Ranil Wickremasinghe (2003) tied Sri Lanka to US global torture network
" Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern.
But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable".
And, one such government was in Sri Lanka headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe from December 2001 to April 2004. The collaboration of Sri Lanka with America's torture, rendition of alleged terrorist to countries well known for their torture practices wouldn't have been possible without the knowledge of his Defense and Aviation Minister Tilak Marapona under whose purview was Bandaranayake (Katunayaka) International Airport which the CIA used as the transit point for its rendition program which resulted in torture violating international humanitarian law and Geneva Conventions.
An investigative report came out from New York declares that the Sri Lanka government, along with the other 53 governments, (headed by Prime Minister Wickremasinghe) which collaborated with the U.S. global torture and rendition network "must be held accountable".
The Wickremasinghe government had had rapport and dialogue with the office of U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz who was teaming up with Vice President Dick Chaney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to execute the rendition program in the Bush administration with the collaboration of the 54 nation-governments.
In fact, when Mr. Wickremasinghe was in Washington, D.C. he met for talks with Paul Wolfowitz on November 3, 2003 following a guard of honor to him outside the Pentagon.
The quote in the opening paragraph was the determination of a comprehensive investigative report released by the New York-based Open Society Foundation in the first week of February (2013) exposing the torture of prisoners taken into the custody of the CIA on terrorist charges and their dispatch or rendition to foreign nations, notable for their torture practices, for interrogation and giving data and accounts of 54 countries that collaborated with the United States to execute the program.
Sri Lanka was one of those 54 countries. And her neighbor India was not.
This Political Note discusses the atmosphere that led Sri Lanka to tie up with such a notorious CIA program which the Open Society Foundation report declares as the blatant violation of international humanitarian law and breach of Geneva Conventions.
When Sri Lanka collaborated to help the CIA to execute the torture and rendition program the government was headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and his appointed cabinet which included the defense minister from his political party.
How did Mr. Wickremasinghe's government collaborated with the CIA program when Sri Lanka had an Executive President who had 'executive powers' is the vital question which will be discussed later in this Political Note.
CIA Rendition-Torture Program
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency embarked on a highly classified program of secret detention and extraordinary rendition of terrorist suspects. The program was designed to place detainee interrogations beyond the reach of law. Suspected terrorists were seized and secretly flown across national borders to be interrogated by foreign governments that used torture, or by the CIA itself in clandestine “black sites” using torture techniques.
The Bush administration, having had principal players to execute this program Vice President Dick Chaney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitrz, used the 54 countries in many ways.
Globalizing Torture report of the Open Society Foundation is the most comprehensive account yet assembled of the human rights abuses associated with CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations. It details for the first time what was done to the 136 known victims, and lists the 54 foreign governments that participated in these operations which includes Sri Lanka. It shows that responsibility for the abuses lies not only with the United States but with dozens of foreign governments that were complicit.
If this is so, the Wickremasinghe-led segment of the government and his Minister of Defense and Aviation Tilak Marapona during which period (December 2001 to April 2004) Sri Lanka collaborated with the United States in this program cannot escape culpability.
The report shows that as many as 54 foreign governments reportedly participated in these operations in various ways, including by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees; permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees.
Sri Lanka's Ranil Wickremasinghe government tied up with the CIA in permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees.
The Katunayaka International Airport was under the jurisdiction of Minister Tilak Marapona, who was Mr. Wickremasinghe's defense and aviation minister, which was an authorized transit point used by the CIA .
The report seriously emphasizes that responsibility for this violation of IHL, abuses and torture does not lie solely with the United States, but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out. By participating in these operations, these governments too violated domestic and international laws and further undermined the norm against torture.
The Open Society Foundation report declares: (Quote) Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush authorized the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to commence a secret detention program under which suspected terrorists were held in CIA prisons (also known as “black sites”) outside the United States, where they were subjected to interrogation methods that involved torture and other abuses. At about the same time, he also granted the CIA expansive authority to engage in “extraordinary rendition,” defined here as the transfer—without legal process—of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention and interrogation.
Today, more than a decade after September 11, 2001, it is well-established that high-ranking Bush administration officials are responsible for torture and other human rights violations associated with the CIA’s secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations. The failure of U.S. authorities to hold these officials accountable remains a matter of significant concern. But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition would not have been possible without the active participation of numerous foreign governments. These participating governments must also be held accountable. (End Quote)
Disabled Presidency of Kumaratunga
Somewhere in the late eighties, Colombo American diplomatic mission's Political Counselor Ernestine Heck, Political/Labor Officer Caroline Johnson and this writer as the diplomatic mission's Political Specialist had a working luncheon with Sri Lanka's foremost constitutional expert and Trotskyite Samasamaja Party leader Dr. Colvin R. de Silva.
A staunch critic of the 1978 constitution which introduced the 'executive presidential system' as was his deceased leader Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. de Silva was engaged with us about the pros and cons of the operation of the system, the separation of powers, the 'executive' powers of the president and the parliamentary authority.
We were all aware of the authority the Executive President enjoyed to dissolve the legislature after completion of one year to call for fresh nationwide general elections.
The question that was raised before Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was if at a fresh parliamentary general election, while the executive president who was elected previously still occupying that position, a political party hostile to the president gains a majority of seats how would the balance of power between the Executive President and the political party hostile to the president which obviously forms the government flow.
Dr. de Silva very confidently said the nation could witness a "disabled presidency".
He said, under the 1978 Constitution, the Executive President has to call the leader of the (hostile) political party that received a majority of seats at the nationwide election to form a government. The Executive President has to sworn in the members of the cabinet of ministers nominated by that party leader who himself will be the prime minister. The prime ministerial candidate, under the 1978 Constitution, could identify the portfolios he intends giving to his parliamentary colleagues despite the Executive President has the prerogative to keep for himself any subject he thinks deem necessary.
Dr. de Silva explained how the Executive President becomes "disabled" when such a scenario emerged.
The people nationwide have given a fresh mandate to a political party hostile to that of the Executive President. The mood of the nationwide electorate changed giving a fresh look at a political party hostile to the president. The 'political wind' has blown in favor of that hostile party meaning the endorsement the nation had given to the president previously has now shifted away from that person.
The veteran political and constitutional scientist nevertheless said that the change of the mood of the electorate did not mean the destabilization of the executive presidency; but the scenario could effectively 'disable' the presidency creating a power center headed by a rival political party that could lower the governing 'clout' of the person who holds the Executive Presidency.
Dr. Colvin R. de Silva was remarkably prophetic what the nation and the world witnessed with the emergence of the Ranil Wickremasinghe segment of the government on 9 December 2001.
In the parliamentary general election 2001 UNF, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, won 109 seats and PA was able to obtain only 77 seats. Consequently he was able to form a new UNF government and sworn as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 9 December 2001.
However Chandrika Kumaratunga still remained the President of the country. This led to a confusing situation where the President and the Prime Minister were from two opposite parties. Although, according to the constitution, both head of state and head of government was the President, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was able to appoint his own cabinet and he had the actual control over the government.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga also chaired cabinet meetings as de facto head, but her influence over decision making was strictly limited.
Attempt by the Prime Minister and his colleagues to bypass the president in key decision-making processes was very visible during this time. This was reflected most clearly in the so-called 'peace efforts' that the Wickremesinghe-led segment of the Government launched soon after the UNF electoral victory. In this context, it may be recalled that Wickremesinghe's initial response, as the newly appointed Prime Minister, to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on December 24, 2001, was not based on any prior consultation with the President.
Nor was there an input by the President and her party to the formulation of the terms and conditions of the 'Memorandum of Understanding' formally signed by Wickremesinghe and the LTTE leader Prabhaharan on February 22, 2002.
At the six rounds of direct negotiation between the Wickremesinghe-led segment of the Government and the LTTE conducted thereafter over several months, the 'Government delegation' did not accommodate any representative of the President. Nor did the President have a say in determining the Government's negotiation stances and the concessions that were offered to the LTTE at these negotiations, ostensibly with a mandate exclusive to the UNF from the people of Sri Lanka.
On national security matters and 'other related issues' the President was not a party when Mr. Wickremasinghe and his Defense and Aviation Minister Marapona had exchanges with the U.S. Department of Defense officials especially with Mr. Wolfowitz.
The President was not apprised when Mr. Marapona's Defense Ministry transported communication equipment, brought by the Norwegians in their diplomatic pouch and cleared by Sri Lanka Customs, to the north for the LTTE.
The Wickremasinghe-led segment of the government took a opposing stand to that of President Kumaratunga when it collaborated with the Bush administration at the Doha Round of Talks in Cancun to which President Bush thanked Prime Minister Wickremasinghe when the latter visited the White House on November 5, 2003.
The Wickremasinghe-led segment of the government held far-reaching economic talks with the U.S. and other western nations without the involvement of the President.
Such was the 'disabled presidency' that Dr. Colvin R. de Silva prophetically noted during his luncheon engagement with American Embassy officials.
It is this scenario that the Wickremasinghe-led segment of the Government had the liberty to collaborate with the United States' Global War on Terrorism in participating in the prisoner rendition and torture program in offering the Katunayake International Airport in Colombo as a transit point for the transfer of prisoners who were under the custody of the CIA.
Sri Lanka participation in CIA secret detention & rendition
The extensive investigative 200-odd-page report'Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition' issued in the first week of February (2013) by the New York-based Open Society Foundation disclosed Sri Lanka's participation in the program as:
(Quote)Sri Lanka permitted use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with CIA
extraordinary rendition operations. Court documents indicate that at least one flight operated by Richmor Aviation (a company that operated flights for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program) landed in Sri Lanka in 2003. The documents show that between August 12 and15, 2003, a Richmor flight registered as N85VM took off from Washington, D.C., and stopped in Bangkok before making another stop at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike international airport in Colombo, and then flying on to Kabul, Dubai, and Shannon airport in Ireland. That flight coincided in time with the capture of Riduan Isamuddin (Hambali) in Bangkok in 2003. Isamuddin spent the next three years in secret CIA prisons before ultimately being transferred as a “high value detainee” to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, where he remains detained. There have been no known judicial cases or investigations in Sri Lanka relating to its participation in CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations. (End Quote)
The prisoner rendition, using enhanced interrogation techniques interpreted by human rights organization, civil and political activists in the United States and around the world as torture have been determined as blatant violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and Geneva Charter.
Which is why the Open Society Foundation declares: "The report seriously emphasizes that responsibility for this violation of IHL, abuses and torture does not lie solely with the United States, but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out. By participating in these operations, these governments too violated domestic and international laws and further undermined the norm against torture".
The changed national mood helped the President
An India publication gave the following analysis of the change mood of the nation and how President resuscitated the powers inherent in the presidency in this manner:
(Quote) The issue of whether President Kumaratunga's offensive against the UNF precipitated a crisis or, on the contrary, averted an impending crisis, needs to be examined more closely. Perhaps the foremost consideration, from the viewpoint of electoral politics, was Wickremesinghe's and the UNF's declining popularity, for which there was an abundance of evidence in the form of increasing incidence of highly successful opposition-engineered strikes and other disruptions in the formal sectors of the economy, and intensifying unrest the university and farming communities, as well as the massive public support that the opposition parties have been able to muster for their campaigns of agitation. This waning popularity is due partly to economic causes - rising costs of living and unemployment, and the fact that the promised 'peace dividend' is yet to reach the large majority of people. More significantly, it reflects the growing disenchantment of the people with the UNF 'peace efforts' - the fact that, hitherto, it has been no more than a process of naive appeasement. (End Quote)
Ranil Wickremesinghe's foreign policy during his tenant as the Prime Minister was predominantly Pro-Western. He allied with countries like United States, Great Britain, Norway and Japan. He met President George W. Bush 2003, for the first time after 18 years a Sri Lankan leader met the US leader in the White House. President Bush thanked Mr. Wickremasinghe for the support his government extended to the U.S. at the Doha Round Talks at Cancun, a move taken by Sri Lanka when rest of the developing world opposed American economic proposals.
Few days after LTTE proposed the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA), President Chandrika Kumaratunga sacked three ministers of the cabinet and took over the defense, aviation, communication ministries using her constitutional powers ending the uneasy coalition between her and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe while he was out of the country. Addressing the nation she claimed that this decision was taken in the interest of national security.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved the parliament on 7 February 2004  which effectively ended Ranil Wickremesinghe's regime which facilitated the CIA in its global rendition and torture network.
- Asian Tribune. -