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Sri Lanka's Abu Ghraib Moment

| By Tisaranee Gunasekara "Evil is unspectacular and always human, And shares our bed and eats at our own table Auden (Herman elville! ( arch "#, "$%&, 'olombo, (ri )anka Guardian! *or once, the ilitary has done somethin+ sensible, -t has admitted the authenticity o. the .oota+e depictin+ several army personnel in.lictin+ cruel and de+radin+ punishments on a +roup o. .emale recruits,

'rimes o. every sort, .rom rape downwards, happen in any army, But these crimes are o.ten conducted in secret, behind at least a semi/closed door, The scenes depicted in the latest )ankan .oota+e happen out in the open, The perpetrators seem totally at ease, almost nonchalant, with no discernible concerns about e0posure, leadin+ to censure or condemnation, -n that sense, and also because they indicate some e0tremely disturbin+ truths about a popular 1national1 institution, these )ankan scenes are reminiscent o. the .oota+e which came .rom Abu Ghraib, At Abu Ghraib, prisoner/abuse was the norm, -n the .oota+es, the uni.ormed torturers seem supremely at ease2 they do not look as i. they are concerned about bein+ surprised in an ille+al act by either peers or superiors, That very ease o. manner indicated a culture o. impunity which

was subse3uently con.irmed by a hi+h level investi+ation into the 4( army1s prison system (led by a5or General Antonio Tabu+a!, As the le+endary (eymour Hersh revealed, the resultin+ report1s "conclusions about the institutional .ailures o. the Army prison system were devastatin+, Tabu+a .ound that between 6ctober and 7ecember o. "$$# there were numerous instances o. 1sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses1 at Abu Ghraib , "The report determined that the abuses were 1systematic1 rather than incidental, The scenes depicted in the )ankan .oota+e too are sadistic2 only a sadist can in.lict such abuse (especially on a +roup o. weepin+ women! / and lau+h, They are also 1blatant and wanton12 there is no indication that the perpetrators think they are doin+ somethin+ 1wron+1, a crime 8 misdeed which can +et them into trouble, Their almost insouciant manner hints that such abusive conduct is neither unusual nor unpopular2 that, as at Abu Ghraib, it is 1systematic1, The )ankan army1s admission o. +uilt, despite its tepidity, is welcome, But many unanswered 3uestions remain, -s this how .emale recruits are +enerally treated9 6r are these recruits Tamil9 How widespread is this problem o. perpetratin+ sadistic abuses under cover o. discipline9 Have there been any complaints about such incidents9 Have any such complaints been investi+ated9 Have any o. the abusers bein+ punished9 :ill the army treat this incident as an e0ception9 6r will it carry out a thorou+h and impartial investi+ation, as the 4( military did and take some sort o. disciplinary action9 At Abu Ghraib, the American servicemen (and women9! :ere dealin+ with the 1enemy1, The )ankan .oota+e depicts the way some members o. the )ankan army treat their own, -ma+ine what such men could have done to the real o. perceived enemy, especially durin+ and in the immediate a.termath o. the war, These servicemen, who seem to en5oy their +risly deeds enormously, do not look as i. they would have +one into the battle.ield, "carryin+ a +un in one hand, the Human ;i+hts 'harter in the other, .ood .or the innocent displaced on their shoulders and love .or the children in their hearts ", as <resident ;a5apaksa claimed in his "$%% =ictory 'elebration (peech, 6n the contrary, they look 3uite capable o. committin+ the sort o. +ruesome crimes depicted in the various 'hannel & videos, The latest .oota+e also dovetails with various reports and reporta+e about )ankan military abusin+ Tamil prisoners, post/war, :hat happens when a society is intertwined with a military, which has .ailed to draw an 1insuperable line1 a+ainst abuse and sadism9 Api Army9 7urin+ a "$%" ceremony, the >ational 'adet 'orps 7irector a5or General Gamini ?ayasundara praised (school! cadets who receive comprehensive trainin+ at the ;antambe army camp2 he claimed that they can ".ace any challen+e" and stated that the policy o. Gotabhaya ;a5apaksa was to produce "resource personnel who are con.ident in takin+ up any challen+e throu+h cadet trainin+", That year the presti+ious Herman )oos 7e (oy@a trophy was won by the cadet corps o.

Gampaha Bandaranayake 'olle+e, )ess than two years later, members o. the same cadet corps went on rampa+e, attackin+ the principal, teachers, .ellow students and media personnel, over a minor disa+reement, This incident was a worryin+ reminder that in (ri )anka e0cessive re+imentation and bur+eonin+ violence are harmonious bed.ellows,

Object 1

-dealised )ankan militari@ation happens in Tandem with an ima+e o. 1(oldier/:ar Hero1, This (tate/manu.actured ima+e was a key component o. the 1Humanitarian 6peration1 myth, The (tate laid down that the ays Earthmovin+ )ankan soldiers 'A> >ever Aill or harm any civilian Tamil, A cloak o. in.allibility was thus bestowed 6n the ilitary, This enabled impunity to .lourish, clad in the Garments o. ?ustice, Brou+ht home to the (inhala (outh :eliweriya Their much about the reality was lionised warriors, :hen a (oldier (inhala (inhala villa+er Asked :hy the army did not use a ;ubber Bullets a+ainst unarmed protestors, the (oldier replied, ":e 'an not mollycoddle people with ;ubber Bullets" , That reply indicated a policy and a mindset which re+ard e0treme violence as the .irst response to any problematic situation / and contemptuously re5ect values such as kindness, pity and 5ustice which make a civilisation, A Breakdown o. ilitary 7iscipline or abuse 'A> happen due to the entrenchment o. a permissive environment criminally, durin+ the *inal peace process, the Ti+ers did very best to provoke Their attackin+ civilian Tamils into the )ankan ilitary, They .ailed, )ate *rom "$$" to "$$B, Because the political authorities would not permit such abuses, ahinda ;a5apaksa The Ti+ers won the <residency a.ter/propertied ones only, A'T The *irst ;ule o. retaliatory =iolence Happened 5ust a month into ;a5apaksa,

In Weliweriya too, contrary to subsequent claims by military and political authorities, innocent people were attacked / killed not because the soldiers were undisciplined, but because they acted like highly-disciplined killing machines. The sadistic abuses depicted in the latest .oota+e probably stem not .rom a breakdown o. discipline but .rom a new, criminally permissive, notion o. discipline, The latest video is a matter o. personal concern to all )ankans (includin+ (inhala/Buddhist supporters o. the ;a5apaksas! +iven the rapid and pervasive militari@ation in.licted on society by the ;ulin+ (iblin+s, *or instance, under the )eadership Trainin+ pro+ramme, more and more civilians are bein+ herded into military camps, -s there any +uarantee that at least some o. these civilians (especially students! will not be treated in a similarly abusive manner9 :as this why two students and a principal .ell mortally ill, while under+oin+ leadership trainin+ in army camps9 1Api Army1 is the name +iven to a ;a5apaksa pro+ramme to recruit pro.essionals into the military as volunteers, These volunteers too will be sub5ected to the prevailin+ disciplinary norms, And they may return to society, more prone to see physical and verbal violence as the optimal solution to many problems, Abu Ghraib crimes came to li+ht thanks to American serviceman ?oseph 7arby, )ankan .oota+e too was made and leaked by a )ankan soldier who was obviously horri.ied at what he 8 she witnessed, -t is up to the polity and society to +enerate the much/needed national debate about the nature and the role o. )ankan military, ;e.erences2 %, httpsC88www,youtube,com8watch9vD/$&E<wrF%4o ", httpC88www,newyorker,com8archive8"$$&8$B8%$8$&$B%$.aG.act9current<a+eDall #, httpC88archives,dailynews,lk8"$%"8%$8"E8sec$",asp &, ;eported in the (unday Times / %%,H,"$%# B, <robably the .irst such incident was a >avy assault on a +roup o. displaced civilian Tamils in =ictorian Hundred Housin+ (chemes in annar, subse3uent to a Ti+er attack on the >avy in the vicinity, The killin+ o. .ive students in Trincomalee .ollowed soon a.ter,