I am writing in response to an article by Amarnath Amarasingham about Post-War Sri Lanka, which seems to have been motivated by an interview I gave on Al-Jazeera. Amarasingham, a doctoral candidate at Wilfred Laurier University, declares that his response to queries as to why he had not weighed in on the recent Channel 4 documentary, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,’ is that he had not gotten over his ‘moment of sheer speechlessness’. Then, as though to make it clear that this was just a figure of speech(lessness), he changed tack to say that there was nothing left to say, given the horrors of what the ‘documentary’ had portrayed, culminating in what he tellingly describes as ‘cameras stalking the hollow cries of a mother clutching the tiny body of her bleeding child’.

A doctoral candidate would be intelligent enough to realize that these stalking cameras indicated, not just footage taken by innocent fellow victims as Channel 4 pretended, but rather skilful filming by propagandists such as that which was highlighted in a recent case in Canada. Astonishingly, after reference to a fictional movie portraying an attack on Sri Lankan army forces. The movie also showed LTTE fighters training and engaging in hand-to-hand combat’, the lawyer for a migrant who was judged to have contributed to terrorist activity by his participation in this movie argued that the movie could have been entertainment, or even a spoof.’ Doubtless a doctoral candidate at the level of Mr Amarasingham would find it difficult to ignore this indication of the breadth of LTTE propaganda efforts, given that he is supposed to be working on ‘Sri Lankan Tamil activism in Canada’. But I presume that, instead of revealing information about whether his research included study of entertainment or spoof films of LTTE fighters training and engaging in hand-to-hand combat, he will seek  refuge again in his philosophic claim that ‘No, there was nothing to be said.’

But it seems that I have stirred him out of silence. Without any attempt to meet my arguments, he claims that attempts to ‘downplay’ the revelations of the Channel 4 document are ‘farcical’ (though presumably not entertaining or a spoof). More seriously, he then concentrates his fire on what he describes as ‘another line of argument’ that ‘has recently gained some fanfare’.

This focuses on reconciliation, and Mr Amarasingham says he agrees ‘with the overall vision’, But he demands that ‘those responsible for heinous atrocities not be allowed to walk, head held high and cleansed of wrong doing, beside me while I take these “steps” towards reconciliation. An individual, regardless of whether they are dressed in SLA or LTTE uniform, cannot kill your family, and then flippantly tell law enforcement officials who come to arrest him that they are living in the past’.

Whether deliberately or not (and if not deliberately, then with astonishing myopia for a doctoral candidate), Mr Amarasingham misrepresents the position. He fails to distinguish between the need to deal judicially with crimes where law enforcement officials have evidence to arrest and the endless trumpeting of generalizations without details. He resembles in this the late Senator Joe McCarthy who believed that evidence against individuals different from himself must necessarily exist, and who therefore launched a witch-hunt to justify his belief.

Mr Amarasingham’s own rhetoric suggests he is a past master at rousing emotions against those he dislikes. Thus one wonders whether his claims about being in favour of reconciliation are quite honest. Certainly one saw no sign of any resistance to previous LTTE rhetoric, which led to forced conscription, child soldiers and the corralling of hundreds of thousands of civilians as hostages, to be used as human shields.

More insidiously, he uses any material he finds to deplore reconciliation. Thus he quotes  Jayadeva Uyangoda’s assertion that the “preoccupation with regime consolidation over reconciliation constituted the core of Sri Lanka’s political trajectory in 2010” to declare that ‘to demand a conversation on reconciliation is to put the cart before the horse.’ Anyone with a doctoral candidate level knowledge of English would realize that Prof Uyangoda was rather deploring what he termed regime consolidation as opposed to reconciliation.

Mr Amarasingham’s deficiencies in logic and truth and language lead him to claim that the Sri Lankan government ‘continues to insist that it had a policy of zero civilian casualties, and, ipso facto, any evidence of civilian deaths is either doctored, manipulated, or part of a broader conspiracy.’ It is obviously beyond him to understand that this insistence could just be because the claim is true – which is why more logical if less truthful people claim that government insists there were no civilian casualties.

The latter claim, which I believe would be false in any protracted conflict, might lead, ipso facto, as a good doctoral candidate would say, to a claim that evidence of civilian deaths is not credible. But not just the government, but even agencies not supportive of the government, have made it clear that

  1. There were civilian deaths caused by the LTTE

  2. Such deaths were deliberately caused

What government contests then is evidence of deliberate causation of civilian deaths by Sri Lankan forces as a matter of policy. It need not even contest evidence of civilian deaths caused by the action of Sri Lankan forces, if those actions were in the course of attacks on enemy forces and fire, and any civilian deaths that occurred were not disproportionate.

However that should not lead to complacence about such deaths. That is why I said it was a pity if our shelling caused such deaths, which Mr Amarasingham perverts, by omitting several steps in my argument. He blithely says that, ‘When asked about the deliberate shelling of hospitals, Wijesinha responded that they had evidence of the LTTE placing heavy weapons near hospitals and “if” such shelling actually happened, it is a “great pity.”

What I actually said was that it was clearly acknowledged that the LTTE did place heavy weapons near hospitals which presented a dilemma: did one ignore the use of such weapons and permit them to wreak damage or did one fire back, knowing there was a risk that areas close to the target would be affected? My view was that one had to fire back, to prevent further damage to one’s own troops as well as continuation of terrorism, but one had to be extremely careful. If however the shelling, which I believe was a necessity, so that there was no ‘if’ about it happening, caused civilian deaths, that was regrettable.

Collateral damage does not contradict the fact that our policy was to avoid civilian deaths. If however evidence is presented to suggest that civilian deaths were caused by our forces apart from such damage, or disproportionately, we have said that we will certainly investigate. However no such evidence has been thus far produced, except generalizations and a couple of tendentious incidents such as the one that Channel 4 has now shown in several different versions. It has already been proved that the film has been tampered with, whereas earlier it was claimed that it had not been edited. However, even though it is granted that what was shown was in the wrong order, and included a sequence that was filmed at another time and perhaps another place, we have made it clear that we will look into it if we are actually presented with direct evidence rather than doctored versions.

Channel 4 refused to give us the original video. It did not provide this to the UN, which had to make do with a different version provided by a shadowy organization called Journalists for Democracy, the one known member of which had to leave Sri Lanka when he was suspected for fraud. And still Mr Amarasingham, trumpeting the fact that he is a doctoral candidate, who should understand something about induction and deduction, attacks us for claiming that the Channel 4 film is manipulated, and instead claims, on the basis of the dramatic scenes he dramatizes further that reconciliation needs to be reconsidered.

Daily News 9 July 2011

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