Go to contents

Cheonan Probe Says Military Made Grave Errors

Posted June. 11, 2010 11:48,   


The military distorted or omitted important judgments made at the site of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan before reporting to top brass, the Board of Audit and Inspection said Thursday.

Announcing the interim results of its investigation into the sinking, the agency in charge of the government’s internal affairs advised the Defense Ministry to discipline at least 25 top brass members, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Lee Sang-eui, and 12 other general-level officers under military personnel law.

The board said the Navy’s 2nd Fleet Command reported to the Naval Operations Command the sinking of the ship just three minutes after it received the initial report from the vessel at 9:28 p.m. March 26. The 2nd Fleet Command, however, failed to report the incident to the Joint Chiefs at 9:45.

The command also failed to tell its superior unit about a report on a possible torpedo attack.

The investigation also found that after the Sokcho, another South Korean naval vessel near the Cheonan, reported to the 2nd Naval Fleet about an object heading north, the command instructed the Sokcho to report it as "a flock of birds."

The Joint Chiefs received a report from the Naval Operations Command that the incident occurred at 9:15 p.m. (later corrected to 9:22 p.m.) together with the sound of an explosion. It arbitrarily changed the time to 9:45 p.m., however, and failed to tell Defense Minister Kim Tae-young about the explosion sound.

In addition, the ministry was found to have lied to the minister that a crisis management task force had been formed, with the Joint Chiefs and other military units failing to form their own emergency teams.

The ministry and the Joint Chiefs invited public distrust by releasing the thermal observation device recordings of the incident from 13 minutes after the sinking occurred, though the Joint Chiefs were aware of the recordings from three minutes after.

Military authorities also allowed opposition lawmakers to hear the missing portions of the recordings in late May, raising public suspicion over a cover-up of key information on the incident.

In the wake of the recommendation to discipline the 25 military officers, Seoul is expected to conduct a major reshuffle of top brass on two occasions after next week. A source at the presidential office said a reshuffle will come soon because significant preparation has been made.

The source also did not rule out that Defense Minister Kim will maintain his position, as the investigation results did not mention him, but hinted at the dismissal of the Joint Chiefs chief by saying the chairman must undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

srkim@donga.com koh@donga.com