Reporting War. Outrageous Obfuscations during the Last Phase of Eelam War IV

Michael Roberts

The demand for news and the monies generated in mass media mean that journalists attempt to cover modern wars at close quarters. Access to war fronts is dictated by many factors, including location and access as well as the nature of the war terrain. Access to locations where the battle-lines are fluid and changing may be easier than those with definitive war-fronts, though such conditions can turn out to be more fatal – as Western reporters in Libya and Marie Colvin discovered in Syria in 2011/12.

Adie  Colvin Nesmann Birtley

Governments and military commanders are wary of allowing reporters access to the cutting edge of battles because some of the details in their reportage may provide clues to an impending assault. Take a hypothetical example drawn from common sense: if, perchance, Reporter Tadpole indicated that a particular commando regiment was at Point X, the enemy side would realise that an assault was imminent near point X.

Situation Map–6 March 2009

In her presentation to the National Press Club in Australia in January 2013 the famous British war-journalist Kate Adie indicated that the US government enforced government control though a strict accreditation process to their armed forces. Yet, in the spirit of secular fundamentalism that is coursing through Western society today, she insisted that “viewers have the right to know what is done in their name during war” (Roberts, “Kate Adie….,” 2014a). To what extent this ideal is permitted in practice along the battlefronts in the Middle East and Afghanistan where Western and Israeli forces have been involved in military action in recent years is a question I raise without the ability to provide an answer.

Where the Western governments are not directly engaged in battles but have political interests, this principle is vehemently pursued by powerful Western media chains and Western reporters. Indeed, some journalists in such situations can assume a God-given right to assess the war situation – adopting the voice of “Orientalist” arrogance in the sense pinpointed by Edward Said with reference to the intellectual constructions of the era commanded by Western imperialism.[1]

Allowing for important exceptions (see below), this phenomenon was revealed in the full by many Western journalists reporting on Eelam War IV in 2008/09. Guided in part by their readings of past history and the impact of the pogrom of July 1983, many of these journalists tended to see the SL Tamils as an oppressed entity. They readily bought into the clever strategy devised by the LTTE and its many supporters abroad from mid-2008: namely, that there was “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” hanging over the three lakhs or so of Tamil civilians[2] trapped in the declining space of Thamililam.[3]

Images providing some sense of the conditions in the “Last Redoubt” along the coast –mostly from TamilNet (supplied by Citizen Silva)

 

This image, significantly was dated 1 May 2009

Most of these journalists, media chains, intellectuals and concerned Westerners neglected one fact: the Tamil population had been encouraged to move eastwards into continuously declining space because they could (a) constitute so many sandbags in a defensive formation of bodies and (b) provide the foundation for the picture of a catastrophe and thereby (c) prompt international intervention. The Tamil civilians, in other words, were a mass of bargaining chips (Roberts, “Generating Calamity,” 2014). As indicated to a friend abroad by the Tiger political chief Pulidēvan in early 2009: Just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died in Sri Lanka the world would be forced to step in” (quoted in Harrison 2012: 63).

In buying into this strategy, USA, Norway, the EU, BBC and the Western and a whole phalanx of humanitarian agencies became de facto allies of the LTTE. So, too, did many – but not all –Western journalists. The crux of this thinking was set out in the Sunday Leader on the 8th March 2009 by Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives

“Whilst it is necessary, correct and safer and non-controversial to slam the LTTE for its barbaric excesses, the GOSL has yet to convincingly rebut the charges that its artillery has hit medical facilities, civilians within and outside the no fire zone and that its strategy in the face of the humanitarian catastrophe in the Wanni is driven by military considerations to the point that it is better described as one of elimination of the LTTE and its support base, rather than one of containment which accords civilian protection the priority it deserves and demands in these and all other circumstances.

In other words, the government was asked to cease using artillery (amidst complaints directed at the lack of information from a “hermetically sealed” war zone). He did not, however, insist that the LTTE should also cease using mortar and artillery fire.[4]

It follows that the broad thrust of most Western journalists seeking entry to the ongoing facts of Eelam War IV was directed by these understandings of the context. Some Western journalists in Colombo, with Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press as point man, told the Western world that it was a “a war without witnesses” (a characterisation that Saravanamuttu supported via a reference to “a hermetically sealed” war zone).

The picture painted by Nessman and others was grey if not black. They indicated that they were denied access and they could not witness the fighting. This was a partial lie. GSL ferried batches of foreign reporters to the rear battle theatre on several occasions. A list of these organised day-trips and personnel ferried is available. These “conducted tours” increased after Kilinochchi town was captured circa 1 January 2009. These were short stays and they were not even taken to the perimeter of the frontlines (with some important exceptions such as Tony Birtley’s footage for Al-Jazeera in January and February 2009 and the experiences of Muralidhar Reddy and Kanchan Prasad in mid-May 2009). Though the reporters could observe battlefield detritus, the degree of discernment thus secured is in question (as indicated in reviews that I have collected this month from a few journalists). For good military reasons access to the ongoing battle arenas was not permitted or highly restricted.

The LTTE, however, deployed the medical doctors and Tamil NGO functionaries to feed a steady stream of battlefield events and casualties to the principal Western media outfits by satellite phone. As the Indian reporter Balachandran notes, these “reports were exaggerated and were a tissue of lies” (email, 12 October 2017).

Blind Freddie would have understood that such stories were adhering to the LTTE’s grand strategy: namely, to evoke Western intervention to save the civilians and prevent a catastrophe. As Reddy evaluates this phenomenon in retrospect: “Amazingly all the doctors in the field were not only armed with satellite phones but happily accessible to Colombo journalists. [Few] Colombo based journos [raised questions as to how] doctors amid all the blood and gore could spare time to speak to journalists. It is their version of the battle zone which dominated the world space that time. Every single person of my tribe outside Sri Lanka has never bothered to wonder how come every single doctor and the auxiliary staff emerged unscathed from the battle zone” (email to Roberts, December 2013).

Gethin Chamberlain of the Guardian had been taken to the rear war-front on 26th March 2009, but told readers on the 13th May 2009 that the doctors “were the eyes and ears of the world” (Waidyatilake 2012). Of the 25 articles on the war in Sri Lanka over April and May, nine Guardian headlines used words attributed to the doctors, while 20 articles referred to the accusations of widespread bombing and heavy casualties (Waidyatilake 2012).

At the centre of this tale was Jewish American Ravi Nessman, heading the powerful Associated Press agency in Colombo. On the 18th February 2009, an interview with Nessman in Colombo was broadcast live to Americans on the Tavis Smiley[5] show. Here are some excerpts of his presentation:  This is a very difficult story to cover as a journalist. …so all of these accusations are fly back and forth a lot of it … is based on scattered reports that we are getting ,….we hear reports of battles that are rumoured that may or may not even be happening , massive casualties on one side, massive casualties on the other…. I can’t tell you if the…. if the Tamil Tigers even retain a conventional fighting component right now … or are still maintain a massive army up there. We have absolutely no idea.”

Nessman had in fact been taken to the front in late 2008 and again circa 27th January 2009 and we are fortunate to have Kanchan Prasad’s pictorial evidence of him interviewing a senior officer, Nandana Udawatte, on the latter occasion. So, his TV talk was leavened by a lie. We are entitled to ask: “what did he discover then in late January 2009?” Maybe not much — as some of those who were taken on trips suggest. But what did Associated Press and other reporters do with their lines of contact with SL Army officials and with fellow reporters such as Balachandran, Isara Kodikara and Reddy.[6] Did they tap into the reports in The Hindu, Frontline, Dawn and other foreign outlets or attend to the revealing Al Jazeera video footage presented by Tony Birtley (2009a & 2009b)?

The conjecture that flows from this set of circumstances suggests that a coterie of Western reporters in Colombo and some UN officials (including its media officer Gordon Weiss) had shut themselves off in some attic and were only on the look-out for news that would support a “ceasefire” and “a humanitarian pause.”

This was the main thrust of their reportage in late April and May 2009 after the SL Army penetrated the “Last Redoubt” held by the LTTE on the 18/19th April (releasing over 100,000 Tamil personnel[7] initially).  On Wednesday April 22nd  Western ambassadors and a number of journalists were given the privilege of witnessing live aerial footage of the exodus of civilians resulting from that momentous event (see Hull 2009 and Hull & Sirilal 2009).[8]

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara (2nd L) points to a diagram that he says shows the progress of the Sri Lankan army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during a news conference at the media centre for national security in central Colombo April 22, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

Bryson Hull and his Reuters associates understood the import of this event: the “massive civilian presence in the no-fire zone had been the last crucial defense for the Tigers, who refused repeated calls from the United Nations, Western governments and neighboring India to release them. They ignored a two-day pause by the government last week” (Hull & Sirilal 2009).

Despite this corpus of evidence (and the pictorial scenarios displayed to the public by Government controlled TV stations), Nessman and AP stuck to the line that it was “a war without witnesses” when they presented snippets to the watching Western world in early May 2009. Nessman also brought Gordon Weiss[9] on board the AP campaign. Weiss went on world air through Associated Press to assert that a “bloodbath” was about to unfold in the north-eastern war zone.[10] This presentation was part of a campaign led by USA to force the government of Sri Lanka (GSL) to arrest its military operations so that the Western cabal could (a) save the Tamil civilians and (b) whisk the LTTE leadership to Eritrea, South Africa or East Timor.[11]

Facing this battery of international forces, the GSL’s propaganda programme (such as it was[12]) was totally outclassed. The international media juggernaut, HR agencies and Western governments simply swamped the GSL voices. The time and space given to Nessman and M.I.A. by Tavis Smiley in comparison with the sound-space given to Paltiha Kohona (see below) was just one instance of this mismatch.

The London and UK Front

The reports on the war situation in Sri Lanka generated reverberating currents in many areas of the Western world. By the 21st century, as we know, Sri Lankan Tamil migrants resided in significant numbers in many countries. The LTTE had set up an efficient network from the 1980s — guided initially by the organising genius of KP Pathmanathan.[13] From 2008 their web sites, newspapers and radio channels participated actively in presenting a dire picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe.” As the LTTE military machine was cornered and fighting desperately, the migrant Tamil agitation developed into fever pitch from January 2009. Demonstrations were activated in most major Western cities and those in April/May 2009 assumed histrionic levels (BBC 2009; CNN 2009 & Roberts, “One-Eyed Zealousness,” 2015).

 Agitation & Demos in London

A demonstration at Canberra

M.I. A.

This is a topic that merits monograph length study. It would be erroneous to consider the agitation to be wholly engineered by the LTTE. Many moderate Tamils would have been concerned about the fate of their brethren corralled in the war zone and were undoubtedly aroused by the stories of intensive bombardment and suffering retailed along numerous circuits. One of those who pitched in was the famous pop-star M.I.A. She appeared on the Tavis Smiley show in USA on 12th February 2009 and spoke of “the systematic genocide” occurring in Sri Lankan and indicated that no humanitarian supplies were reaching the beleaguered and starving Tamil civilians[14] – an outstanding LIE in a context where the ICRC and other NGO’s sent Convoy 11 (note the number) in January 2009[15] and thereafter hired cargo ships for at least 31 trips to the war zone between 9th February and 9th May 2009.[16] M.I.A. was possibly an ‘innocent’ purveyor of this type of propaganda bite – having been coached on these lines by ardent Tamil patriots or LTTE operatives. That is, her “Tamilness” may have rendered her into a voice of the LTTE.

One can reasonably surmise that such messages and the agitation displayed on the streets by Tamil people-in-protest would have had reverberating effects among the host populace of various Western countries. The pictorial images deployed here can only convey a limited sense of the power of the stories that were retailed in these arenas. The central point is that quite a few people in Britain, Canada, USA, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, South Africa and other countries would have been influenced by these currents of activity.

While only a minority of people in any one country would have attended to the events in Sri Lanka, their conclusions would have been informed (A) by tales conveyed by Tamil acquaintances (B) the reports in mainstream newspapers and (C) the occasional coverage on radio and TV in 2008/09.

Let me narrow my illustrations here to Britain where the reports sent by such journalists Charles Haviland of the BBC, Gethin Chamberlain of the Observer, Nick Paton-Walsh of Channel Four and Jeremy Page of The Times and Marie Colvin of the Sunday Times would have planted seeds of information within the small body of British people who paid attention to foreign events.

Haviland was located in Colombo, but Chamberlain and Paton-Walsh flew in on brief visits, while Jeremy Page was turned back at the airport on the 18th April 2009[17]  and sent his reports from abroad.[18] Marie Colvin was ensconced in London and conveying tales sent to her by the LTTE high command whom she had met and befriended in April 2001. That visit had resulted in a serious injury on her return trek through the war frontlines: she lost an eye (Colvin 2014). This disaster enhanced her status in both Leftist circles and in Tamil eyes. Indeed, grapevine stories indicate that several Tamils expressed a readiness to donate an eye towards her recovery.[19]  

However, the critical point is this: Colvin had a well-earned reputation for supporting underdog causes and her intrepid capacity to present tales of war from the centre of warring situations. In 2008/09 however, she was not at the war front in north east Sri Lanka, but ensconced in London as a senior hand at the Sunday Times and conveying whatever her friend Pulidevan (a key member of the LTTE political secretariat) and Tiger personnel were telling her.[20]

By way of illustration note a tale conveyed by her in the Sunday Times of 22 March 2009 under the caption “Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach”: A thousand amputees were among the wounded and dying waiting to be rescued from a beach in northeast Sri Lanka   yesterday, according to aid agencies.  Frightened Tamil families, the latest victims of the country’s 26-year civil war, were hiding in makeshift trenches as they came under artillery fire while waiting to be evacuated from Puthumathalan beach. …. More than 300 civilians were being killed every week in artillery or air attacks, or were dying for lack of medical care, food or water, aid agencies said. The Tamils are desperate because the last hospital in the area was forced to close after twice being bombed by the Sri Lankan army.”

It is unlikely that Colvin’s readership was alive to the fact that she had penned this report from London. At this point of time in mid-March Tammita-Delgoda had used his lineage links to gain embedded access to the battle theatre and entered the town of PTK to the west of Nandhikadal Lagoon just after it was captured. He spotted Colvin’s report of 22 March and presented a measured appraisal of the extent to which artillery was being deployed by the SL Army on the basis of his experiences around PTK, while questioning her bombast in equally measured tone (2014).[21] 

“This graphic and harrowing account is actually 2nd hand for it appears that Marie Colvin is quoting aid agencies. On this particular occasion however, she does not appear to have had direct access, been there or seen for herself…. The Sunday Times article highlights the focus which has been placed by the international media on the army’s bombardment and the resulting casualties. There is a clear propaganda value in this and the beneficiary is very definitely the LTTE.”

Scenes from PTK after it was caotured

Since this restrained comment appeared, Lord Michael Naseby has recently revealed that during his visit to Colombo in late January 2009 Lt. Col. Gash, the British Defence Attache, had told him “that he was surprised at the controlled discipline and success of the Sri Lankan army and in particular the care that it was taking to encourage civilians to escape and how well they were looked after.” (Naseby 2017).

Graphic Map composed by Daily Mirror, 24 April 2009 … an another depicting the situation that was unfolding during 7-15 May (maps sent to me by Citizen Silva)

Overview

The cumulative impact of the reportage in the West presented by Nessman, Colvin et al has been deep and been hammered in by the subsequent Channel Four video campaign against Sri Lanka as well as the decision taken by the US-led Western cabal to teach Sri Lanka a lesson for its refusal to abide by their demands at the tail-end of the war.[22] My interest is in the readings of ordinary people with an educated interest in foreign affairs: for instance, such individuals as the late Peter Roebuck and Michael Atherton.

Roebuck’s private communications in 2011/12 indicated that he had been influenced by the writings of Gordon Weiss and the Channel 4 presentations.[23] Atherton was sufficiently moved to speak out in public in support of the suggestion in mid-2011 that England should pull out of their scheduled tour of Sri Lanka – thereby adding his name to the radical Left agitations seeking to punish/denigrate Sri Lanka though the medium of cricket.[24]

Such responses among concerned Westerners have been the raison d’etre for my focus on the mistaken appraisals and the lies conveyed by such personnel as Ravi Nessman and Marie Colvin. The weight of this story-telling, I stress, has been deepened by the shortcomings – natural shortcomings I note – attached to evaluations within any readership (educated or not) that has no experience of war.

This fundamental weakness remains within the work of Michael Roberts. I began to address Eelam War IV in detail only after I heard Rohan Gunaratna address an audience at the British Council in Colombo and thought his assessment of the death toll was ridiculous low. My learning process on this subject has been slow and tedious…. And is incomplete. But as learning project I have been called on to use pictorial evidence and maps and the realities of films such as Saving Private Ryan to decipher the minutiae of war (Roberts,, “Cartographic,” 2014 f).

My education has progressed far enough for me to suggest that educated personnel such as Atherton are likely to misinterpret the circumstances because they have not attended to critical facets of the war as well as crucial details. Many Western observers are unaware

  1. That from mid-2008 or so the LTTE devised a strategic plan which painted a picture of “an impending humanitarian catastrophe” designed to draw the Western powers and HR agencies into an intervention that would save them.
  2. That around 20,000 people around the town of Mullaitivu were moved to the Nandhikadal coastal strip between Vellamullivaikkal and Puttumattalan (Jeyaraj, “Fraudulent,” 2009) in order to serve as an obstacle for any GSL amphibious operation that would box them in.
  3. That many LTTE fighters were not wearing uniforms so that the distinction between civilian and Tiger soldier was not clear (aggravated further by the continuous conscription of civilians for labour duties of a military character).
  4. That the LTTE retained considerable artillery and mortar firepower as well as munition stocks till May 2013 and deployed these resources daily (so that their decision circa 13th May to blow up their stock when defeat was nigh resulted in spectacular booms and ‘cloud cover’).[25]
  5. That the SL Army seems to have desisted from using its devastating MBRL firepower except on clear-cut situations, such as that at Aanandapuram in early April 2009 when the Tigers were spotted amassing for counter-attack in a locality with no civilians.
  6. That the SL Army and government claims that its use of heavy artillery was restrained and not indiscriminate because they were mindful of the civilian presence and the human rights spectre hovering in the sky.
  7. That the SL Army’s penetration of the Last Redoubt on the eastern coastal strip in April/May 2009 involved close quarter engagement and therefore involved relatively limited use of mortar and artillery fire.

E, F and G are tendentious claims and not easy to document, though Lt. Col Gash’s evaluation in January provides a sliver of support because of his access to satellite imagery and his experience in war. However, the cluster of points A-G are presented here to challenge educated personnel to review their attention to the tale of “civilians being continuously shelled” that has become an integral part of their appraisal – an appraisal conditioned by the power of LTTE propaganda and the jaundiced Western news reportage during the course of the war.

This list of shortcomings in the wherewithal of ‘non-partisan personnel’ who have addressed the last stages of Eelam War IV with a measure of seriousness is quite a stack. The disastrous implications are sharpened by a feature that can probably be applied to most of these personnel: namely, an office-desk background and inexperience in the nitty-gritty of warfare. This shortcoming is further compounded by a failure to recognise this fact.

Take one instance from a recent book review by Neil De Votta, a Sri Lankan political scientist of some seniority located in USA: “[the war] was no humanitarian operation. If anything, it was akin to what happened in Grozny when the Russian army flattened that city while combating Chechnya’s rebels and to what is now [October 2016] taking place in Aleppo, Syria. For Sri Lanka’s military wiped out the LTTE without differentiating between combatants and innocent civilians, going so far as to deliberately shell hospitals and the government’s designated No Fire Zones” (DeVotta 2017).

De Votta

We see here an innocent abroad who has no conception of close quarter fighting and cannot see the difficulty of distinguishing civilian and enemy fighter when they are not wearing distinctive clothes, or are inside bunkers, or hunkered in foxholes or behind barriers natural or man-made. Such an abysmal failure is compounded by swallowing the Western media reportage wholesale and a failure to discern that (a) the No Fire Zone had not been accepted by the LTTE and (b) was not legally valid because their fighting forces, including Sea Tigers, were embedded within that space and firing mortars and artillery from therein while also mounting sporadic Sea Tiger attacks.

The cumulative effect of this corpus of weaknesses is aggravated further when any appraisal of Eelam War IV is leavened by the current of secular fundamentalism that has been sweeping the Western world in recent decades. This current was (is) especially dominant in the Western and local HR agencies that attended to the war in Sri Lanka. The peace-loving moralism that is its spinal-cord generates “horror” at the [exaggerated] picture of incessant shelling to which the Tamil civilian populace in corralled space was said to be subject — with images of wounded persons and dead bodies sent by the LTTE and presented in TamilNet underlining the horror. Here, then, moralism decimated pragmatism and supported one of the most Machiavellian schemes of survival ever generated by a war-machine, the war-machine we know as the LTTE. The HR advocates and the US cabal were not mere bystanders on the sidelines, but active participants in the conflict situation. Their moralist appraisals surpass understanding.

  *** ***

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Nessman, Ravi 2009 “Interview with Associated Press Writer Ravi Nessman: AP Sri Lanka Bureau Chief,” 18 February 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2ZqLlpuLBE.

Nessman, Ravi 2009c “Satellite shows Sri Lanka shelling says rights group,” 13 May 2009, http://mg.co.za/article/2009-05-13-satellite-shows-sri-lanka-shelling-says-rights-group

Noble, Kath 2013b “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 14 July 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/numbers-game-reviewed-by-kath-noble-the-full-monty/

Peiris, Gerald H. 2010 “The Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect: Impulses, Implications and Impact,” 30 June 2010, http://www.slguardian.org/2010/06/the-doctrine-of-responsibility-to-protect-impulses-implications-and-impact/  AND https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/from%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)+OR+to%3A(geraldpeiris%40yahoo.com)/1510fc7141751033?projector=1

Perera, Suresh 2009 “British scribe deported for biased, distorted, irresponsible reporting,” Island, 19 April 2009, http://www.island.lk/2009/04/19/news6.html

Prasad, Kanchan 2011a “Indian Reporter Pics at NFZ-14-to-18 May 2009,” http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626797805167/

Roberts, Michael 2009 “Sturdy Advocacy: Marga’s Questioning of the UNPoE’s Assassination Job,” 25 November 2009, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=18544&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, M. 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-11221

[Roberts, Michael] 2014a “Kate Adie of BBC: Reporting on War & Women at War,” 2 January 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/kate-adie-of-bbc-reporting-on-war-women-at-war/

Roberts, Michael 2014bThe War in Sri Lanka: Ravi Nessman’s Slanted Story for USA on the Tavis Smiley Show, 18 February 2009,” 31 January 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/the-war-in-sri-lanka-ravi-nessmans-slanted-story-for-usa-on-the-tavis-smiley-show-18-february-200/

Roberts, M. 2014c “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2014d Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 Sept. 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/winning-the-war-evaluating-the-impact-of-api-wenuwen-ap/

Roberts, Michael 2014e Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/triuth-journalism-marie-colvin-hoist-on-her-own-petard/

Roberts, Michael 2014f “Cartographic & Photographic Illustrations in support of the Memorandum Analysing the War in Sri Lanka and Its Propaganda Debates,” 18 November 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/cartographic-photographic-illustrations-in-support-of-the-memorandum-analysing-the-war-in-sri-lanka-and-propaganda-debates/

Roberts, M. 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Roberts, M. 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Roberts, Michael 2015 “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 15 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/american-action-and-inaction-on-sri-lanka-200809-a-critical-evaluation/#more-17725

Roberts, Michael 2015Lilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/lilliputs-in-a-world-of-giants-marga-and-cha-bat-for-lanka-in-the-propaganda-war-2009-14/#more-18467

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Roberts, Michael 2016 Saving Talaivar Pirapāharan,” 6 April 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/saving-talaivar-pirapaharan/

Michael Roberts 2016 “Speaking to Gotabaya-I: Plans Afoot in 2009 to Rescue the Tiger Leadership,” 8 March 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/speaking-to-gotabaya-i-plans-afoot-in-2009-to-rescue-the-tiger-leadership/#more-20092

Roberts, Michael 2016 A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,” 16 June 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

Salter, Mark 2015 To End a Civil War. Norway’s Peace Engagement in Sri Lanka, London: Hurst & Company.

Saravanamuttu, P. 2009 “Unending End Game,” 9 March 2009, http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20090308/issues.htm

Shanmugarajah, V. 2014 Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah’s Affidavit Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel Four,” 5 January 2014,https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/drveerakanthipillai-shanmugarajahs-affidavit-description-of-conditionsin-the-vanni-pocket-in-refutation-of-channel-four/

Sunday Leader 2009 “Norwegian Ambassador denies brokering top Tigers’ escape,” 19  April 2009 http://www.thesundayleader.lk/20090419/NEWS.HTM

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 “Sri Lanka: The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudukulam,” New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare, Manekshaw Paper No. 13, http://www.claws.in/administrator/uploaded_files/1274263403MP%2022.pdf

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014b “Reading Between the Lines in April 2009: Tammita-Delgoda takes apart Marie Colvin’s jaundiced propaganda article in British newspaper,” 26 September 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/09/26/rading-between-the-lines-in-april-2009-tammita-delgoda-takes-apart-marie-colvins-jaundiced-propanda-article-in-british-newspaper/

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 “Reading between the Lines: The International Media and the Conflict in Sri Lanka. The Curious Case of the Sunday Times,” ang.com.pk/thenews/apr2009-weekly/nos-05-04-2009/pol1.htm

Times 2011 “TIMES Aerial Images, NFZ Last Redoubt, 23 May 2009,” http://www.flickr.com/ photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

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Wardrop, Murray 2012 “Syria: Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin ‘killed in Homs,” 22 Feb 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9097762/Syria-Sunday-Times-journalist-Marie-Colvin-killed-in-Homs.html

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ENDNOTES

[1] Listen to Edward Said 2012 and Chomsky 2013

[2] Note that the estimates of the number of people within the declining space of Thamililam in late 2008 and 2009 was not known and consistently underestimated by GSL as well  as NGO and Western government circles even in April 2009. Again, since a significant proportion of LTTE fighters were not wearing uniforms, the distinction between civilians and Fighters was difficult to work out –the more so in jungle or scrub terrain and at night. Since the LTTE also conscripted civilians for logistical work and fortification tasks, thereby rendering them into “belligerents” in war-related law, one can imagine the clouds hovering over the category “civilians” that was deployed as weapon in the propaganda war … and continues to be deployed.

[3] I have persistently presented this argument and sought to illustrate it via images and maps: see Roberts, “Generating Calamity,” 20134 “Saving Talaivar Pirapaharan,” 2016 and the essays and pictures in Tamil Person and Statee, 2 vols, 2014. These presentations have been consistently bypassed unread by leading scholars and media personnel – a process that indicates power inequalities in the international war of words.

[4] Note that his intervention was within a context in which the CPA and all those aligned with USA and the UN were demanding a ceasefire from both sides.

[5] Tavis Smiley (b. 1964) is a Black American and a talk show host; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tavis_Smiley

[6] These three are among the press personnel listed on the same flight with Nessman.

[7] The term “personnel” is used advisedly: the mass of ‘people’ included quite a number of LTTE fighters and some key officials such as George Master and Daya Master.

[8] I note here that my initial understanding was that this press-presentation was on the Monday 20th April, but careful study of the data from Reuters indicates that it was probably on the 22nd April. I now believe that President Rajapaksa may have seen the footage on the Monday and it was at his suggestion that a showing was arranged for ambassadors and press personnel. The absence of paper work listing the personnel selected is one indication of the ad hoc character of the GSL propaganda programme.

[9] Weiss was the media officer for the United Nations in Colombo. He resigned later in the year and went on to write a book The Cage and take a leading part in the worldwide campaign to punish Sri Lanka for war crimes. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cage_(Weiss_book).

[10] Weiss is of Polish Jewish descent, while Nessman is also of Jewish ancestry. They may possibly see the SL Tamils of recent times as an outcaste and downtrodden people. Significantly, some Tamil intellectuals in the mid-20th century had been captivated by Leon Uris’ book Exodus and likened their history with that of Jews; thus, it possible that this pitch was presented to Weiss and Nessman by some Tamils.

[11] See Wijesinghe 2017; Jeyaraj 2011; Roberts, “Saving Pirapaharan,” 2016; and Gamage 2014 — paying special attention to the statement from US State Department functionary Mike Owens in early May 2009.

[12] Indeed, Shamindra Ferdinando is quite caustic in a recent email (19 October 2017) –asserting that there was no propaganda programme at all. Whatever the merits of the Rajapaksa governments war strategy, this dimension was quite weak (admittedly, in a mis-match when set against the international media order).

[13] Pathmanathan was a Karaiyar from VVT who had been Pirapaharan’s best man at his wedding in India in 1984 and built up the LTTE’s international arms buying, shipping and networks in remarkable manner. It is possible to suggest that his displacement from this role circa 2001 – and the choice of Castro for this work – was one factor in the LTTE’s decline.

   [14] See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq4W5_jsv6k Part I – a You Tube presentation which seems to be in February 2009 [date unclear] where Tavis Smiley also interviews Dr Palitha Kohona the Foreign Secretary of the Government of Sri Lanka.

[15] See Weiss, The Cage: chap 5; Shanmugarajah 2014; Also see a criticism of Weiss’s obfuscations in the course of his subsequent activity in Australia: Roberts “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,” 16 June 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/a-puzzle-when-weiss-amnesty-international-and-aussie-greens-lie/

[16] See Roberts, TPS, Pictorial, 2014: Pics 95-98 –which include images from TamilNet, on 2nd April and 9th May. The ships were escorted and overseen by the SL Navy and brought back at least 13,794 “civilians” – of whom about one third were injured or sick.

[17] “British journalist Jeremy Page was deported from Colombo as he had been blacklisted for biased, distorted and irresponsible reporting on Sri Lanka’s battle against LTTE terror, Immigration and Emigration Chief P. Bandula Abeykoon said yesterday” – Suresh Perera 2009.

[18] Nick Paton-Walsh was also deported subsequently (June 2009?) for presenting adverse and concocted tales about the IDP camps. The slanted reportage on these camps is another chapter (see Roberts, Tamil Persons and State, 2014, 2 vols)

[19] Information from a British anthropologist who was researching charity work in the field of eyes in the decade 2001-09.

[20] Colvin moved heaven and earth to save Pulidevan and others when they contacted her in mid-May 2009 and sought valiantly to arrange a White flag surrender. This effort failed: Pulidevan and Nadesan were probably executed — see White Flag http://white-flags.org/].

[21] Tammita-Delgoda’s father had been a senior officer in the SL Army. Tammita Delgoda Junior undertook two embedded missions with Army forces and presented analytical reports that surpass the standard news reportage. His acumen was recognised by the Indian Defence Services insofar as he was invited to present a paper to the Indian Defence College.

[22] This set of issues demands a monograph. However, preliminary evaluations of USA’s bias and the efforts of UN personnel and Committees and UNHCR in Geneva to develop evidence condemning GSL can be found in Roberts, 2009; “Lilliputs,”2015 and “American Action,” 2015;  Marga 2014; Wijesinghe 2017; Peiris 2010; Gamage 2014 & 2016;

[23] Roebuck’s views were expressed briefly in emails to me. After his unfortunate act of suicide, I was planning to deploy them in a Vale in one of my web sites. However, a mishap resulted in the loss of all my gmail storage.

[23] See “Support the boycott of the SL Cricket Team,” 10 Dec. 2012, http://rac-vic.org/2012/12/10/464/

[25] Kanchan Prasad and Reddy were located at the HQ of the 58th Division under Shavendra Silva from the 13/14th to 18th May and heard the booming thunder of this demolition work and witnessed its impact on their daily visits to the locale each day. Photographs presented in the Ministry of Defence web site provide clear evidence of the destruction wrought. Note that some of these photographs were subsequently deployed by the Australian journalist, Trevor Grant to support  his picture of gargantuan bombardment of LTTE terrain by GSL forces throughout the war (2014).

2 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, australian media, authoritarian regimes, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, law of armed conflict, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, tamil refugees, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, UN reports, unusual people, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes

2 responses to “Reporting War. Outrageous Obfuscations during the Last Phase of Eelam War IV

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  2. Pingback: Fervent Faces as Signs of Extremism and Deceit? From Lakemba to Lanka | Thuppahi's Blog

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