Disturbing gaps in MH17 report

PHOTO: AFP

It has been more than two years since MH17 was shot down in cold blood, killing all 298 people on board, including 44 Malaysians.

Last week, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) concluded in its interim report that the missile that struck the Boeing 777-200ER was fired from a territory held by Russia-backed separatists.

MH17 was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on July 17, 2014, when it was brought down.

JIT said that it was hit by a 9M38 series BUK missile transported from Russia across the border into Ukraine and brought back to Russia after the launch. In October last year, Dutch Safety Board Chairman Tjibbe Joustra said the same thing while releasing its technical report.

Actually, it has been a similar Western-angled narrative since the plane was shot down: the rebels did it with the help of the Russians.

It appears to be a case in which the facts are wrapped around a pre-determined conclusion. At least one of the new things we know is that about 100 people are now under investigation for their suspected involvement.

Wilbert Paulissen, the Dutch police officer who heads the JIT, said there was "irrefutable evidence" that the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia by a low-loader truck to the alleged launch site near Snezhnoye.

Besides Malaysia, the JIT comprises investigators from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and curiously, Ukraine, a country which should have been regarded as a suspect in the case. According to the report, the findings were based on various sources, including "150,000 intercepted telephone conversations," witness statements, photographs and videos posted on social media.

The team, however, released a few transcripts and audio recordings, including that of two Russian-speaking men, the English transcripts of which show them speaking about a "convoy" moving in the direction of an airport, at Sabivka near Luhansk.

However, the report said there was no evidence that the calls were directly related to the shooting down of MH17. If so, why bother to include it in the report?

One of the key findings was the identification of the launch site, for which the investigators used information from the US, but again, no images were provided.

Two days before the release of the report, Russia revealed raw data from its primary radar, proving that no objects approached MH17 from territories held by the rebels.

Earlier, satellite imagery showed a BUK missile launcher of the Ukrainian military, located near Zaroshchenskoe, shortly before MH17 was shot down. A report on the security of flights by the Netherlands' General Intelligence and Security Service and the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service, issued last year, confirms this. Page 23 of the report said the Ukrainian military had several "powerful anti-aircraft systems" in the eastern part of the country.

On July 29 last year, Russia also sent classified documents to the International Technical Commission and also submitted details of the missile used by Almaz-Antey, the manufacturer of the BUK system.

Almaz-Antey identified the missile used to shoot down the plane as an earlier generation BUK, which was decommissioned by the Russian military and also identified the point of the missile launch, based on scientific tests conducted.

However, all this information was apparently not considered by the JIT.

Based on what was released to the media, the team studied a missile similar to a US model to make its conclusions and used computer simulation instead of video evidence to show the flight of the missile.

As for the movement of the truck carrying the transporter erector launcher and radar (Telar), the report showed that it took a rather implausible roundabout route, brazenly passing several towns, to return to the Russian territory.

According to Neil Clark, a journalist who writes for newspapers and magazines in Britain as well for Russian publications, the JIT report is more interesting for what it leaves out than what it contains.

He wrote in rt.com on Sunday that at first sight, the report did seem fairly damning, fitting a story that the ill-fated passenger plane was accidentally shot down by rebels, who then, realising what they had done, wanted to get rid of the "evidence" as soon as possible.

"Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is that the Ukrainian radar data has yet to be released. Again, if Ukraine has nothing to hide, why has it not done this? Especially as legitimate questions have been posed as to why passenger aircraft were still cleared to fly over a war zone where 10 aircraft had been shot down in previous weeks."

As he described it, the JIT investigation does not settle anything as it was possible that "pro-Russian separatists" accidentally brought down MH17, and it was also possible that the plane was shot by Ukrainian forces, which also have BUK missiles.

"However, to even suggest such a scenario in the West, in the current hysterical anti-Russian climate, is enough to get one attacked as a 'Putin/Kremlin stooge,'" he wrote.

Let us not forget that at the onset, Malaysia was denied full access and privileges to the probe, despite being the owner of the aircraft, and not even invited to attend certain meetings.

Three weeks after the tragedy, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia signed a non-disclosure agreement on the investigation into the causes of the MH17 crash.

Ukrainian prosecutor-general Yuri Boychenko said the results of the investigation would be published only if there was a consensus among the parties. Malaysia was not part of this deal and only given access and membership in JIT after the agreement was signed by the four other countries.

That alone is reason enough to be wary.

Media Consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.