US Ambassador Butenis

I was told yesterday by one of those NGO activists who had benefited hugely from foreign funding that several Embassies were furious with me because of an article I had written about a meeting at the house of the American Ambassador at which UN officials were present.

I was surprised, because I had not been negative about the Embassies in general, and had indeed made it clear that I thought most Embassy representatives were victims of an attempt to dragoon them into complicity in the agenda of others. Soon it was clarified that it was only the American Embassy that was angry. This too was surprising, because Patricia Butenis is a sensible sort, and would not have been angry with me, though she might have been cross at those of her guests who had leaked the story.

Paul Carter - far left in bow tie - taking notes

Sure enough, the anger was not hers, but Paul Carter’s. He is the Political Affairs Officer of the Embassy, given to bow ties and pride in his southern heritage, certainly not someone one would have thought part of the CIA, except perhaps in its very early days. But I was surprised at the expressed vehemence, and decided I needed to check things out a bit more.

After all it was at his house that I came across Mr Sambandan in close conclave with the Ambassador and the EU Representative, when only the latter managed to be polite, and the other two made it apparent that I was interrupting a serious private conversation. It was shortly after that that the TNA decided to support Sarath Fonseka actively, something I found bizarre, given that he had been against swift resettlement of the displaced, that he had wanted to expand the army by 100,000 men after the war had been won, given that he had taken credit for having prevented the surrender of some LTTE leaders that he claimed had been arranged in air conditioned rooms

( U.S. Department of State; 21 October 2009; “Report to Congress on Incidents During the Recent Conflict in Sri Lanka” At p.46 

July 10 – A media outlet reported on July 18 that at a celebratory event in Ambalangoda, Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka stated that the military had to overlook the traditional rules of war and even kill LTTE rebels who came to surrender carrying white flags during the war against the LTTE.

The “media outlet” quoted is :

But that swipe at civilian officials had been made in August. By December the boot was well and truly on the other foot, with his claim that it was those in air conditioned rooms who had been responsible for the killing of surrendees. Though he subsequently denied the story, it seems he used it again, and certainly by January he was the darling of the advocates of Human Rights.

How had this happened? And could this apparent transformation convince anyone, unless they had other reasons for disliking the current government and the President? Certainly a number of European ambassadors told me afterwards that they had been astonished at the phenomenon. It was only Anglo-Saxons it seemed who had swallowed the line.

Paul Carter certainly seemed to me the strangest votary at the Sarath Fonseka shrine, reminding me of one of those characters in C S Lewis’ ‘That Hideous Strength’, who make a fetish of a machine that becomes increasingly bloodthirsty and demands its votaries too as sacrifice. I was told by someone I trusted that this phenomenon was due to Paul Carter’s passionate commitment to human rights, but mature reflection suggests that that is not entirely plausible.

The explanation struck me when I was told that there is a move at present to convince army officers to testify against their superiors (though not against Sarath Fonseka) in a War Crimes Trial, for which they would be offered a safe haven in the United States. Paul Carter would obviously be a superb proselytizer, earnestly explaining the joys of southern cooking to soldiers who were being subtly threatened too with prosecution if they did not comply.

And then I remembered that this was what I had been told was done to Sarath Fonseka all those many moons ago, when he went to the States and suddenly came back again, and announced his candidacy for the Presidency. It was claimed that he had been threatened while in the States with prosecution, and the evidence presented to him had made him nervous. Certainly the Americans at that time thought he was the principal suspect, and indeed brought to the notice of the Government the speech in which he seemed to have boasted of having stopped a surrender his superiors had arranged. And there are strong inferences that, if there was carelessness in the course of the advance of our forces, which led to more civilian casualties than our policies permitted, it was because such niceties did not mean much to the then army commander.

At the time I pointed out that that American demarche, which referred in particular to Sarath Fonseka, graciously brought to me by Paul Carter, should be answered because it was presented without prejudice. Because of my own concern with possible harm to civilians, I had monitored all allegations on TamilNet, so I could pretty much answer the questions raised myself, but the last question in the document, about Sarath Fonseka and his claim that he stopped a surrender, was beyond me.

However, we were slow as always. After Sarath Fonseka made his move, it would have seemed churlish to have investigated him further. Certainly the Anglo-Saxons seemed to lose or rather suppress their suspicions of him, which is apparent too in the manner in which the British have forgotten the note about Fonseka which they gave me on January 12th 2009, four days after the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga.

What is happening now suggests that the technique used to turn Sarath Fonseka is being revived. Credible allegations point to Paul Carter as the main instrument of persuasion, to get army officers to break their oaths of loyalty. It is reported that he and Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu are thick as thieves and were responsible for organizing the meeting and for the guest list, which included UN officials with no reference to the Head of the UN in Sri Lanka.

American Ambassador Patricia Butenis

If this is true, I can feel comfortable again with Pat Butenis, whom I had begun to wonder about after hearing what the UN officials and some of the NGOs and junior diplomats had advocated at her meeting. In a sense she too may be a victim of these machinations, because she had previously been developing a much more productive dialogue that included government too. It is understandable then that the good doctors, Saravanamuttu and Carter, would have wanted to subvert this.

Jubilant crowds outside the White House.

I shall be sorry about Carter if all this is true, for I have enjoyed the man’s hospitality, but I would not be surprised. I would not even call him a hypocrite, for his commitment to human rights may be genuine, it is just that it is subordinate to his patriotism as an American. This explains the hysteria with which the death of Osama bin Laden was greeted, hysterical because of what he had done to them. It was not terrorism that was the problem, for they had made use of him against the Soviets, but terrorism against them. That is why they simply cannot understand similar feelings of relief at the death of other terrorists, for other terrorists cannot harm them.

If you are convinced that America is the best country in the world, then pursuing what you see as America’s foreign policy imperatives becomes the best possible course of action. If this involves promoting treachery, that can be seen as the lesser evil, because you are promoting human rights in accordance with American interests, and treachery in such a cause is a virtue.

Robert Blake, Patricia Butenis meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa

I think you have to have a particular mindset to swallow all this, but perhaps it is not all that unusual. I hope Robert Blake and Pat Butenis are made of sterner stuff, but I have noticed that in diplomacy, as it affects countries that are not considered particularly important, the tail often wags the dog. It will be a pity if Pat Butenis’ more positive initiatives are ruined. Unfortuantely, though perhaps we could work harder at keeping her on the straight and narrow, I fear that dogged determination will prevail, even if it involves the encouragement of treachery.

Daily News 4 May 2011