Sri Lankan Op-Ed: The Need to Remind the US of its Sordid Record

" ... why is it that the Western media, vociferous organisations and human rights observers, including the American Ambassador here, display ignorance of, and observe a deafening silence on, the repulsive and gruesome deeds committed by US agencies with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the American President himself? ... "

The Nation on Sunday
Sri Lanka
undated

Sri Lanka is perhaps one of the few countries in the world where all manner of human rights activists are allowed access to prisoners, including those detained for suspected terrorist activities.

Almost all the Western NGOs and the UN, which are heavily biased towards their main funding country the United States, backed by a few local NGOs – also receiving lavish grants from western donors – appear to have ganged up to launch a well orchestrated campaign to tarnish Sri Lanka as a violator of human rights.

The Western press appears to be ignorant of the facilities, particularly the access that the prisoners have to their family members and their lawyers. They have recourse to the law and there are numerous instances when law-enforcement officers have been convicted and punished for torture etc.

It also needs to be noted that Sri Lanka is one of the few democracies where ‘fundamental rights’ is justifiable; and unlawful detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment are distinct violations of the fundamental rights. Many are the instances when the state had been ordered to pay compensation to such victims by our judiciary.

But why is it that the Western media, vociferous organisations and human rights observers, including the American Ambassador here, display ignorance of, and observe a deafening silence on, the repulsive and gruesome deeds committed by US agencies with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the American President himself?

The reasons are clear. America, backed by its white Western allies, is desperately striving to retain its place as the world’s only superior. It is alarmed at the dramatic resurgence of Asia and the West Asian oil rich Iran and Iraq. To divert the attention of the world from its own dismal human rights record, the US is all out to find fault with others. The guilt of the genocide of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Mai Lai massacre and the oppression of the blacks in their own country remain indelible. The blacks continue to remain black! Even Barak Obama has become vulnerable.

Peter Singer in his best seller on George W. Bush, The President of Good and Evil (Granta Books, London 2004) has in four pages given the reader a vivid insight into the methods of gruesome torture resorted to by state agents of the US in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

When Singer wrote this book, perhaps ‘water boarding,’ a method where the victim is put through the trauma of drowning had not been discovered by the CIA; and they keep on experimenting to devise new methods of torture.
The excerpt quoted below from Singer’s book illustrates the cruel, calculated and prolonged nature of the torture methods resorted to by the US Government:

“Though imprisoning people for months or years, when they have not been charged with any offence is a clear violation of human rights, the treatment of captured alleged AI Qaeda members held for interrogation by the CIA in Afghanistan and in Diego Garcia is even more disturbing. Neither military lawyers, nor the Red Cross have access to these prisoners.”

Referring to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Singer has written, “For the first few months, the prisoners - many of whom were, after being held for more than a year, acknowledged to be innocent and released – were kept in small wire mesh cells roughly six by eight feet in size. The cells had a wooden roof, but the sides were open to the hot afternoon sun, as well as to wind and rain. In that tiny space, the prisoners slept on the ground, with just two blankets and a prayer mat. They also went to the toilet in their cells. They were able to leave the cells only once a week for a one-minute shower.

But for an occasional isolated incident resulting from the behaviour of an undisciplined soldier or Policeman with a depraved mind, it is unimaginable that sustained, cruel and degrading torture of the ‘American type’ as described above could have taken place or would take place in Sri Lanka. Human rights activists, UN observers, NGO’s and diplomats who make assessments of the human rights record of Sri Lanka should be people who are unbiased with a thorough exposure to human rights violations the world over, particularly the western regimes from which they invariably come. Or else their judgement could be seriously flawed and most damaging to the country or countries concerned. If only the US Ambassadors, prior to being accredited to Sri Lanka, are candidly briefed by the US Foreign Relations Committee on the state of the detention camps in Guantanamo Bay and Diego Garcia they are bound to mistake prisons and other detention centres in Sri Lanka for recreation centres!

What I cannot understand is that when the country is being labelled as a barbaric nation that violates human rights, why the government is taking a defensive stand. Our genial and erudite Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe must take a more aggressive stand. He should challenge the accusers to cite specific instances of rights violations.

On this specific issue, the might of the US and the aid agencies should not deter his thinking. Someone needs to have the courage to remind the US of its infamous past and its heartless role in the ongoing killings of innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia; and tell that it should look inwards to find the places where torture is endemic and conducted with impunity!

Edward Gunawardena

http://www.nation.lk/2008/04/06/letters.htm