The Gash Files I: About Lt. Col. Anton Gash

Michael Roberts

Lt Colonel Anton Gash was the “Defence Adviser” attached to the British High Commission from February 2007 to June 2009 and therefore observed and commented on the ongoing war to the UK Foreign Office. In this capacity he was a key figure in organising the training given to the SL armed services on International Humanitarian Law etc, between the 3rd and 8tth March 2008 under the supervision of Commander Alan Cole. Both Cole and Gash were specifically thanked by the SL Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, on this occasion.

Of upper class background, Anton Gash was educated at Eton (1978-83), read Classics & Literature & Linguistics at Oxford (1984-88) and completed his Defence Studies at Cranfield University and Kings College over the years 1996-98.

  Lt. Col Gash meets the SL Navy

His duties in Sri Lanka involved secret despatches to his masters in London. His background would have given him some measure of the military experience required to decipher battlefield conditions[1] and he therefore had an advantage over the average news reporter conveying appraisals of the ongoing situation. He would certainly not be found guilty of the crass assessments of the type essayed by Mark Salter in his condemnation of the SL Army.[2]

His assessments have not been in the public domain till recently. However, after protracted effort Michael the Lord Naseby managed to secure access to these despatches in redacted form[3] for the House of Lords. We now have the despatches for that crucial period January to April within the public domain. The access is not wholesale: some lines and/or pages have been blacked out by the British authorities.

Nevertheless, these comments are as useful as revealing. They will be explored in depth along thematic strands during the following months.

Pertinent Questions can be raised beforehand.

Issue A: Did British Foreign Secretary David Miliband read any of these despatches before rushing across to Sri Lanka in late April with Bernard Kouchner of France to try and twist President Rajapaksa’s elbow[4]an act of old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy if ever there was one?

Issue B: Where Lt. Col. Gash does not indicate direct observations, except on one occasion.[5] So, readers will wish to know WHAT his sources were: satellite information? listening in on the military communications from both the warring parties and their units?** Dependable contacts among serving officers in the SL armed forces? …. local media personnel?  … persons embedded and trapped within LTTE controlled territory?

Lt. Col Gash with SL naval officers 

The terse and succinct language of these despatches do, however, suggest one fact: his sources were not solely dependent on any of the 207 Sri Lankan Tamil officials attached to the ten (yes, ten) NGO organisations remaining among the corralled Tamil population in remnant Thamililam in the last few months of the war.[6] That is to say, he did not rely blindly and completely on their reports of bombardment and death in the manner taken up by many British and American media personnel – from Ravi Nessman of the Associated Press in Colombo,[7] to British reporters Charles de Haviland (BBC in Colombo), Gethin Chamberlain and Jeremy Page (in Asian cities) and to — quite stunning these last instances — the UN Media Officer Gordon Weiss in Colombo and Marie Colvin in her Times office in London.[8]

As I have stressed in a previous article, the LTTE-inspired tales were even effective in Colombo where several “Western agencies swallowed the LTTE-inspired stories hook, line and sinker because they were exciting from a news point of view” (quoting a long-resident Indian reporter PK Balachandran 2015). Among those who fell into this field of gullibility was the UN media man in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, who went on air in early May 2006 speaking of “a bloodbath.”[9] Weiss’s broadcast was through Associated Press, headed in Colombo by the Jewish American Ravi Nessman, whose reports on the war from Sri Lanka were marked by simple-mindedness and the regurgitation of claims presented by Tamil NGO personnel and/or TamilNet, the LTTE’s principal web-media.

 LTTE communication centre–Pic from TamilNET

Finale

Anton Gash’s despatches therefore provide a partial corrective to the misrepresentation in these news reports. They challenge the perspectives that are still deeply embedded in the Western world because of the power of its HR agencies, media engines and Tamil migrant organisations working as a hydra-headed juggernaut.

Gash is still a serving officer attached to the British High Commission in Jamaica. It is doubtful if he can ever divulge his sources of data, but we must remain grateful for the access to his assessments of the unfolding battle and refugee scenes. Praise be to the Lord… Michael the Lord Naseby.

***  ***

Gordon Weiss    Nessman

A select group of reporters in SLAF plane bound for rear front lines Nessman interviewing Brigadier Udawatte On

A  CRITICAL ADDENDUM:

On receiving a copy of this article Michael the Lord Naseby sent me this central piece of information by email dated 2 April 2018:When I met Col . Gash in early January  2009 I gained the impression that he had very good & reliable contact with serving officers in the SL armed forces.”

SELECT REFERENCES

Balachandran, P. K. 2015 “PK Balachandran on Overt & Covert Paths in Indian and American Policies towards Sri Lanka, 2008-09,”26 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/pk-balachandran-on-overt-and-covert-faces-in-indian-and-american-policies-towards-the-sri-lankan-war-2008-09/

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.

Roberts, Michael 2013 “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,” 8 December 2013, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/bbc-blind-misreading-the-tamil-tiger-strategy-of-international-blackmail-2008-13/#more-1122

Roberts, Michael 2013 Witnesses to “the War without Witnesses” … Voiceless? Buried Foreign Reporters?” 30 December 2013,  https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/11504/

Roberts, Michael 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Roberts, Michael 2014 “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 2014 “The 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, Michael 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2016 David Miliband’s Imperious Intervention in Lanka left in Tatters,” 5 July 2016, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/david-milibands-imperious-intervention-in-lanka-left-in-tatters/

Roberts, Michael 2017 Reporters struggling with Eelam War IV: Some Recollections and Reports,” 21 October 2017, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2017/10/21/reporters-struggling-with-eelam-war-iv-some-recollections-and-reports/

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

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014Reading 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/

END NOTES

[1] Battlefield terrain varies. There is considerable difference between fighting in the northern hills of Vietnam (e.g. around Dien Bien Phu), the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts in Iraq and the scrub jungle of the northern Vanni. Even in the latter instance, the terrain around Mullativu is different from the marshy scrub of the Mannar hinterland.

[2] Salter provides this example of the SL Army’s “brutality”: “from 13 May advancing [SLA] soldiers fired or threw grenades into civilian bunkers as a ‘precaution’ against the possibility of the LTTE using them to launch attacks” (Salter 2015: 371). This comment highlights his (and Solheim’s) infantile military intelligence. Soldiers can hardly peep into every foxhole/bunker and inquire in Tamil “who goes there?” In any event, the standard infantry tactics in the face of numerous foxholes in their path is directed by the importance of speed of advance in order to deny the enemy time for redeployment.

[3] “Redaction” means: “to hide or remove (confidential parts of a text) before publication or distribution, or to examine (a text) for this purpose.” This is one out of three meanings.

[4] See Roberts 2016.

[5] One invaluable and relatively lengthy set of observations arose from Gash’s visit to the Trincomalee beach arena where an ICRC ship under SL Navy supervision was disembarking IDP refugees escorted from the LTTE arena. Gash stresses that his “presence was not planned and was based on a sudden opportunity”. That report from Gash will be presented in full soon.

** Since this article was inserted, my telephone chat with a senior retired SL Navy officer has led to the information that the UK High Commission probaly did have the capacity to tap and decipher LTTE communications. But the US embassy probably did. THE Alarmed forces also had this facility and had former Tigers and/or captured Tigers assisting the in the decoding of encrypted messages.

[6] Data in Gash, Confidential Despatch, 7 April 2009.

[7] See Roberts, “… Nessman’s Slanted Story for USA on the Tavis Smiley Show,” 18 February 2009,”  2014 and Roberts “Reporters struggling with Eelam War IV,” 21 October 2017.

[8] Marie Colvin was famous for her reports from the frontline in several recent wars, but most British readers would not have been cognisant of the fact that in 2009 she was ensconced in London (and Jane Russell in UK has told me that she thought Colvin was at the front). Given Colvin’s close rapport with the LTTE functionary Pulidevan, it is likely that she was receiving “data” (i.e. partially or wholly concocted tales) directly from the Tiger command centre. In brief, ideological affinity and mateship was the directing force in her reportage from afar. In mid-May 2009 she made frantic efforts to save Pulidevn and Nadesan as they prepared to surrender with white flags (efforts denied, it seems on prima facie evidence, by ruthless SLA action).

For a measured dismantling of one gf her accounts in April 2009 from an investigator embedded with the SL Army, see the reprinted version in Tammita-Delgoda 2014.

[9] US Embassy Despatch No. 514 of 11th May 2009: “The Government has taken offense at Weiss’ use of the term “bloodbath” in an AP interview describing the situation of civilians in the conflict zone.”

[10] While this occurred throughout the last phase of the war, the classic instances are circa 10-15th May when virtually every newspaper in the West repeated the stories retailed in TamilNet and/or conveyed to them by informants trapped in the remaining stub of LTTE territory (by then these civilians mostly diehard Tiger supporters). Ravi Nessman in Colombo and Marie Colvin in London were among those who presented these claims as truths and voiced concern. See Nessman 2009, Tammita-Delgoda 2014 and Roberts “Truth Journalism?” 2014.

16 Comments

Filed under accountability, conspiracies, doctoring evidence, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, press freedom & censorship, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, tamil refugees, Tamil Tiger fighters, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes, zealotry

16 responses to “The Gash Files I: About Lt. Col. Anton Gash

  1. Pingback: The Gash Files IV: The War on Land in the Final Five Months | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Gash Files IV: The War on Land in the Final Five Months | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: The Gash Files IV: The War on Land | Thuppahi's Blog

  4. Etonia

    look at is his assests and how his property ‘empire’ was amassed in the U.K and full disclosure of any loans received. The OBE wearing ex-Etonian may have bypassed several tax loops like so many of his ilk. If you work out the army salary versus how he was able to amass his estate then the figures don’t add up. 9 children all through the British public school system would test the means of a banker let alone the means of an officer. Wife unknown. Family unknown.

    • While I have permitted this comment — it seems to me that ETONIA is indulging on a dirt throwing assassination job of the type that is indulged in by both Tamil and Sinhala extremisms …. and inthis aprticular context, of coruse, it will be pro-Tamil work by a person passing off as English or. alternatively, being very dirty English

  5. Pingback: Goodness Gracious Me! Double Standards in UK and Here. There, Everywhere! | Thuppahi's Blog

  6. Pingback: Honouring Sir Desmond de Silva, A British Legal Luminary whose Incisive Report serves Lanka | Thuppahi's Blog

  7. Mark Salter

    Dear Michael,

    I note that you have still not published my detailed response to some of the claims made in this article some two months back. In the interests of free and open debate I very much hope you will go ahead and do so now. Not least in light of the continuing debate about the Gash Dispatches, and in particular what is now clearly revealed as Lord Naseby’s selective misappropriation and misrepresentation of their contents. (See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/claims-about-the-gash-despatches-exposed/ )

    Advance thanks, Mark (Salter)

    • It is not published because it was not received or not noticed

      This web site does not seem to cater for attachments. ALL ATTACHMENTS MUST BE SENT TO MY GMAIL ACCOUNT

      • Mark Salter

        The reply was originally sent via this blog site, not as an attachment (I don’t have your email address). In any case, I have now resent it to you.

      • WELL IT MUST HAVE GOT BURIED AND REMAINED UNNOTICED …NO MATTER NOLW

  8. Mark Salter

    FYI here is my original – and still unpublished – response to you.

    My attention to this broadside has just been drawn by a Twitter follower – of mine, and perhaps of yours. The reason being your reference to me here. On inspection I discover you have done so in customarily slapdash style.

    You state that Lt. Col. Gash ‘would certainly not be found guilty of the crass assessments of the type essayed by Mark Salter in his condemnation of the SL Army.’

    I was not aware of having ever issued a blanket ‘condemnation’ of the Sri Lankan Army. But no matter. In the accompanying note you state that ‘Salter provides this example of the SL Army’s “brutality”: “from 13 May advancing [SLA] soldiers fired or threw grenades into civilian bunkers as a ‘precaution’ against the possibility of the LTTE using them to launch attacks” (Salter 2015: 371)”, describing this as ‘highlight-ing’ my ‘(and Solheim’s) infantile military intelligence.’

    First, it should be noted that this ‘infantile’ claim is not mine. As you would have discovered if you had bothered to check the endnotes, it is drawn from one of a series of detailed report produced by University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna (UTHR-J), a courageous human rights group that early on in the war defined its aims as ‘to challenge the external and internal terror engulfing the Tamil community as a whole through making the perpetrators accountable, and to create space for humanizing the social and political spheres relating to the life of our community.’

    No LTTE stooges here, in other words. And while theirs, like any reports, should be viewed with a critical eye, UTHR-J’s unparalleled access to eyewitness accounts of what was going on inside the battle zone makes their reports from the war’s final stages a uniquely valuable resource to the researcher – not least regarding the LTTE’s increasingly desperate, murderous attempts to prevent Tamil civilians from escaping the shrinking area under their control.

    Interestingly, you don’t actually contest the report of soldiers throwing grenades into bunkers likely to be populated with civilians, instead throwing up your hands in a kind of ‘what can you do in war?’ on behalf of those involved. If and when a war crimes tribunal was to hear this argument, I submit it would be unlikely to impress the prosecution as a solid line of defence.

    That aside and for the record – and wider consumption – allow me to reproduce in full the context from which the sentence you wrenched is taken (sentence itself highlighted):

    With the Tigers and the trapped civilians pushed back into an ever-shrinking patch of territory, reports of LTTE cadres firing on people who were attempting to escape con-tinued to emerge from the combat zone. In several instances the Tigers even resorted to shelling, with heavy casualties the predictable consequence. Further reports from the combat zone indicated that the Tigers were continuing to direct mortar and gunfire at government forces from among the mass of civilians, provoking murderous retaliation. Chillingly, reports also surfaced of LTTE cadres going to bunkers where ci-vilians were sheltering, and asking ‘So you want to run away to the Army do you?’ before opening fire.

    The Army proved itself more than capable of equal brutality. Eyewitness reports indicate that from 13 May onwards, advancing soldiers regularly fired or threw grenades into civilian bunkers as a ‘precaution’ against the LTTE using them to launch attacks. The frequency with which this occurred, it was suggested, was directly related to the size of the casualties that government forces were sustaining. In all probability it was also related to their experiences during the earlier battle for PTK, during which wounded Black Tiger cadres allegedly hid themselves in bunkers until an Army unit passed by, whereupon they simply blew themselves up. There were eyewitness reports of heavy Army vehicles flattening bunkers that contained civilians.

    If, after reading this, readers concur with you that I (and Erik Solheim) are guilty of a display of ‘infantile military intelligence’ – well, so be it.

    Let me finish by noting that I had forgotten your writings for a while, having been assured some months back that you would be returning with a substantive response to my detailed critiques of your work. This, it would seem, has yet to materialize.

    I await it with interest.

  9. In his feisty manner SALTER has quoted the UTHR team and I present that quotation again here with REFERENCE [which he sent on request] …. and note that i will respond in due course
    “With the Tigers and the trapped civilians pushed back into an ever-shrinking patch of territory, reports of LTTE cadres firing on people who were attempting to escape continued to emerge from the combat zone. In several instances the Tigers even resorted to shelling, with heavy casualties the predictable consequence. Further reports from the combat zone indicated that the Tigers were continuing to direct mortar and gunfire at government forces from among the mass of civilians, provoking murderous retaliation. Chillingly, reports also surfaced of LTTE cadres going to bunkers where civilians were sheltering, and asking ‘So you want to run away to the Army do you?’ before opening fire.
    The Army proved itself more than capable of equal brutality. Eyewitness reports indicate that from 13 May onwards, advancing soldiers regularly fired or threw grenades into civilian bunkers as a ‘precaution’ against the LTTE using them to launch attacks. The frequency with which this occurred, it was suggested, was directly related to the size of the casualties that government forces were sustaining. In all probability it was also related to their experiences during the earlier battle for PTK, during which wounded Black Tiger cadres allegedly hid themselves in bunkers until an Army unit passed by, whereupon they simply blew themselves up. There were eyewitness reports of heavy Army vehicles flattening bunkers that contained civilians.” …. [a quotation from UTHR-J Special Report No. 32, “A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Foreboding”, available at http://uthr.org/SpecialReports/spreport32.ht that is located on page 371 of my book].

  10. Pingback: Infantry Warfare and the Final Phase of Eelam War IV: Where Laymen Blunder into Infantile Assessments | Thuppahi's Blog

  11. Siri Hewa

    ltte sympathisers and intelligence agencies linked or paid so called authors should check, Sr Lankan govt. census dept. that went around in North and East for missing or dead relatives after the war ended and number came around 6400 people.
    With this data, can any one say death is much higher than 6400 since data matching indicate SL Army figures are correct.

  12. Pingback: Pirapāharan’s Inspirations and Mind-set | Thuppahi's Blog

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