Harim Peiris (Daily News)
It should have been a political bombshell of huge magnitude but it turned out not to be. It should have halted the Joint Opposition SLFP faction’s fascination with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, but it did not. Recently in the course of case proceedings in the Mt.Lavinia Magistrate’s Court into the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the country’s premier criminal investigative department of the Police, revealed in Court, that the Sri Lankan military’s intelligence apparatus had run a death squad operation, which was outside the military’s normal chain of command and directly overseen by the then President Rajapaksa’s brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya.
Lasantha Wickrematunge, Keith Noyahr and Prageeth Ekneligoda
The next day as expected, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa issued the standard blanket denial, which was the hall mark of the Rajapaksa Administration, of any such role or responsibility for a military intelligence death squad. However, this piece of evidence by the CID raises serious issues for Sri Lanka and her democracy and require careful, fulsome and comprehensive public debate, which also cannot and should not be squashed through self-censorship and media manipulation.
1. It is CID evidence in court, not a political claim on a platform
During the 2015 presidential election, the issue of the fear psychosis in Sri Lankan society, the brutality of the Rajapaksa Administration, the white van syndrome, abductions, the forced disappearance culture and the allegation that the national security apparatus which had been so effective against the LTTE was now being turned against democratic political opponents of the Rajapaksa’s had been alleged from the political platform. But it was two years later, that the credible information available at the time of the campaign had now translated itself into evidence acceptable in a court of law, under the evidence ordinance.
The CID was not merely repeating the claims made by the then Army Commander, about his intelligence wing, but had, we can safely assume, as is common in any investigation crossed checked with other witnesses, suspects and sources.
2. The Rajapaksas tried to politicize the military but failed
The Rajapaksa’s unsuccessfully sought to politicize the Sri Lankan military and use it as a political tool. By and large, Sri Lanka’s fighting forces, our best, resisted this effort and continued in the best traditions of a professional military which did not seek to bow to the illegal whims and fancies of a government of the day. In mid night attempts to use the military to suspend the results of the January 2015 election the Rajapaksa’s failed.
The postal voting from places such as Jaffna district where the bulk of the Army is stationed and postal voters are mostly the military, demonstrated that the military rank and file comprehensively rejected the Rajapaksa’s. It is perhaps only in the shadowy world of military intelligence in the capital Colombo and the south, that the lethal force of the State’s national security apparatus was turned on democratic political opponents.
Civilian control of the military is an essential feature of a democracy. What the CID evidence reveals in the Wickrematunge murder was clear, that the military apparatus headed by the President’s brother operated as a law unto itself and was accountable to no one. Not only the military intelligence but from Avant Garde to Rakna Lanka, from the new Defense headquarters building fund to dalliance with violent extremist groups it is clear that the Rajapaksa defense set up was accountable to no one. Not Parliament, the Auditor General or any other statutory or state body.
During the conflict era, maximum operational leeway needs to be given a military to conduct operations and as former President Jayewardena famously quoted the ancient Roman Empire Era’s Senator and philosopher Cicero, “in the fight of good against evil, the laws are silent”. However now, the evil threat of the LTTE to Sri Lanka was comprehensively eliminated on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon in 2009.
We cannot and must not live in peace time, like in war time. We cannot have a war psychosis, which adds to the anxiety of the populace, negates the comprehensive nature of the victory won by the armed forces and significantly reduces the normalization of society and confidence in law and order required for investment, commerce and economic prosperity. The military intelligence must be held totally accountable to Parliament. Currently the world’s most powerful military, the US military and its civilian executive leadership holds itself accountable to a variety of Congressional committees.
3. Implications for the Thajudeen murder and other crimes
The existence of state controlled, military intelligence linked illegal armed assassins and hit squads have serious implications for the ongoing investigations into the murder of former Thomian, Havelock’s and national rugby player Wasim Thajudeen, the abduction of editor Keith Noyahr, Poddala Jayantha and the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.
The allegation during the 2015 election, (It was unsafe to allege anything before an election campaign, because any one alleging anything against a Rajapaksa, ran the serious risk of sharing the same fate as either Keith Noyar, Poddala Jayantha or the ultimate fate of Thajudeen and Ekneligoda among others), was that these were ordered and carried out by state actors under government orders.
The CID in the Lasantha Wickramatunge case, is now presenting evidence to corroborate this in court. It is in this context, that President Sirisena has stated that if he had challenged the Rajapaksa’s and lost, he would have been six feet under (killed).
Sri Lanka post the end of the war, must have a public life and social culture that is different from the national security state of the war decades. Our people demanded better in 2015 and our future generations deserve better. The CID evidence, is one more fact, which clearly reveals why Sri Lanka needs real reform, including security sector reform. Nationalist elements bristle when there is criticism of the Sri Lankan state and her institutions and through the Joint Opposition (JO) having been blocking every attempt at real reform.
Military intelligence death squads unleased against democratic political opposition in post war peace times, demonstrates exactly why Sri Lanka needs national reconciliation and deep social healing.