The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon
Part 17

Sachi Sri Kantha
[06 October 2001]

Emerging Truth in the Terrorist Label

One of my favorite scientist-cum-authors is Harvard University’s Stephen Jay Gould. One of his book reviews was given the caption ‘The quack detector’. In it, he wrote,

“Beleaguered rationalism needs its skilled debaters – writers who can combine wit, penetrating analysis, sharp prose, and sweet reason into an expansive view that expunges nonsense without stifling innovation, and that presents the excitement and humanity of science in a positive way.” [in An Urchin in the Storm, 1987, pp.240-246]

I have taken this message as my motto, and sharpened my skills whenever an opportunity arises to present the Tamil point of view. My recent comparison of the editorial musing of the Island newspaper editor [see, The Pirabhakaran Phenomenon – Part 16] to that of beggar’s stinking farts was an example along this line. Sometime back, I was engaged in a similar exercise with the editorial of the Asiaweek magazine, which also dealt with Pirabhakaran and terrorism.

Terrorism and Truth

In an unsigned editorial, the Asiaweek magazine of November 30, 1994, [‘Keeping the Lid On: In the war against terrorists, Truth is the Best Weapon’] included Pirabhakaran’s name and Tamil Tigers were cited. It appeared a month following Gamini Dissanayake’s assassination. The opening paragraph of this editorial stated:

“Which of the following have engaged in terrorism – (a) Tamil Tigers, (b) Sri Lanka, (c) Irish Republican Army, (d) Britain, (e) Palestine Liberation Organization, (f) Israel? Many would probably finger the groups or governments they don’t like or those espousing causes they don’t agree with. Some people, horrified at the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to Mr.Yassir Arafat, the PLO leader, would have no qualms about embracing Mr.Gerry Adams, the president of the IRA’s political arm Sinn Fein. ‘Terrorism’, Mr.Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s rightist Likud Party, once explained, ‘is the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends.’ That definition would cover a spectrum of brutality, from totalitarian arrests, torture and executions to airline hijackings and mid-metropolis bombings. Too often, however, governments and opinion shapers pick and choose the carnage to condemn, allowing some but not others to justify the ruthlessness of their means with the righteousness of their ends.”

In the concluding two paragraphs of the editorial, the editorialist observed the role of media in combating terrorism, as follows:

“The media have been criticized for playing into terrorists’ hands by giving them prime-time coverage and, many times, seeming to side with them, at least in their aspirations. Yet news and commentary can also provide an effective weapon against terrorism: truth. Central to the environment that spawns and sustains terrorism is the web of deceit spun by propaganda, politicking and popular misconception. Keen to have their people rallying behind them, many governments perpetuate the myth that their opponents are madmen bent on senseless violence. Terrorist groups draw moral and material succor from the fiction that their acts will eventually bring victory. Many like the suicide bombers of Tiger supreme Velupillai Prabhakaran see heroism, not bestiality, in the explosive havoc they wreak on innocent bystanders.

Ordinary citizens are often ignorant of the underlying animosity and injustice giving rise to conflict. So are the leaders and constituents of powerful countries that can positively influence a fractious situation. By clarifying the issues and reporting the facts, the media take the crucial peace-making role which only an impartial observer can play. That requires, of course, a staunchly objective eye disabused of partisan misinformation, much of it from the media themselves. While the news may not always tell the truth about terrorists, it is the only line of defense against the lies that keep their guns loaded and their ranks growing.”

While these last two paragraphs contained little vignettes of truth, still I felt that they mixed a load of self-serving applause for the media and subtle condemnation on Pirabhakaran’s adopted strategy in his war against the Sri Lankan state. Thus, I engaged the editor of Asiaweek by sending a response to the above-mentioned editorial.

Unlike my recent experience with the Island newspaper’s editor, a mangled version of my correspondence was published in the Asiaweek subsequently. I place both the mangled version and the original version of my response, to prove that the ‘staunchly objective impartiality’ preached by the Asiaweek editorialist was a mirage.

Mangled version of my response:

“In my opinion your sermon, ‘In the War Against Terrorists, Truth is the Best Weapon’, belongs to the world of fairies and angels (‘Keeping the Lid On, Editorials, Nov.30). I live in a real world where the truth is always hidden or restrained from revealing its naked beauty.

Truth is massaged and masked by the media in many countries. Truth is also decorated by almost every practicing politician on this globe according to his or her fancy.

It is an open secret that the intelligence services of many countries manufacture or clone truths according to their whims. So you have the alphabet soup of CIA, (formerly the) KGB, MI6, Mossad, RAW and ISI working overtime to manipulate the political, ethnic and religious frictions prevailing in many countries. I find it perplexing that in your sermon, you have not bothered to mention these creators of ‘cloned truths’.” [Asiaweek, January 6, 1996]

In the original version of my response, I had specifically mentioned about Pirabhakaran, since the editorial itself had mentioned his activities by name. But this had been clipped by editorial scissors. Thus, I reproduce the original version of my letter, dated December 3, 1994, which I entitled as, ‘Truth and its many incarnations’.

Truth and its many incarnations (original version)

“In my opinion, your sermon that ‘In the War against terrorists, truth is the best weapon’, belongs to the world of fairies and angels. I live in real world where the truth is always hidden or restrained from revealing its naked beauty.

Truth is massaged and masked by the media in many countries, of which Singapore is an extreme example. To sell a thousand copies in Singapore, many competing international journals would compromise real truth for ‘massaged truth’. Have you forgotten that recently your sister paper, Time, received a reprimand and apologized for shading the truth in its depiction of football great O.J.Simpson in its cover? Even Asiaweek sometimes twists the truth to suit its stand. For example, in a foot-note to my [previously] published letter, you have stated that you did not include the name of JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera in the list of Sri Lanka’s prominent assassination victims, because that list was ‘confined to political, civic and military leaders’. The massaged truth in your explanation is easily recognizable to all Sri Lankans, since Rohana Wijeweera was a politician and he even contested the 1982 presidential election.

Truth is also decorated by almost every practising politician in this globe according to his or her fancy. Show me a politician who trumpets the truth in its naked beauty and I will show you a saint. Even the reputation of a living saint like Mother Teresa has come under attack recently due to her past cozying with politicians who have had a penchant for truths of dubious variety.

More seriously, it is an open secret that the Intelligence services of many countries ‘manufacture or clone’ truths according to their whims. So you have the alphabet soup of CIA, (formerly) KGB, MI6, MOSSAD, RAW and ISI working overtime to manipulate the political, ethnic and religious frictions prevailing in many countries. I find it perplexing that in your sermon, you have not bothered to mention the questionable roles played by these Intelligence agencies as creators of ‘cloned truths’. But, you have identified Yassir Arafat, Gerry Adams and Velupillai Prabhakaran as representatives of ‘terrorists’.

I wonder why have you not written a word about the types of truths the CIA and MOSSAD had spread in the past about Mr.Arafat, or how the truth manufacturing department of MI6 works round the clock to slander the IRA or how RAW released a truth about the violent death of Prabhakaran in the jungles of Vanni five years ago. If you have a sincere campaign to abolish all the Intelligence agencies in the world to save the real truths from their ‘cloned creations of truths’, you can count on me to raise my hand.”

In my above-listing of Intelligence agencies, I did not include the FBI, since by turf designation, its area of influence lies within the borders of USA. This letter was written in December 1994, and Pirabhakaran’s LTTE did not appear in FBI’s scanning radar then. This brings me to the discussion on LTTE’s designation as a terrorist organization in the USA in 1997.

Emerging Truth in LTTE’s 1997 designation as a terrorist organization in the USA

“There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.”

- Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

LTTE’s designation as a terrorist organization in the USA, came to be applied first in October 1997. Representatives of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government, Sri Lanka’s muffled press, Chennai hacks, New Delhi’s Intelligence wallahs, and Sinhalese bureaucrats and expatriates have their own truths on why LTTE received the ‘terrorist organization’ designation. But my take is that the LTTE’s designation as a ‘terrorist organization’ in the USA resulted due to the turf battle between FBI, and Clinton administration, with the US State Department playing the role of an intermediary and also sanctioning the interests of American private military companies.

Unlike other journalists, ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ (especially the self-styled LTTE expert Rohan Gunaratna), I do not rely on confidential and secretive sources. Even I do not have access to these confidential sources. As an academic, I scrounge the news media for open and published sources of facts and analyses and then try to fit the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. This is my finding.

(1) Karl Inderfurth’s testimony

At the Clinton Administration’s Policy toward South Asia Hearing before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations (House of Representatives, 105th Congress of USA, October 22, 1997), the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South Asian Affairs, Mr.Karl Inderfurth made the following observations:

“…In Sri Lanka last year, we had a $3 million aid program and a two-way trade with over $1.5 billion. Trade, not aid, is the wave of the future… In Sri Lanka, where heavy fighting between government and LTTE forces continues, the United States supports a negotiated political settlement to the conflict. Last week’s massive bomb attack in Colombo only underlines the importance of ending the fighting. We believe the Sri Lankan Government’s wide-ranging proposals for constitutional reform are a solid basis for a peaceful solution to this tragic conflict. Earlier this month we designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization for the purposes of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. We call upon the LTTE to stop its indiscriminate attacks and support a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Sri Lanka.”

Mr.Doug Bereuter, one of the committee members, raised the issue of LTTE to Mr.Inderfurth for additional clarification, as follows:

Mr.Doug Bereuter: Just a few minutes ago, you mentioned the designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organization. I think all of us in Congress were pleased to see the Administration release that list of terrorist organizations. Our expectation would be that this will place a cramp on their fund raising opportunities in this country…How do we now plan to react to past Sri Lankan Government’s request for assistance, and how specifically will our domestic law enforcement agencies attempt to implement the requirements of the act, of the list that has been promulgated under the act which lists the LTTE as a terrorist organization?”

Mr.Inderfurth’s response was,

“Mr.Chairman, with respect to the terrorist designation, this is a domestic matter. This relates to what we will do within our country with respect to fundraising by LTTE organizations or sympathizers. It will relate to visas. It will relate to assets that can be dealt with here. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies will be pursuing this – indeed, already are. So the terrorist designation does not speak to any further cooperation we may have with the Government of Sri Lanka. It very much relates to what we will do in this country.

Now with respect to the Sri Lankan Government, we do have a normal, strong, bilateral relationship with them. We have made it clear to them that we do not have any view that we should become engaged directly in their insurgency and in terms of any provision of military assistance. On the other hand, we have a normal bilateral relationship where we do have training programs with their military. We do have supply relationships, and we will continue those. But in terms of their insurgency and their war in the North dealing with the LTTE, this is something that is very much a Sri Lankan matter, but we will do what we can within the confines of our law to assist.”

The points to be reiterated in Mr.Inderfurth’s testimony are as follows:

(1)  “with respect to the terrorist designation, this is a domestic matter. This relates to what we will do within our country with respect to fund raising by LTTE organizations or sympathizers.”

(2)  “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies will be pursuing this – indeed, already are.”

(3)  “So the terrorist designation does not speak to any further cooperation we may have with the Government of Sri Lanka. It very much relates to what we will do in this country [USA]”.

(4)  “in terms of their insurgency and their war in the North dealing with the LTTE, this is something that is very much a Sri Lankan matter.”

To these, should be added the following facts.

Fact 1: No record exists in documentation or hearsay of a single American individual dying due to LTTE’s violent activities in Sri Lanka or elsewhere since 1983. But, Rev.Eugene J.Hebert (an American Jesuit missionary, originally from Jennings, Lousiana) had lost his life in Batticaloa in 1990, due to the repressive terror of the Sri Lankan state’s army personnel. Later when I analyse the LTTE’s operation in the Eastern Eelam, I will present the ‘last letter’ written by this missionary.

Fact 2: No record exists in documentation or hearsay about Pirabhakaran preaching anti-American sentiments to his cadres.

Fact 3: FBI’s annual budget in 1993 was 2.0 billion US dollars. By 1998, it reached 3.0 billion US dollars. Currently the FBI budgest stands at 3.6 billion US dollars. [cover story in the U.S.News & World Report, June 18, 2001, p.17].

Fact 4: ‘Terrorism’ was the theme song FBI played to the decision makers in the Capitol Hill to receive funding. The cover story on FBI which appeared in the U.S.News & World Report of June 18, 2001 stated, “The engine driving the budget increases, of course, is terrorism. Since 1993, the FBI’s counter-terrorism budget has exploded, from $77 million to $376 million. The biggest increases came after the carnage wrought by McVeigh in Oklahoma City. Just recently, Freeh [the ex-Director of FBI, who was a President Clinton appointee] asked for an additional $26 million to expand a joint terrorism strike force. Not surprisingly, the terrorism pitch is a winning one on Capitol Hill.”

Fact 5: When LTTE was first designated as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the US State Department in October 1997, LTTE was not even banned in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan ban on LTTE came in February 1998, following the damage to Dalada Maligawa compounds.

(2) FBI’s role

Almost a month before the US News & World Report cover story on the current status of FBI, the New Yorker magazine of May 14,2001 carried a profile of the recently retired FBI’s boss Louis Freeh in its ‘Annals of Politics’ column. It was authored by Elsa Walsh. Some factual information presented in this profile of Freeh reinforced in me the consequences of the political tug of war between Freeh’s FBI and the Clinton administration, which came to affect the LTTE. Though Freeh was appointed to the position by President Clinton, their relationship lost cordiality soon after and they were not in talking terms, not for weeks or months – but for years! Some excerpts: 

“Freeh noted in his retirement statement that during his tenure [i.e., between 1993 and mid 2001] the Bureau [FBI] has more than doubled its overseas presence… By the time he leaves, at the end of June, Freeh, …has overseen the largest expansion of the FBI in the agency’s history, and assured its central role in national-security issues, very possibly becoming more powerful than J.Edgar Hoover… 

Relations between Freeh and the Clinton White House soon deteriorated, beginning with Freeh’s criticism of White House efforts to involve the FBI in the Administration’s decision, in 1993, to fire members of the travel staff, and his public objection to the Administration’s proposed cuts in the FBI’s 1995 budget.” 

Taken together, the above facts [i.e, Karl Inderfurth’s testimony, the retired FBI director’s penchant for expanding his area of control beyond the borders of USA, and Clinton administration’s numerous scandals – sexual and political – and diversionary bullying tactics] led me to infer that for the FBI to receive additional annual funding from federal budget, it had to show ‘targets’ which it was intending to pursue. And LTTE became one of the 30 ‘nominally acceptable targets’ to be included in the US State Department’s list of ‘Foreign Terrorist Organizations’. This situation may persist until the Eelam Tamils generate a vigorous political lobby in the USA. One should note that the power players of American politics hesitate to label the Irish Republican Army as a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ since the Irish vote lobby is powerful.

(3) Role of US State Department

The US State Department’s role in sanctioning (in a limited range, so as not to embarrass the American presidency) was also revealed in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio National program, which aired on June 15, 1997. The focus of this weekly investigative documentary program, produced by Stan Correy, on that day was private military companies. Full transcript has appeared in the internet.

Relevant sections on the consultancy for the Sri Lankan army by the Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which is an American ‘gun for hire’ soldier company and the comments of Stan Correy (the producer), David Isenberg (of the Center for Defence Information in Washington DC), Paul Harris (a British correspondent), and General Ed Soyster (MPRI’s spokesman) are provided below.

“Stan Correy: The other big company is MPRI – Military Professional Resources Inc. They began business in 1988, when a group of ex-Pentagon Generals decided to put their expertise out for hire.

David Isenberg: They are a completely private sector organization, albeit with extensive contacts with the public sector, the US military, government and defence establishment… they’re squeaky clean, they don’t do anything which isn’t fully vetted and scrutinized and approved by the relevant US government agencies, and the US State Department…

Stan Correy: MPRI’s success as a corporate army role model comes about because of its work in Croatia in 1995.

Paul Harris: The Croats launched an offensive simultaneously on seven or eight fronts and this is not from the old Warsaw Pact textbook, this offensive was straight from the NATO textbook. And I believe that the Croats were quite up to reading military strategy and doing this on their own. Now by coincidence, MPRI had for a couple of years been training the Croatian army. MPRI of course would stoutly deny to you that they were in any way involved in this offensive, but equally I think it’s naïve to take that at face value, and to me the offensive bore all the hallmarks of a western-style planned military strategy.

Stan Correy: MPRI do deny that they led the campaign in Krajina. General Ed Soyster is MPRI’s spokesman. He is also a former head of defence intelligence for the US military… However the ‘guns for hire’ label does still [hangs] around MPRI. The phrase ‘US military advisor’ has a rather nasty echo in recent US history. After all, it was US military advisors who began the protracted US involvement in Vietnam. So when it leaked out last year [1996] that private American advisors, identified as MPRI, were said to be taking a contract to train soldiers in one of modern Asia’s civil wars, media alarm bells began to ring.

Paul Harris explains how it all started at a going-away party in Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Paul Harris: MPRI were involved in drawing up I understand, a long-term training strategy for the Sri Lankan army, a program which would vastly improve its capability. Well the news of this started to leak out after a drinks party at which the retiring commander of the Sri Lankan army, possibly had one over the odds. He revealed that America was coming to the assistance of the Sri Lankans, and he rather let the cat out of the bag. It was very embarrassing to the American Embassy in Colombo, and for those of us who knew how many beans made five, it’s quite clear that MPRI was involved, that the US government was involved at a more official level, and the bottom line was that the Americans withdrew from Sri Lanka, announced that withdrawal at the end of August [1996], beginning of September last year in a run-up of course, to Presidential elections [of 1996]. And the White House was extremely concerned about publicity which the actions were getting in Washington, and they felt obliged to publicly say that ‘We’re not getting involved in another Asian adventure’. They might have added, ‘in the run-up to an election’. People in the US State Department told me, ‘Nothing to do with us, it must be those MPRI people’. And of course MPRI said, ‘Oh well, we’re not involved’. And so everybody was using the presence of the other, as you might say, to dodge the column.

Stanley Correy: Paul Harris. Well, General Ed Soyster doesn’t want to dodge the column’. Yes, MPRI did go to Sri Lanka, but the contract to train the Sri Lankan army was never signed.

Ed Soyster: We were contacted by the Sri Lankan government. In fact I personally went to Sri Lanka with another officer in the company, and discussed the possibility for training there. That contract, like any other business arrangement, was not signed. We did have a license from our State Department because of the nature of the training that we were going to provide, to conduct a training. But like any business, I don’t know any business contractor that goes out on every opportunity and comes back with a contract. So we’ve done no work there. Two of us were there for about a week with discussions, and that’s our total involvement in Sri Lanka.

Stan Correy: I suppose what people are saying is because you are a US company and have the military background, and do work by the State Department, your presence could be seen as American involvement.

Ed Soyster: It certainly could be, because we are Americans. But again I would emphasise that MPRI’s a private company; we’re not a proxy for the government; we do work directly for our own army. They’ve have crossed the bridge and recognized that this is a very good way to receive training. But we are not supported by the government in any way, not one nickel of US money has every gone to any effort of MPRI overseas.

David Isenberg: A company like MPRI stands at the pinnacle of this new hierarchy of private sector military firms. There’s intense interest, because on the one hand they are private, and independent, but on the other hand they are very close to the US government military elite. In fact all their overseas contracts are vetted by the State Department. Couldn’t they very easily become another arm of the US government, doing what the State doesn’t want to do directly with its own military?…”

After reading this transcript, especially the comments of General Ed Soyster, one can infer that the Gen.Soyster has not denied the link his MPRI company had with the US State Department. First he had asserted that “We did have a license from our [US] State Department because of the nature of the training that we were going to provide, to conduct a training.” Subsequently he also informed that “We’re not a proxy for the government; we do work directly for our own army.” Mr.David Isenberg had also corroborated this fact with the statement, “they [MPRI] don’t do anything which isn’t fully vetted and scrutinized and approved by the relevant US government agencies, and the US State Department.”

My inference is that during the 1996-97 period, the then US State Department officials played a double role; it had to cover the derriere of the scandal-ridden Clinton administration so that Clinton-Gore ticket’s chances of re-election for the second term against Dole-Kemp ticket was not fumbled, and it also had to provide ‘business opportunities’ for the ‘gun-for-hire’ companies like MPRI. The outcome was adding the LTTE to its ‘foreign terrorist organization’ list in 1997.

The oft-suggested reasons for this 1997 American action against the LTTE, such as the ‘long record of LTTE’s atrocities’, Lakshman Kadirgamar’s active international campaigning for strictures against LTTE and the Sinhalese expatriate community’s powerful backing of some US Congressional leaders are merely half-truths.

How did Pirabhakaran cope with this setback? Since four years have passed, one can see that he did not take any rash and impulse-oriented decisions to confront the American policy. In this, he had shown maturity in leadership. He knew who his adversaries were (and are), and Americans are not in his list of adversaries. I wonder whether he could have thought that the 1997 labeling as ‘foreign terrorist organization’ by the US State Department was nothing but a painful thorn in his flesh. A guerrilla warrior who has survived in jungles also would have learnt something about how to extricate the thorn without compounding the pain. (Continued)