Colombo Telegraph

A Note To Nisha Biswal On Accountability And Patience

By Malinda Seneviratne –

Malinda Seneviratne

Assistant Secretary of USA for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal, currently visiting Sri Lanka, has issued a warning.  The lady, sent here by President Barack Obama, says ‘if Sri Lanka doesn’t make meaningful progress in addressing the accountability issues, the patience of the international community on Sri Lanka will start to wear thin and urged Sri Lanka to take some “concrete steps” to address the issue of human rights, accountability and reconciliation process’.

‘Accountability’ is the word here.  ‘International Community’ is the definer.  ‘Patience’ is the commodity in short supply.  And charity begins at home, they say.

President Obama is a man of words (which, by the way, is not the same thing as ‘a man of his word’).  On Wednesday the 13th of May, 2009, Obama urged ‘both sides in Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war to take measures to avert a humanitarian crisis and aid tens of thousands of people trapped in the war zone.’ ‘Without urgent action this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe,’ he worried. “Now is the time to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men, women and children who are innocently caught in the cross fire, to put them first,” he pontificated.

Obama probably knew and still knows the meaning of the word ‘catastrophe’ and one assumes that Biswal does so too. So let’s talk catastrophe.  Policy-driven catastrophe.  Ms Biswal might have heard that around the time that Sri Lankan forces are supposed to have committed war crimes, the US Air Force dropped bombs in Bala Boluk, Afghanistan, killing some 150 people. That’s just one of thousands of such policy-driven, systematic crimes against humanity.  She knows of Drone Attacks.  She knows about how her country bombed Iraq into the middle ages, when thousands of air sorties dropped millions of tons of bombs on places where there were millions of civilians. I am being brief here by the way. But briefly, let me remind Nisha (and the world) that US-led sanctions on Iraq caused the death of half a million Iraqi children.

She knows that her government maintains over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories, and that’s not counting the on-going wars including the non-declared troop deployments in subversive actions to gift democracy (read ‘instability, submission, anarchy’) to certain selective Arab nations.  She knows of abuses and usurpations of American standing armies and they include rape, murder, sexual harassment, robbery and other crimes such as the seizure of people’s lands, destruction of property and cultural imperialism.  All this is not catastrophe-recipe, is it catastrophe-ongoing [if unpunished, uncompensated crimes is the subject, the international community would have nothing else to do but investigate, investigate and investigate the USA let’s not forget – that’s catastrophe-past-tense].

But let’s forget it all.  Let’s go back to accountability.  Nisha must have heard that the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, Nick Clegg, confessed that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. She knows also that the whole Iraq adventure was about WMDs or Weapons of Mass Destruction.  A country was invaded after obtaining the green light of the US citizenry through their elected representatives who were told that Iraq possessed WMD. It was a lie and those who uttered it knew they were lying. And today, more than a decade later, Obama cannot straighten his twisted tongue to admit the fact.

So let’s get to this accountability business.  And also ‘credible, transparent, domestic investigative mechanisms’.  Dear Ms Biswal, is there such an entity back in the USA that’s inquiring into the invasion of Iraq on the basis of a deliberate lie? Is there an entity that is inquiring into the systematic use of torture on political prisoners?  Is there an entity that is inquiring into deliberate and indiscriminate bombing of civilian populations?

We don’t know and we don’t know if Ms Biswal knows or if she does whether she would tell us.  But the world knows that her president announced to block the release of photographs documenting American military personnel torturing detainees in Iraq, in a reversal of an understanding given earlier. The justification is that releasing such photographs would demoralize his troops. So it seems that Mr. Obama, who has ‘eyes’ to see ‘catastrophes’ where none exist, does not have eyes to see the catastrophes his country orchestrated and perpetuated and worse, wants to world to close its eyes as well.

So when Ms Biswal meets the press, someone might ask her a few questions.

How many WMDs did US and allied trooped find in Iraq?

Nick Clegg said the invasion was illegal.  It is known that there was absolutely no evidence of anything warranting an invasion but the US Congress and Senate were deliberately misled into believing otherwise.  Is there any mechanism to investigate how all this happened?

President Obama himself has said ‘don’t talk to us about such things’, clearly implying that the USA is not willing to subject itself to the kind of international scrutiny it demands for when it comes to other countries. But in the clear absence of a credible, transparent domestic mechanism to investigate these crimes against humanity (and here we are talking about concrete evidence and not allegations made by people totally dependent on hearsay and that too from unreliable sources such as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers), is an international investigation, distasteful as it may be, the only way to get to the truth?

One can get away with murder (as the USA has) when one is judge, jury and court reporter. But Ms Biswal must understand that at this end of this political economy of justice, the general perception is that the world has too much colonial posturing and too little reason.

In other words, the leaders of this country are answerable. They are answerable to the people of this country.  They are not answerable to a bunch of terrorist who use wealth and weapons to convince the world that the rivers of blood they make flow are the inevitable juices that give life to democracy, peace, civilization etc.

And that brings us to ‘patience’.  The world, Nisha, has been patient over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, not to mention the D-Day massacres.  The world has been patient over your country’s use of chemical weapons in Vietnam and other unhappy places.  The world has been patient about CIA operatives disguised as diplomats sowing discord, fermenting anarchy. We have watched patiently as the USA toppled one democratically elected head of state after another in Latin America and while it moved to install despots instead.  We have watched tyrannies being propped up, monarchies having their lifespan extended and the most ruthless autocrats being embraced as benefactors of humankind by your leaders, Obama included.

And we have patiently observed the machinations of your ‘friendly-to-Sri-Lanka’ government in Geneva and elsewhere, even as it continues to perpetrate horrific crimes against humanity across the globe.  Do you think that we think that if this Government cures itself of all its ills you will get off our national back?  No. We have no illusions.  That’s a discard that accrues, paradoxically, when people have been as patient for as long as we have.  In fact, the one concrete thing that will result from these games people like you play, is the further strengthening of the regime.  Perhaps that’s what you want?

So, spare the lectures.  Spare the tuition classes.  Say your piece, by all means.

*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at

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