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Wednesday July 29, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday July 29, 2015 MYT 7:28:23 AM
by m. veera pandiyan
IT has been such an agonisingly long wait, but even a year after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, the uncertainty over who committed the heinous crime remains.
MH17 was downed in eastern Ukraine, over territory held by Russian-backed separatist rebels, killing 298 people on board, including 43 Malaysians.
The Netherlands, which lost 193 of its citizens in the tragedy, is leading two correlated investigations into the crash.
The cause is being probed by the Dutch Safety Board (DBS) while the criminal inquiry is being conducted by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), of which Malaysia is a member along with Australia, Belgium, Ukraine and the Netherlands.
The DBS had, in June, distributed its draft report to the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, Ukraine, Malaysia – and also to the United States, Russia and Britain, whose citizens were also among those who were killed.
The countries were given two months to give their feedback on the draft.
Although scant details of the draft have been released, there has been much media coverage in the US, Europe and Australia over ‘leaked information’ pointing to the Russian-backed rebels as the culprits.
Instead of the getting to the truth with facts and evidence, the world is being fed with partisan propaganda, just as it was immediately after the shooting down of the Boeing 777 jetliner last year.
The final report of the DBS is only expected to be released in October and JIT’s investigations are still a long way from completion.
However, the five countries involved have decided to push the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the establishment of a tribunal for prosecution of those responsible.
Malaysia, a non-permanent member of the UNSC, distributed its draft resolution for the tribunal earlier this month.
The draft resolution has further fuelled the debate, creating another round of accusations and counter claims between the West and Russia.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin described the quest to set up the tribunal as “an attempt to organise a grandiose, political show, which only damages efforts to find the guilty parties.”
As a veto-welding permanent member of the 15-member UNSC, Russia has already said that it would block the resolution if passed by nine members as needed.
Russia has submitted its own draft resolution, calling for a wider UN role in investigations into the cause of the air tragedy and demanding that the perpetrators of the crime to be brought to justice.
Both draft resolutions were discussed by the council’s 15 members last week.
With France, Britain, China and the US also having veto power, chances are both the resolutions might be blocked.
Going by the narrative of the Western media, Russia is unreasonable in not wanting a tribunal and has something to hide.
But it is certainly right in asserting that there has been no precedent in creating such a body to bring to justice those perpetrating violence against a civilian airliner.
There were no such calls when Ukraine shot down Siberian Airlines Flight 1812 in 2001, when the US navy downed Iran Air Flight 665 or when Libyan terrorists brought down PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
In the PanAm case, two Libyans were tried in the Netherlands under Scottish law and one was eventually convicted.
As for cooperation with JIT, Fred Westerbeke, the Dutch prosecutor leading the team, has said that although the situation with Russia was “not so warm as in other countries”, it has acted professionally.
“We made a request for information and legal assistance. I was there two months ago. They gave us a thick dossier with lots of information, which we are still considering,” he said in an interview with the Zurich Times.
A year later, all we know is that it was shot down by ‘high energy objects from outside’ as stated in DBS’ preliminary report in Sept 2014.
We still don’t know whether MH17 was shot down by “pro-Russian” separatists using a BUK M1 missile system supplied by Russia deliberately or by accident, or by the Ukrainian military by a similar system or by a fighter jet.
Interestingly, a group of 14 top US intelligence veterans wrote to President Barack Obama last week, raising doubts about the investigations being carried out.
According to the letter, there is speculation that the final DBS report to be released in October would dovetail with media and leaked government sources which have placed primary blame on the rebels.
The group, which calls itself the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) comprises top-level retired professionals with a cumulative total of 360 years experience in various US agencies.
Their letter, which demanded the release of the US’ own intelligence reports into the shooting down of MH17, was largely ignored by the mainstream Western media.
The veterans wrote that on July 22 last year, US intelligence director James Clapper authorised a background briefing on “Government Assessment” for selected mainstream journalists, five days after Secretary of State John Kerry pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and Russia.
They said much of the assessment, as derived from postings on “social media” and the briefing, did not conclusively address the question of who fired the missile.
“Are we asked to believe that one year later the intelligence community still cannot adduce evidence that goes beyond insinuation regarding the BUK missile?” they asked.
The veterans said their former colleagues have been telling them that the draft DBS report contradicted some of the real intelligence that has been collected.
“It is, frankly, very hard for us to believe that the US intelligence community has been unable to expand its understanding of these key issues over the past year,” they wrote.
As they put it, someone knows something and is lying to conceal a role in the incident.
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M Veera Pandiyan
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