In a cynical and deliberate attempt to upset the peace and progress in post-war Sri Lanka, British TV station Channel 4 premiered a dubious “documentary” entitled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” which purports to show evidence of war crimes committed by Sri Lankan soldiers at the conclusion of the long conflict with the terrorist group the LTTE in May 2009. The strongest and most controversial footage, a two-minute clip of very poor quality, shows two persons clad in camouflage executing several naked and bound men on the ground. Channel 4’s Foreign Affairs correspondent, Jon Snow, describes these as Sinhalese soldiers killing Tamil captives. But the evidence used to back these claims is far from conclusive.
“Authentic” but Inconsistent?
The video, which first surfaced in August 2009, 3 months after the conclusion of the conflict, was purportedly taken on a mobile phone, according to Journalists For Democracy In Sri Lanka, the group that procured it (and supposedly had to “smuggle it out of the country,” says Snow).
While the testimony of two paid experts—Americans Jeff Spivak, founder of Covert Sciences and Grant Fredericks, another forensic video expert—agrees that the footage is authentic, they also introduce several inconsistencies.
The fact that it is shot out of sequence and using an optical zoom suggests both the use of a video camera and editing, says Fredericks, since mobile phones do not have this capability. There are also several layers to the video and the soundtrack is out of sync, which further opens up the possibility of tampering. The experts disagree as to where and when the footage might have been taken as well.
Speaking of authenticity, Channel 4 fails to divulge that there are actually two versions of this video—an older one in which people speak in Tamil in the background and the extended one they use whose commentary is in Sinhalese. If such inconsistencies exist, how could this video possibly be labeled authentic?
More Questions Need To be Asked
Coming just a few weeks after the highly critical Darusman Report, the timing, tone, and motives behind Channel 4’s presentation begs examination. It is no secret that Channel 4 has a history of broadcasting distorted and misleading news about Sri Lanka. In their heavy-handed, one-sided, sensationalist approach, they omit any reference to Tiger atrocities or even the mention of the word “terrorist.” For them, the Tigers are just a guerilla army.
How about the Journalists For Democracy In Sri Lanka, the group who procured the footage? Ostensibly a group of exiled journalists, who list Berlin as their headquarters– though in reality they have none—nothing is known. Their blog, however, is prolific–especially in its distaste of the government
Another important question that needs to be asked is, ‘Who has the most to gain from the release of this footage, which is severe blow to the delicate reconciliation process? None other than the LTTE, or what remains of it. Defeated on the battlefield they exist only as an organized movement outside the country, within the Tamil Diaspora. But they still wield enough financial might to influence the media and, apparently, policy.
The Sri Lankan Army’s Defense
While Channel 4 speculates on what the Sri Lankan Army did, they completely ignore the facts. If Sri Lankan troops did adopt a summary execution policy as Channel 4 alleges, it belies the fact that 11,700 identified former LTTE combatants, were captured, rehabilitated and released.
The sad reality of war also demonstrates that civilians pay the highest price, and Sri Lanka was no different. Countless innocent lives were lost in suicide attacks and other bombings, which Channel 4 does not consider in their report. But claims of genocide hold no water, when the Sri Lankan armed forces liberated more than 275,000 Tamil civilians held as human shields by the LTTE.
As the Asian Tribune (6/2/11) said, “If government soldiers did it, they would have to have been absolutely stupid, driven by mania to disregard all their training, and their responsibilities towards national laws and international conventions, and act like inhuman demons. Such material would discredit the Sri Lankan Army and the government, putting the onus on the government and the Army to prove that either the video is a fake, or the perpetrators were not Army soldiers.” Right now it seems like that is how the battle is shaping up to be.
LTTE Atrocities Well Documented
The FBI did not proscribe the LTTE as “The most notorious terrorist outfit” for no reason. People within Sri Lanka have known how cunning and ruthless these assassins have been over 26 years, and the rest of the world needs to get up to speed on these matters.
The Asian Tribune (of 9/18/09) documents only a few of the atrocities committed by the LTTE, which establishes their well known practice of killing their enemies and Sri Lankan soldiers from 1987 onwards.
- That year  in the month of October, some 17 LTTE cadres who were arrested and detained at the Palaly army camp committed suicide by swallowing cyanide capsules, which were smuggled to them by Anton Balasingham.
- To take revenge, the LTTE killed nine Sri Lankan soldiers whom they had kidnapped and detained in their camp. The dead bodies were later dumped at the bus-stand in Jaffna city.
- Earlier on 31 March 1987, when unidentified gunmen fired at and lobbed a powerful grenade at the vehicle carrying Kittu, LTTE’s powerful Jaffna Commander, he lost his right leg. Enraged at the attack, LTTE’s Major Aruna went on a killing spree. He had gunned down scores of EPRLF cadres held as prisoners at the infamous Kanthan Karunai camp.
- On 10 June 1990, over 400 unarmed police officers who had surrendered to the LTTE were mercilessly shot dead and the bodies were dumped.
- On 21 May 1991, at Sriperumbudur, India, an LTTE suicide bomber killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and 14 others. A breakthrough to the investigation came from a photographer. It also highlighted that LTTE had the habit of either photographing or video-graphing all their killings to provide confirmatory evidence to their boss, Velupillai Prabhakaran. It is The LTTE practice to shift the blame for all the killings on the Sri Lanka Government.
- On 4 August 2006, LTTE cadres on the run shot and killed 15 Tamil workers from French international aid agency Action Contre la Faim who were trapped inside their Muthur branch office, close to Muthur Cultural Centre. But the LTTE propaganda machinery created the impression that the Sri Lankan soldiers were to be blamed for the carnage. The propaganda was so mischievous that it even made the French Aid Agency join the campaign against the Sri Lanka Government.
- During it’s hey days, the LTTE had its own police, courts of justice, and jails in the Vanni. Dozens of Tamil dissidents were regularly rounded up by the LTTE police, convicted by the LTTE courts and held in the LTTE prisons. The convicts were held incommunicado in torture cells.
- LTTE also held some Sri Lanka army soldiers in their torture cells. How and when they were arrested or disappeared is never explained officially with the army describing them as missing persons in action.
What Happens Next?
Christopher Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, described the killings shown on the video as “textbook examples of extrajudicial executions” in the Asian Tribune (6/2/11). The UN in Geneva has already been privy to a screening of the video, only weeks after the release of the controversial Darusman Report, and they have the means to press for a broader inquiry.
The Lanka Daily Mirror (Monday, June 13th) best summed up the situation, saying, “Ironically, two years after the war ended, a rump of the diaspora, assisted ably by a segment of the UN, supported by countries from the western hemisphere and leading human rights NGOs are giving life to the LTTE and fostering division in the name of accountability and human rights. In this process UN conventions, procedures and mandates have been jettisoned in the interests of politics.”
If there were ever an important lesson to learn from America’s Debacle in Iraq, it is that a lie repeated over and over has the power to displace the truth and masquerade as the same. But did it have to take countless lives and trillions of dollars to say, ‘So much for “weapons of mass destruction?”’ ‘So much for former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s very convincing, but completely misleading presentation before the United Nations Security Council on February 4, 2003, which provided justification for an unjust war.’ Where Iraq is concerned, faulty intelligence was presented as solid evidence, and decisions of the utmost importance hastily made. In the case of the Channel 4 video, hearsay is being boldly touted as fact. Before any witch hunt or further cries of “war crimes” ensue, a thorough and conclusive investigation of this video is the only due course. Unless the facts show otherwise, Sri Lanka must be presumed innocent. The only thing she is guilty of right now is defeating terrorism.