users who have raised doubts in online communities about the results of a multinational investigation that concluded North Korea downed the ship in a torpedo attack.”
Like in the case of 9/11, careful fact checking and examination of the evidence by netizens has shown the South Korean government's case for the involvement of North Korea in the sinking of the Cheonan to be unsustainable. Netizens are more and more able to act as watchdogs. But they need teeth.