Home > Archives > April 2003 > 1-10 April 2003


1-10 April 2003

10 AprThe Alarmist CNN
9 AprForum turns me down
8 AprPraise for the Doctors & Nurses of TTSH
7 AprA Warmonger Explains War to a Peacenik
6 AprBid for street signs: Update
6 AprResponse to "Iraq war creates dangerous precedent"
6 AprRSS Courageous inquiry: The Navy's reaction
5 AprGulf War II updates: Saddam Hussein; the Chinese view of media coverage
4 AprRSS Courageous inquiry
2 AprSaddam Hussein

The Alarmist CNN

10 April 2003 12:38 AM SGT (link)

SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Singapore has called out the military to battle the deadly flu-like SARS virus, and the government said on Tuesday Internet-linked cameras might be used to enforce home quarantine orders...

Fifty Singapore Air Force (SAF) [sic] paramedics would help nurses at Changi International Airport screen passengers arriving from places hit by SARS such as Hong Kong, China, Hanoi and Toronto, the Ministry of Health said...

- CNN, Singapore calls military for SARS

When you say "call in the military" (not "out"), I was thinking of martial law with tanks and M-16-carrying soldiers patrolling the streets. I cannot find any mention of this little nugget of information in the MOH Press releases or at Channel NewsAsia or the ST - I suspect that's because it's quite an insignificant piece of information, compared to, say, MOH still has no explanation for SARS infection at SGH (Channel NewsAsia). It turns out that while everyone was busy keeping their kids away from school, the hospitals were/are the dangerous places to be in. Anyway my point is that the CNN article is simply not concentrating on the main developments here.

Forum turns me down

9 April 2003 10:22 PM SGT (link)

After days of eager but nervous anticipation, I received a letter from the ST saying that (I paraphrase), due to the great number of letters they receive, they can only print a few, & they hope I will understand. Sigh, perhaps it was the dated feeling of this issue or something. Maybe (gasp) to them, my letter sucks. Anyway you all can still read my submission here.

Praise for the Doctors & Nurses of TTSH

8 April 2003 12:12 AM SGT (link)

PM Goh praises 'valiant' doctors and nurses (ST, 7 Apr): Let's do that indeed. Those who shun these workers, refuse them taxi rides to TTSH or even (in one case) drive them out of the house are perhaps driven by paranoia (see Big sacrifices...behind doctors' masks (ST, 7 Apr) and Healthcare workers from Tan Tock Seng Hospital face public discrimination (Channel NewsAsia, 5 Apr)) - despite the ample precautions taken by the TTSH nurses, as well as the fact that most of them don't even work with the SARS patients. Shows how little it takes to uproot the human decency from some Singaporeans.

A Warmonger Explains War to a Peacenik

7 April 2003 11:21 PM SGT (link)

This is very funny, although I really pity the warmonger who can't answer the questions properly :-)

Bid for street signs: Update

6 April 2003 4:27 PM SGT (link)

The Sunday Times today has an update - "A sign with your name is worth...", page 24 (not online) - on the auction for street signs, generating proceeds which will go to charity (my post). Besides signs with people's names, other popular signs are "Prince Charles Crescent", "Kay Poh Road" and "Desker Road".

Response to "Iraq war creates dangerous precedent"

6 April 2003 4:20 PM SGT (link)

Dear Sir,
I would like to respond to the letter "Iraq war creates dangerous precedent" by Mr. Wee Liang Tong on Saturday (5th April) [archived copy].

I share Mr. Wee's concern about political apathy from some Singaporeans regarding the war on Iraq, but I feel that is more because of the substitution of "notions of morality and justice" by cynical scepticism and conspiracy theories regarding the motives of both sides, not cost-benefit analyses. This only results in a lack of understanding of the reasons for and against the war, and how Singapore and the world will be affected by this in the future. Mr. Wee says that we can have an idea of 'who is right' - I agree, but I say that the Americans and British are, and this is the most important reason why Singapore should back military action.

While it is true that in any war, military and civilian casualties are inflicted on both sides, some wars are necessary for safeguarding the future peace and security for our global community. "Why now?" is an oft-asked question, but when then? Saddam Hussein's regime has repeatedly violated UN resolutions to disarm - it can be argued that the world has shown a great deal of patience. UN Resolution 1441 was supposed to be the 'final' resolution: Saddam would invite 'serious consequences' if he did not completely come clean, but he didn't, as UN inspectors testified. Extended inspections lasting months would not be workable because Saddam would take his time as he has done before, and as world attention moves to other issues and military pressure eases, he would later refuse to comply, as he has done many times since the 1990s. This is a regime that is obviously not interested in taking the Security Council seriously, despite warnings, sanctions and the limited airstrikes in 1998. The inevitable conclusion is that the regime has to be changed, forcibly if necessary. This is not a new US policy, but with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and around the world, they no longer wish to passively act against states with illicit weapons of mass destruction. Also, if one wants to harp on the US's past support for Saddam, would it not be morally obligated of them to act against a menace they had a part in breeding? We should not chastise the US for acting only 12 years later, but instead congratulate them for finally acting now.

While it is true that the Security Council did not explicitly grant the coalition forces the right to march into Baghdad and remove Saddam, it is also true that it was hamstrung by permanent members with other concerns in mind, adamant in vetoing any resolution that would lead to truly 'serious consequences', without offering any suitable way of achieving disarmament. The alternative would clearly bring us back to the status quo, with Saddam acquiring more deadly weapons in the future. That would not be in anybody's interest.

A resolution explicitly sanctioning military action would be helpful, but ultimately we must see that Saddam's regime is a long-term danger to the world, controlled by someone not interested in following the rules, and the world must *act* to stop him. I would argue that the only danger in this precedent applies to states that continue to threaten their neighbours with weapons of mass destruction, harbour and support terrorists and defy UN scrutiny. Diplomacy and the UN's legal protection only goes so far with such states, and Singapore is certainly not in this category. It is ludicrous to suggest that the US would attack any state like ours out of mere displeasure at our government.

If we are to participate in international law, we should be willing to fight for it. The war on Iraq is not about imperial or commercial conquest, nor the whims and fancies of a superpower - it is about enforcing the law and making the world a better place. Indeed, with a swift war, the removal of the tyrant Saddam Hussein, and firm political will dedicated to building a democratic, peaceful, secure and prosperous Iraq, this could turn out to be international law's finest hour.

Mr. Lin Ziyuan.

RSS Courageous inquiry: The Navy's reaction

6 April 2003 1:13 AM SGT (link)

It looks like I was premature myself in talking about how inadequate the Mindef/SAF official reaction was to the damning findings of the investigation by the MPA. I'll quote extensively from this ST article today:

THE Singapore Navy is reviewing the training of its officers after investigations into the collision involving the RSS Courageous highlighted breaches of maritime practice and errors in judgment by its officers.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Tony Tan said the Navy has drawn important lessons from the Jan 3 incident and taken steps to improve training.

These include:

DPM Tan added: 'While incidents due to human error can never be eliminated totally, measures are being implemented in the Navy to minimise the occurrence of human errors of judgment during operations and training.'...

- ST, Officers' training under review

That was some substance, as I talked about yesterday, though mainly in the "rectification" part, which could be argued was the easiest. Everyone makes mistakes, but to admit to them, to apologise and compensate for them sufficiently (ST, Grief Remains), and to simply say "this will not happen again" - that's tough.

Also, check out the ST's report on the sequence of events, with a much better graphic than mine: Fatal Moves.

Gulf War II updates: Saddam Hussein; the Chinese view of media coverage

5 April 2003 11:04 PM SGT (link)

War progress: The progress in the past few days has been astonishing - in slightly over two weeks American forces have taken the Saddam International Airport at the outskirts of Baghdad, and are now said to be moving into the heart of Baghdad (U.S. Forces Head Into Heart of Baghdad, Washington Post). While reporters in Baghdad given tours of central and southern parts of the city have not seen any American tanks or personnel, other sources say they have, while of course the Iraqi Information Minister continues to deny it all. The situation is no doubt extremely fluid now.

The mysterious Iraqi defence: Together with the "missing" or destroyed Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard units that were supposed to be defending the city, and the lack of any organised resistance to the coalition advance, all makes for a very puzzling picture from Saddam's regime. John Keegan, acclaimed military historian: Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hussein? - he's puzzled too. Is the regime up to something big? Some kind of massed underground or invisible force? Weapons of mass destruction (which would obliterate, first of all, any credibility the regime still has)?

...What is Saddam up to? Does he believe that he can inflict such casualties on the Americans outside Baghdad that they will lose heart and go home? Does he believe that he can fight and win a battle of Baghdad? Did he so much underestimate his enemies that he made no proper preparations? Did he so much overestimate the importance of Franco-German protest that he was persuaded he did not need to? Or is it simply that Saddam is disabled or actually dead and that no one of his megalomaniac determination is running the Iraqi war effort?

Some explanation is necessary. Strategic analysis does not work. This is a deeply mysterious war...

- Telegraph, Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hussein?

Where's Saddam?: Still, what really surprised me yesterday was the TV broadcast of his speech (Hussein Appears on Iraqi Satellite TV), where he made a reference to an Apache helicopter downed by a farmer (which occurred on Mar 24, 4 days after the cruise missile and bunker-buster attacks on him), and later, the Iraqi TV images of Saddam making an impromptu tour of some Baghdad neighbourhood, surrounded by only a handful of aides, and mobbed and cheered by a crowd of a hundred or so. I might just have to retract what I said previously; it's a bit far-fetched to think the regime would be confident enough to let a double impersonate Saddam in public, and there's still the matter of the downed helicopter. But then again the whole Saddam-mingling-in-the-crowds episode was also surreal, so I don't really know what to believe.

Media war: This war has also been unprecedented in terms of the dueling talking heads on TV, armchair generals and experts in studios, and of course warblogs, as I've said before. We also see this in the high priority given by the Iraqi regime to keep its domestic and satellite television station up and running, with endless footage of Saddam in control, and repeated attempts by the Americans to shut it down with aerial bombardment.

These days I've stepped back from the anti-BBC rhetoric (previously written about). I've come to understand the difficulties the BBC faces: it really labours to provide balanced coverage - resulting in situations when the anchor has to report consecutively that the coalition forces claim this, and that the Iraqi information minister claims that, and that their correspondent in Baghdad cannot confirm anything because his movements are restricted, and (while he doesn't say it out loud) the anchor cannot tell you what really is going on down there, and he's just as befuddled as the rest of us. It happened with Basra: British forces claimed there was an uprising, the Iraqi minister denied it - but it turned out that the Arab television reporters inside the city were correct in that there was nothing like it. The confusion is now with Baghdad: are they in the city or are they not? If they are, how could the minister be repeating lies when the Americans are knocking on his door? If they are not, how do you square that with embedded journalists's reports? That's why they intersperse reports from embedded journalists with the advancing American forces ("pro-American") with footage of injured Iraqi civilians and the minister's harangues ("pro-Iraqi"). I've read that stations from CNN to Al-Jazeera generally have a mix of the two, although the Arab stations spin it as an "invasion" and have no qualms about airing grisly images of injured civilians and POWs, while the Americans are more sedated in focusing on the military advances and the heroism and sacrifices of the Marines and infantrymen. So both aren't objective, but it's not to say that viewing both worlds gives us any clearer picture. So then, is objectivity all that it's cracked up to be?

Nobody seems to have thought of this alternative view of the war provided by the Chinese media though: Just watched a portion of a Chinese current affairs programme (Jiao Dian or Focus, literally "important points") where they talked about the media coverage of this war. Now I thought this would be something interesting, but it turned out that they were only interested in talking about the embedded journalists and how the fact that they were relying on the American and British forces for support and cooperation, not to mention survival, makes them less objective in their journalism. Furthermore, all Western media outlets e.g. CNN and BBC are responsible for shoring up their viewers' support for the war, so they are less than objective in their coverage. It took 10 minutes or so to drum this point into the audience, and this was supposedly the only thing worth mentioning about media coverage.

I don't really have to spell it out but I will: this is astonishing in its shortsightedness. & Andrew Sullivan thought the BBC was pro-Saddam. This is not pro-Saddam, or all-out anti-American, as high-minded detachment - the Chinese media seem to be regarding themselves as well as the larger Chinese audience as mere onlookers to this war, unconvinced by either side but surely with some sympathy for the underdog. And by adopting this "objective" stance, the Chinese media can have us believe that Chinese audiences need not be involved with this war other than to tick off the Americans for improprieties like what I mentioned above.

The programme is definitely inadequate in even the issue it discusses: while the embedded journalists depend on the American and British forces for protection, and while they cannot, for instance, reveal military tactics or movements, they certainly can say it, and they certainly can air it, if they saw Iraqis being unjustly shot at or beaten up by Americans (hasn't happened) or if Iraqi resistance was light but fanatical (as many did). They suggested that journalists who spend so much time and rely on these troops will refrain from reporting on anything bad. I think this is simply untrue: the earlier hulabaloo about the "operational pause" and danger from Fedayeen attacks that these journalists talked about? Never mentioned - the programme could have been made long before the war even started and its conclusions would be the same. Are we to think journalists the mushy type of person? They are out there to do a job, and if they are less than professional in that then I'm sure their networks, and viewers, would have something to say about that. So I have two objections: this claim is not proved by rules or events, and it shows a lack of belief in journalists' professionalism.

They briefly mentioned Peter Arnett (some background: Peter Arnett Now Reporting for Arab TV, Washington Post) and the implication that media outlets don't want to be seen as going against the American and British campaign - however, what about the larger lesson that he could easily have gone to another outlet that was willing? or an Arab station, as he has now done? Not to mention the fact that the incident that led to the sacking was an unauthorised interview he gave where he "presented opinion as fact", and the TV station certainly has the right to terminate an employee who was misrepresenting it. My guess is that he would be perfectly safe in his job if he had not tried to play commentator.

No mention is made of how the Arab television stations and media report the war, relying on Iraqi propaganda for the military aspect, and civilian casualties rightly or wrongly blamed on coalition attacks. Are these "objective"? No, we're not interested in the Arab bias, just the Western bias. When the programme comments that Western outlets are interested in encouraging their audiences through "villifying Saddam" (the word used was chou hua, literally "to make [him] look ugly"): let's just say that Saddam needs no villifying after all he's done against the Iraqis, the Kurds, with Iran, with Kuwait and harbouring WMDs. To me, ironically, that's the flaw of this antiseptic "we-don't-take-sides" side presented to me: by not stating the facts about Saddam and his regime that caused this war (both sides: the imperative need to tackle the proliferation of WMDs versus the basis for war under international law), or the plight of Iraqi civilians (both sides again: their suffering because of the war versus their suffering dealt by the Fedayeen), such media foresake any sort of intellectual and moral perspective on the issue, resulting in a war that looks like a mini-clash of the civilisations, by two far-away adversaries, a geopolitical WWE.

I think my main disagreement with this is whether objectivity was that great an ideal in the first place, when it seems to me that it more likely results in inaction and the head-in-the-sand mentality. When everyone seems to disagree it's so easy to just shrug your shoulders and walk away. Can we have a Chinese media that instead tries at least as hard as the BBC does to find truth in a hazy situation? That seems to me to be the true hallmark of good journalism.

Update: (A point I forgot to make, believe it or not.) How do embedded journalists compare with mere press briefings (Gulf War I) or hardly any journalists on-site at all (Afghanistan)? Which kind is more likely to produce reporting from the ground that points out the successes and difficulties coalition forces have been having? Which one gives us more insight into the war on multiple fronts - geographically (north, south, Baghdad) and politically (Iraqi leadership, military, civilians)? It's interesting to note that Al-Jazeera did send a reporter with the American forces too.

RSS Courageous inquiry

4 April 2003 11:00 PM SGT (link)

The results are out. I will quote the Channel NewsAsia and Straits Times timelines in full here, with my own emphases. The ST one has more details on time and the actions of the two ships, but the last two paragraphs of the CNA one I thought noteworthy.

According to the report, at 11.20 pm on January 3, both the navy ship and cargo ship were heading east - the ANL Indonesia towards South Korea, and the RSS Courageous on a regular patrol off Pedra Branca.

Five minutes later, the Navy ship made a U-turn, but stayed in its lane, instead of turning into the adjacent one.

At this point, the ANL Indonesia expected Courageous to pass safely on its left, if neither changed course.

But again, five minutes later, the Navy ship did change course, this time heading left towards Pedra Branca.

This brought the Courageous onto a collision course with the cargo ship.

In the next four minutes, the Navy ship altered course twice more and picked up speed because the officer on watch aboard the navy ship assumed the cargo ship would not alter its course.

But the ANL Indonesia did alter course as prescribed under the international sea rules to prevent a collision.

At 11.35 pm, the two ships collided and the rear section of the RSS Courageous was sheared off.

The investigators said there wasn't any kind of communication between the two vessels until a minute before the collision when the ANL Indonesia sounded a prolonged blast at the RSS Courageous.

The report also said the collision was not because of any failure of machinery or navigational equipment, fatigue among the crew or weather conditions.

- Channel NewsAsia, Errors of judgement caused collision of RSS Courageous: MPA

The sequence of events

AT about 11.20 pm on Jan 3, both the navy ship RSS Courageous (RC) and the merchant ship ANL Indonesia (AI) were headed in the same north-easterly direction in waters off Pedra Branca. The AI was behind RC.

RC made a U-turn to avoid leaving Singapore waters and its patrol limits, said one of the investigators. AI, which had the RC in its radar, assessed that the smaller vessel that was coming at it would pass safely on its port (left) side.

But the RC altered course to port at 11.30 pm, putting it on a collision course with the AI. At this point, the vessels were 1.7 nautical miles (3 km) apart.

In the next three minutes, the RC made two further alterations of course to port.

At about 11.33 pm, the AI altered its course to starboard (right) to give the RC a wider berth, that is, to increase the passing distance between the two ships.

A little after 11.33 pm, while the AI was turning to starboard, its crew saw the starboard sidelight of the RC, which meant that RC had altered course to port. Once again, AI altered course to starboard.

At 11.34 pm, the RC made an alteration of course to port again and sped up. By then, the distance between the two vessels was down to 0.8 nautical mile (1.4 km). AI sounded a prolonged blast on its horn to alert the RC.

At about 11.35 pm, the RC made a helm order of 'hard-a-port' and gunned its engine at full throttle. The vessels collided at just after 11.35 pm.

- ST, Navy officer blamed for RSS Courageous accident

I have illustrated the events crudely here:

(Of course, many details have been omitted in this sketch: for instance, the relative sizes of the much smaller RSS Couragous and the cargo vessel ANL Indonesia, and the exact bearings of each ship and how much they turned or manoeuvred. I gathered what I could from the two accounts above.)

Update - Commentary

The two accounts of the events I extracted above are damning for the officer-at-the-watch of the RSS Courageous: why did the ship continue to turn to port when it should have been obvious that the ANL Indonesia would resume on its course? The OOW's thinking behind these disastrous actions are not made very clear even in the reports - he assumed that the ANL Indonesia would not alter its course even when on a collision course? Worse, I find it remarkable that there were no communications between the two vessels, not even a "hey, what are you doing?" - no just the AI's horn when it was too late. Excuse me, we're not on Singapore roads here you know! Plus the AI isn't exactly a hostile vessel - what was the problem with just asking what they were doing?

All this seems to be damning evidence that either the trainee screwed up big-time and the OOW didn't notice, the trainee screwed up big-time and the OOW concurred, or the OOW screwed up. I mean, whatever - 4 people have died from their mistakes. Not just the families and relatives of the deceased and affected, but the general public too, need to know what lapses in training and procedures, as well as human errors, resulted in this tragedy - hardly an "accident" anymore. Was there even a systematic failure that needs to be studied and fixed? The Navy, and Mindef/SAF as a whole, cannot be allowed to hide behind the cloak of national security and bureaucracy, and decline to give good explanations. When something like this happens in peacetime with a civilian vessel, considering the climate of hostility we were in with Malaysia about Pedra Branca at the time, we all need to know what the military is going to do to rectify the personnel's errors and the organisational lapses, so that such a thing never happens again and we can be once again confident of our navy's ability to protect our nation.

But it looks like we aren't going to get that any time soon:

...Dr Tan said: "The Officer of the Watch has a mission to perform...what the OOW did on that night was not what he was required to do. He could have done it in other ways, but he chose to do it in that way, and that's where the error of judgement arose.

"Until we know the culpability, I think that it would be premature to take any action at the present time. It will not be fair on the officers."

The Ministry of Defence agrees with MPA's report that there were errors of judgement on the part of the Officer of the Watch LTA Ng Keng Yong of RSS Courageous, which led to the collision.

MINDEF has submitted its findings to the State Coroner for further evaluation of the evidence.

No further action will be taken until a judgement is obtained.

- Channel NewsAsia, DPM Tan says premature to take any action after MPA's findings

When the collision happened (my post: RSS Courageous Collision) and nothing was clear, certainly it was premature to take action against anyone without a proper investigation. Now when it's completely clear who has the culpability (or rather, it would be if Mindef/SAF would do what I said above), DPM Tan still feels it's premature. When, I ask, will it be this golden moment? Even at this stage they are still circling the wagons and defending their own: "I did it my way"?! Don't insult Frank Sinatra man. Don't insult the four dead servicewomen. Don't insult us.

I admit I have no love lost for the SAF, but as a citizen and inhabitant of Singapore I still depend on the blanket of peace and security which they provide. If I do not see them doing their jobs properly, and even failing to come clean completely when they do not do them properly and changes have to be made, there is no reason for me to put my trust in them, no matter how many florid speeches, snazzy advertisements and open houses they continue to cook up. We need to see substance:

Saddam Hussein

2 April 2003 10:55 PM SGT (link)

Saddam a no-show for address (CNN): All right, that's it: I think Saddam is dead, or at least seriously injured. After the first day's bombing of a compound he was in, as intelligence had it, he has made two televised appearances - one with the glasses which was unusual in itself, and not conclusive proof, and the second with jump cuts and vague calls for jihad by employing illegal and pseudo-terrorist tactics. There have been other videos of him on Iraqi TV, but with no sound - almost surely archived tapes. Yesterday, after the government claimed that he was going to address the nation, an Iraqi news anchor read his speech instead (the day before that, the Information Minister did the job). I admit there's another possibility: he's hiding & he thinks a televised appearance, even a videotape of it, might reveal his whereabouts and invite another few bunker busters, though I don't see how a broadcast to reassure his troops and fedayeen would endanger him. Meanwhile, the White House dares Iraq to prove Saddam is alive.

Home > Archives > April 2003 > 1-10 April 2003