Weeping buckets for the “War Heroes”

A law unto themselves?

Daily News Editorial

Pictures of security forces personnel who are alleged to be (or had been) subjects of a witch-hunt by the government appeared in a Sunday newspaper political column, with details of why they had been taken in for questioning by the various investigative bodies, too provided by the writer. The line up included two former Army Commanders, a former Navy Commander and an Ex-Air Force Chief, all having served under the Rajapaksa regime. It is being sought in the article to convey the impression that they were being victimized for political reasons with special emphasis given to their impressive records during the war against the LTTE.

There is, though, a glaring omission in the line up – the absence of the Army Commander under whose military leadership the war was brought to a successful end, even though a suggestion is made that he too was made a political victim, though, this has been glossed over in a way to justify the act of throwing him to jail by the Rajapaksas.

Of course, all the hullabaloo is with regard to the arrest of former Navy Spokesman Commodore D.K.P. Dassanayake on charges of causing the disappearance of eleven persons in 2008. Speaker after speaker of Joint Opposition politicians are seen on a pro-Rajapaksa TV channel in almost every news segment proclaiming that the arrest, of whom they claim is a highly decorated officer, who risked his life on the high seas to fight the LTTE, was being victimized at the behest of the Tamil diaspora and to make good the promises made to the UNHRC to bring to book those responsible for war crimes.

A communal flavour too is being added to the whole affair by the Gammanpila – Weerawansa duo, as is their wont, in an obviously attempt to rouse the sentiments of the majority community, for political gain. The constant refrain of the JO MPs is that members of the security forces are beyond reproach and “untouchable”, all because they fought the good battle, and that the government, by doing so, is pandering to dictates of the international community. In their reckoning, the “War Heroes” can do no wrong and if any member of the security forces had been responsible for the disappearance of persons, abductions and cover up of murders, so what?

However none of these feelings for the country’s “War Heroes” was seen when the war winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was dragged away and thrown behind bars after a sham Court Martial and forced into a prison jumper. Those weeping buckets for the “War Heroes” being arrested kept mum when military personnel who provided security to Presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka was made to kneel on the driveway of a five star hotel where the latter was billeted on election night? Where were messrs. Weerawansa and Gammanpila when the former Army Commander was virtually frog-marched to courts from the prison almost on a daily basis to answer summons to the series of cases that were framed against him? Whatever happened to all these cases, since Rajapaksa was still in power when Fonseka was released from prison where he spent two years? Why was no voice raised by the JO big mouths and the members of the Sangha who are today and fuming and foaming over the arrest of “War Heroes” when Fonseka was stripped of all rank and deprived of his pension by the Rajapaksas who even went to the extent of engineering a rift within the Malwatte Chapter for trying the espouse the cause of the jailed ex-Army Commander.

The arrest of Commodore Dassanayake and other members of the armed forces did not come out of the blue. These followed comprehensive investigations and after carefully going through all evidence and the relevant material. Arrests of “War Heroes”, or any citizen, for that matter, cannot be made on a whim at the instance of the Tamil diaspora or the international community. It simply does not make sense. Not just Commodore Dassanayake, a large number of military personnel had been arrested, in recent times, in the normal course of events, by the police. The recent arrest of an ex-soldier, for the robbery of gold items, from a number of jewellery shops, is a case in point. Are the likes of Weerawansa and Gammanpila suggesting that the law enforcement simply look the other way and turn a blind eye to the criminal acts committed by military personnel, just because they fought the LTTE? Will not the country descend to anarchy and lawlessness if the police maintain a “hands off” attitude to servicemen all because they were on the battlefield?

No citizen can be above the law, which has to apply equally to all, if we are to call ourselves a civilized nation. Military personnel, arrested, for whatever offence, are free to defend themselves like all other citizens. Claiming immunity for members of the security forces on the grounds that they defeated terrorism is indeed a dangerous ploy, that could have grave consequences, akin to a “license to kill”.