08 April 2014

The Army teaches a lesson

As is now par for the course come Season Geneva the usual suspects in the Hang-Sri-Lanka bandwagon came up with self-labeled ‘damning’ evidence of atrocities committed by Sri Lankan security forces.  Let’s not go there, for the lie is known to liar, lied to and lied about.  Geneva is not about truth-falsehood, good-evil, justice-injustice or moral-immoral.  It’s about power.

But during that circus and among the footage duly framed as per political objectives there was one about troop training in Sri Lanka.  The footage leaked to Youtube showed a group of trainee women soldiers being harassed at an Army camp.   

The Army immediately launched an investigation into the authenticity of the footage and confirmed that it was so.  This was followed by a full scale inquiry resulting in the identification of all individuals in the video and the arrest of suspects by the Military Police. 

This is as it should be.

A country which affirmed to the last letter a globally accepted notion of zero-tolerance of terrorism cannot at any point condone any kind of terrorism, least of all by state actors.  What was depicted is not exactly terrorism, but in general a zero-tolerance of indiscipline should be a non-negotiable for all armed entities of the state.  It is to the credit of the Army top brass that no leniency whatsoever has been shown to the suspects. 

Interestingly, this very move has silenced the malicious and politically motivated forces that aired the video in the first place and marketed it thereafter.  Therein lies a lesson.  It is simple.  While it is impossible to convince the powerful in Geneva of the errors of their ways, swift action such as this does steal their thunder somewhat. 

To be fair, this is not the first time that the Army has taken action against errant soldiers.  The Army for obvious reasons does not make a song and dance about it; the USA doesn’t either, when it comes to light that deranged soldiers have opened fire on civilians.  To be further fair, this particular intervention does not indicate that the Army has been remiss in other instances where these types of violations or even worse atrocities were committed.  Simply, it does not necessarily follow and will not convince any court.

On the other hand, there are many instances where foot-dragging by relevant authorities, a scandalous preference for sweeping-under-the-carpet tactics and knee-jerk rejection of allegation in a shoot-the-messenger operative logic, severally and together severely dented integrity. 

One can learn from the USA, which quickly shoots down adverse publicity by launching an investigation. One can do better than the USA too, which draws from a cleansing lexicon that focuses on offender (typically labeled ‘mentally unstable’) and not policy and therefore marking such incidents as aberrations and not the norm (which of course is a blatant lie). 

The Sri Lankan armed forces don’t have the kind of baggage that the US forces have. This is why even the latest UNHRC Resolution has only cursory references to what happened during the war, focusing more on the post May 2009 period.  This is why the allegations are padded with many layers of conjecture, unreliability of source and Goebbelsian reiteration, one can surmise.  This however is not reason for complacency.  Indiscipline is indiscipline and should not be treated in a compare-contrast frame vis-à-vis known offenders.    

Finally, what the Army has done in this instance offers a good lesson in the treatment of all cases where authority has been abused.  We live in a country whose constitution and political culture impoverish the citizen.  The politicization of all state institutions has rendered the citizen vulnerable to the machinations of the powerful and the wealthy. 

This is why it might be too much to expect other institutions to take a leaf off the Army book when it comes to acknowledging wrong and taking immediate and remedial action.  This is why a stronger and more insistent discourse on the issue of law and order is needed.  What the Army has shown is that humility is an integral part of maintaining legitimacy in the eyes of the citizenry.  It is a hard lesson for the political leadership to learn but it is a must-learn if regime-legitimacy is to be preserved and more seriously if the country is to be insulated from the threats within and without by those who are out to subvert the national interest.




MA Huffman said...

This incident reminds me of the film GI-Jane staring the American actress, Demi Moore. What better documentation of the military culture in the US is needed. This of course does not excuse anything in Sri Lanka, but it does put it all into a different perspective. Military training is meant to be tough, but it should not be demeaning. On the other hand, such training is used to toughen soldiers to withstand humiliation by the enemy.

sajic said...

Does military training have to condone brutality? 'Tough' and 'brutal' dont have to be synonymous.