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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 79

Lalin's Column: P S C Report on Easter Sunday (21 April 2019) Massacre

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

A mountain labors making fearful noises and finally cracks to allow a mouse to run out. That was the PSC consisting of the Speaker’s Own. It was a challenge to the President by his own government that was fully responsible for over 270 deaths. They were almost all Catholics, praying on Easter Sunday. It had completely destroyed the peace that had prevailed after 30 years of merciless conflict. It cannot be forgiven. The report ended by producing a conspiracy theory that was itself a conspiracy. It was ill considered, startling, outside its terms of reference and a product of a collective flight of fevered imagination.

Despite warnings of an impending disaster, the President in Singapore and the PM in Bentota, like others of their ilk and high officials, were all on holiday when the blow struck. The President got back in slow time and languidly declared an Emergency. He also ordered a Presidential inquiry under retired judges to find out whether there were ‘short comings, negligence and weaknesses’. Or was it to protect Numero Uno? To his credit he did not fan communal flames.

The Speaker riposted immediately by appointing the PSC. Its pathetic terms of reference were to find out what everybody and his dog knew. It asked whether the ‘law enforcement officers had read intelligence reports relating to such attacks…’ and taken ‘adequate measures to prevent and or negate such attacks....’ and if ‘were there deficiencies …’ It took 5 months to conclude.

‘What would he produce to match his opening promise Mountains will labor; what’s born? A ridiculous mouse’ (N Shapiro)

When the bombs exploded, the PM, his Catholic ministers and MPs ran everywhere but to the churches. One minister, now a Presidential hopeful said he could not go as he was ill! They just could not face the people. Gloom descended. Primeval fear and massive shock gripped the land. It became a recurring nightmare, strengthened by videos, repeated ad nauseam and morbidly, of the bombers going about their suicide missions with absolute calm and no opposition. SL’s security was naked as a new born. There was no mea culpa. Only collective suicide could have attempted to atone for this colossal tragedy. The government had not given a damn for the people’s security while its own had myriads of body guards and some, bullet proof cars.

The Catholic Cardinal, His Eminence Malcolm Ranjith, barely able to control his emotions, took absolute control. He addressed his devastated Catholic flock. The whole nation listened. He saved SL. He said no one should seek revenge as terrorists have no religion or race. Catholic discipline held uneasily first and then endured massively. It reined in others inclined to be less disciplined and more emotional. The threatened and frightened Muslims breathed easy every time the Cardinal spoke. A blood bath as in 1983 when too the UNP were in power was averted.

Meanwhile the wounded, family and friends together with their countrymen suffered in grief and silence if not in growing but muted anger. The Cardinal exposed the hypocrisy of it all. He asked for those responsible to be named and punished. After nearly 6 months his repeated calls remain unanswered. The PSC report having examined a mountain of evidence produced a mouse. It was a travesty that mocked the dead.

The PSC to begin with was compromised. There were 2 members who did not declare their connections, tenuous or not, to the ‘suicide bombers’. They did not have the character and integrity to decline.

It then babbled about the dangers of racism that leads to extremism, Wahabism and ‘Arabisation’-(Arabism) (spray paint was applied to acts by late Governor EP, Hisbullah, PSC member Huckhim’s bête noire for Muslim votes in the East). It was as though these were new revelations. The long historical mutual hate between Sunni and Shia and distrust and little love lost between Muslims and Tamils during the Elam war were temporarily set aside. Was the intention not to turn the spotlight on the missing lot - Sinhala Buddhists activists? The TNA man went over the top by justifying the murders of 270 people –as revenge for acts of (Sinhala?) racism. The non-Catholic churches took 2 days to comment.

The PSC as pointed out by Dinesh Dodamgoda in the ST on 27 October 19 made a stunning faux par by reporting that there was a ‘failure’ to act on ‘intelligence information’. Did it not know the difference between ‘information’ (collection of raw data- by agents) and ‘intelligence’ (product of the collection and analysis of information) that is then disseminated for operational action? Its strictures against the head of SIS for many acts of omission were well deserved if biased too, but could not be right for lapses of operational action. Aren’t operations in the police under the IGP? Failure by the police to act on operational intelligence even after ‘who, where, when, why and how’ were explicitly stated in the warning given. This was also the IGP’s responsibility. Is it conceivable that the PSC having a FM did not know! That surely compromises its credibility - at a nursery level.

The questioning of the police hierarchy exposed the depths the service had descended to. The head of CNI cut a sorry figure. He did not know what ’Eyes Only’ classification he had used when passing the buck meant.

The IGP thought that passing the red hot SIS intelligence warning as a ‘priority’ message showed how much importance he attached to it. He and the police had clearly not heard of ‘Flash’ and ‘Immediate’ that have delay times of 10 minutes and 30 minutes respectively instead of the 3 hours of a ‘priority’ message to reach action addressees.

It appeared that there was no classification of intelligence and operational reports from Top Secret, Secret to Confidential in the police and who were entitled to receive them? Or did the IGP send his messages to just about anybody as revealed by the DIG Transport and Communications at the Presidential Commission, leaving DIG East, where bomb leader Zaharan was from, out of the loop!

Did the PSC know if there was any vetting of those cleared to receive such classified reports? Their reliability and susceptibility should have been checked at each level of promotion. Leaks obviously happened as Minister Fernando’s father of all persons also knew. It is implausible that no VIP, Minister, MP also knew.

Did the PSC find out if there was ever a government plan to counter terrorist attacks? If so what was the strategy to meet the threat? Counter terrorism strategy has 4 elements. (1) Prevent - stop people from becoming terrorists (2) Pursue - stop terrorist attacks (3) Protect - strengthen protection against a terrorist attack, (4) Prepare - to mitigate impact of a terrorist attack in the event the attack cannot be stopped. What element if any existed in the plan if any?

The report dodged a lot of issues from Vavunutivu (2 policemen killed ) to Rambukkana (head of a Buddha statue destroyed) to the discovery of explosives and the ‘dry run ‘explosion in Kattanakudy.The idea was clearly to avoid embarrassing coalition members of communal parties at any cost.

Finally the PSC went into a T20 mood hitting out like Warner saying “…. further investigations will be needed to understand whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instill fear …… in ….. the Presidential election to be held later in the year. Such a situation would then lead to the call for a change of regime ….... … in the context of change in the leadership of the Army and DMI in 2019”. The report continues saying redundantly “…. can impact on democratic governance and security... and must require urgent attention”- The urgency took 5 months in the slow cooking of guess who? Diabolical manoeuvres.

To begin were these observations not outside the PSC remit? Intriguingly the report was out in quick time only after Gotabaya Rajapakse had entered the lists for a Presidential joust. It was a smart red herring to swim away from the aftermath of and responsibility for the deaths of 270 people, 500 seriously wounded and thousands devastated. Is it a coincidence that ‘vested interests’ have now become an election gimmick?

Was this also to deflect public attention from the serendipity of a nearly 5 year government that had gone into a stupor about security after inheriting complete peace? Defending scams and rampant corruption and vengefully roasting the Rajapakses had become its prime concern.

With not a shred of evidence to support it, the PSC conjured a conspiracy. It spun a story. Only very sick minds could have even considered such possibilities in the aftermath of the tragedy. These were of the same minds that demeaned their own soldiers even as the war against the LTTE reached its bloody climax.
This ‘inspiration’ formed an inexcusable ‘foot note’ to its presidential nominee’s election propaganda.

The PSC in fact torpedoed the PM. It forced him to grudgingly propel his watching, hovering and demanding deputy to contest the election. That was a palace coup and an actual conspiracy. The PM was cosmetically exposed by the PSC, and painfully cut, drawn and quartered by his own. The conspiracy had boomeranged.

The President has rejected the PSC report. His ‘Commission’ may be still born after 16 November. The PM quickened the anticipation of the people when he said he was ready to be hung with everyone else in parliament but not by himself. Finally the injection of a desperately conjured conspiracy theory sealed the PSC fate. Compromised members, ridiculously pathetic, incorrect, ignorant, misinformed and biased observations and conclusions will surely see this report unceremoniously dumped at the garbage cemetery, Meethotamulla.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin's Column:     P S C Report on Easter Sunday (21 April 2019) Massacre
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