Using the war to achieve their own agenda | Sunday Observer

Using the war to achieve their own agenda

Ten years after the end of the Eelam war, one of its key architects in its final phases, former Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Karannagoda is being indicted in the Colombo High Court as a suspect in the alleged abduction and disappearance of eleven youth in 2008. Karannagoda filed a fundamental rights application in the Supreme Court seeking to prevent his impending arrest. The application was granted by the Supreme Court. However, the former Navy Commander has spent his time at the Criminal Investigations Department, being grilled by detectives over the matter.

The allegation is that there is evidence to suggest that the eleven youth had been abducted on six different occasions in 2008 and 2009. They had allegedly been initially kept at the Navy Headquarters in Colombo and then taken away to the ‘Gunsite’ Camp in Trincomalee from where they disappeared. In one instance, it is alleged that the mother of one of the abductees was asked to pay Rs.500,000 as ransom to secure the release of her son. The case involving Admiral Karannagoda is complex and we wouldn’t wish to comment on it as it is before the courts, now. Like everyone else, Karannagoda and those indicted alongside him are entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Karannagoda, who was the Navy Commander at the time, has claimed that he was initially unaware of the incident but brought it to the notice of the authorities as soon as he became aware of it.

However, a question that is being asked is whether the average citizen has the resources to engage top notch lawyers in the country when they are about to be indicted and whether they would have the wherewithal to file fundamental rights petitions to secure orders preventing their arrest.

Nevertheless, the fact that an investigation is being conducted into the disappearance of eleven youth at the height of the Eelam war, ten years after the event, must be commended. Many horrible and atrocious acts were committed under the cover of war by those in uniform in the guise of being ‘war heroes’ or rana viruwo. Many of them would have escaped justice because the nation, blinded by the euphoria of war victory, wrapped these war heroes in a cloak of immunity: they could do no wrong. This immunity extended not only to ‘war heroes’ but also to the politicians who commanded them.

That is why Mahinda Rajapaksa secured an overwhelming victory in 2010. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that: the masses were being grateful to a leader who, as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, provided the unflinching political leadership required for a sustained war effort, particularly, in the face of stiff opposition from Western nations trying to scuttle the final outcome.

From Rajapaksa’s perspective too, there was nothing wrong in seeking re-election on the back of a war victory. If Margaret Thatcher in Britain could ‘win a war and win an election’ by reclaiming the tiny Falkland Islands, going to war with Argentina which was no military superpower, there was nothing wrong in Rajapaksa’s re-election, because he had done what no other President could do for thirty years: taking on and defeating the most ruthless terrorist group in the world.

It is what happened thereafter that caused a degeneration of our democratic ideals. There was use and abuse of the judiciary and the legislature. The political leadership- and indeed, their acolytes at all levels- began to act with impunity, as if they were above the law. Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, ironically, perhaps the greatest war hero of them all, having survived a suicide attempt and having commanded the largest of the tri-forces, was court-martialled. He was stripped of his rank, deprived of his pension and confined to a prison cell. Many interpreted his ‘crime’ as contesting Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 2010 Presidential election.

Much has happened since then. The masses, realising the excesses a government could be prone to when invested with a cloak of immunity, booted out the Rajapaksa regime and installed a Government that promised ‘good governance’.

There is universal agreement that this ‘good governance’ did not materialise in its expected intensity. Its two partner political parties are blaming each other for that now. As the Karannagoda saga unfolds over the alleged abduction and murder of eleven youth eleven years ago, we see the shades of the same dichotomy emerging in the media and in the statements made by our political parties and their leaders.

One camp is urging that justice be done, that all persons should be equal before the law irrespective of their position of privilege and that wrongdoers be brought to justice, even if it is a decade later. On the other hand, there is a growing cacophony about ‘war heroes’ being persecuted despite placing their life and limb at risk, so they could save their motherland from the scourge of terrorism.

With the presidential elections looming in less than ten months, this polarisation is only likely to grow. Instead of justice being done, what we will see is politicians falling over themselves, trying to play the role of patriots in their attempt to protect ‘war heroes’ who defended the nation from terrorists.

Lest it be forgotten in the babel of noise that would soon consume the media over this matter, abducting youth and making them disappear has nothing to do with the Eelam war or defeating terrorists. Those who allegedly did so were using the war only to achieve their own agenda. By any stretch of imagination, they cannot be classified as war heroes.

At any other time, they would be mass murderers- and justice must be done to the victims. We are not for a moment presuming the guilt or innocence of those allegedly involved in this incident.

That is a matter for the courts of law to determine. What we are saying is that for justice to be done without fear or favour, there should be room for decent, democratic deliberation- not two sides debating the issue with ulterior political motives on their agenda.

Or, is that too much to ask?