A = Preamble from Michael Roberts, 11 December 2009
When I fashioned an article entitled “The Western World’s Cumulous Clouds of Deception: Blanketing the Sharp Realities of Eelam War IV” in October 2018, its Colombo Telegraph version drew an adverse comment from my friend Rajan Hoole. I chose to address Hoole at length through another article in Thuppahi entitled “A Response to Rajan Hoole re Reviews of Eelam War IV and Western Deceit.”
This essay also entered Twitter automatically and drew an immediate public challenge from Alan Keenan, the long-time American head of the International Crisis Group in London and Europe. His jab-in-the-ribs runs thus: “What I’ve never understood is why Michael Roberts, a well-respected & careful scholar, doesn’t push hard for a proper, independent investigation into end-of-war casualties. What’s to fear from open inquiry — which the #SriLanka govt has never allowed?” — see https://twitter.com/akeenan23/status/1052136906950103040?s=21
At the same time Keenan sent me a private letter by email, one that runs to 1994 words—in effect a memorandum. It ended with this request: “Please do not quote or repeat publicly.”
I have adhered to this request for a while. But recent events lead me to overturn this response. For one his request was a contrast to his position on Twitter (a medium I hate because it provides no room for citations or bibliography). For another, recent events lead me to overturn niceties and engage Keenan in verbal war.
So, here then, you can see Keenan’s attempt at damage control as well as his innermost lines of assessment on the war situation then in the Vanni Pocket in 2009. Placing his private communication in the public debating room is my chessboard-move to verbal war.
B = Alan Keenan’s Email to Michael Roberts, circa 30 October 2018
Thanks for writing. I’m sorry you aren’t able to navigate Twitter – but the positive side of that is you don’t waste a lot of time, like I and many others do who are on Twitter.
Before I write more, let me begin with this preamble. I write this in a spirit of openness and a shared commitment to accuracy, but with the knowledge that neither of us is likely to convince the other. I also write this with the stipulation that this is a private communication between you and me. If you read past this point and then decide to quote me or discuss this email publicly, I will consider it a breach of basic trust. I say this not because I have something to hide, just because I don’t have the time to get into an endless public debate with you and others, and because anything I am quoted on on these topics has to be approved by my Crisis Group senior colleagues, which I don’t have time to do. So these are personal and private comments. I am not replying to Amal for separate reasons – not the least that he refuses to engage honestly with me in public (Twitter) debates about his behind-the-scenes engagement with British politicians in his (partly understandable) battle with Tamil diaspora groups.
First, as you will see from the Groundviews story below, Crisis Group DID admit and correct its mistake in using the phrase “credible evidence” rather than “credible allegations”. This was a genuine mistake. When pointed out, we corrected it – and if you go on line you will see that to this date, our correction remains in place on our website, along with an acknowledgement of the original mistake. I’m surprised you didn’t find this correction in your voluminous research. Had you noticed it, you might be a little less likely to accuse me of “brazen bravado”. That said, though, I think the mistake is a relatively minor one – after all, for an allegation to deemed credible, there must be some evidence for this, right? Whether eyewitness statements, or photos, or circumstantial evidence, some evidence, facts, data, must be deemed credible – i.e., worthy of being taken seriously – for an allegation to be held to be credible. While it is is absolutely essential to be precise and accurate when quoting others, and our mistake was a real one, I see the “scandal” made about it to be fairly beside the point.
Second, while you accuse me of avoiding the substance of your article, I think your reply is avoiding my main question: why aren’t you calling for a proper, credible, independent, investigation into the allegations and in particular into the casualty figures? It seems to be we should be able to agree that what evidence is out there is not conclusive, and is likely never to be conclusive unless there is a real, free and fair effort to gather all the relevant documentation and speak to the relevant people. Even then, it’s likely never to be a settled question, though I think we could get a lot closer I think. I am genuinely asking, as I did on Twitter: why are you not asking for such an inquiry?
Third, I didn’t engage with the substance of your argument in part because it would be a very long and laborious task, and I am not currently being paid to do this. I have an overdue report on anti-Muslim violence and Buddhist nationalism to finish, and if I engaged with your article in detail, it would take days. That said, let me make four points:
— your strongest point is the fact that many LTTE fighters were not in uniform in the final fighting. This does indeed make it harder to count the number of civilians killed.
— another interesting point is the supposed “law” of the ratio of dead to injured. My response to this would be I expect it is based on situations where the injured (mostly combatants) have had access to relatively rapid medical treatment. My understanding about the final months of fighting, esp. the final few weeks, is that this was NOT the case, and that many who were injured were simply left to die, buried in bunkers, or taken to medical centres that were overwhelmed given their inadequate staff and medicines. Do you know, for instance, what the current ratios of dead to wounded are in Syria? That might be a somewhat analogous situation, at least in some situations. This is, I accept, an angle worth exploring.
— with regard to numbers killed, I was very surprised you made no mention of the Oct 2008 population figures compiled by the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu GAs. You may not accept the figures as accurate, but it was these figures that formed the basis of Bishop Rayappu Joseph’s claim of 147,000 unaccounted for. I don’t think this means 147,000 were killed, but the figures are worth noting and engaging with. Perhaps you have done so elsewhere.
— finally, as to the general narrative, which you summarise as “western deceit” – why can’t one equally plausibly argue that western governments believed that it was worth saving civilian lives even if this also assisted the LTTE in their goal of avoiding annihilation, believing that saving the lives of the leadership was a price worth paying for saving the lives of tens of thousands of civilians. This is how I read things. On the other side, the Sri Lankan government and military and Indian govt made the opposite choice: eliminating once and for all the LTTE leadership, especially Prabhakaran, was worth the cost of tens of thousand of civilians’ lives. The Indians made some efforts to keep those numbers to a minimum; my hunch is that Gotabaya and the top generals were fine with killing lots of Tamil civilians, esp. those with close family and social ties to the Tiger leadership. In any case, I don’t see why “deceit” has to come into this question: it was too different calculations of costs and benefits.
This, for now, is all I have time for. Some day, I may write something longer, and public, and I’ll look forward to engaging more fully with your – and others’ – arguments then. For now, though, these are my personal and private opinions, written out of respect for you and our acquaintance. Please do not quote or repeat publicly.
Thanks, and take care. Cheers
 It appeared first in Colombo Telegraph and I then presented the same article with a slightly different title and more illustrations in the site I control viz Thuppahi.
 Visit “A Response to Rajan Hoole re Reviews of Eelam War IV and Western Deceit,” 28 October 2018, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2018/10/28/a-response-to-rajan-hoole-re-reviews-of-eelam-war-iv-and-western-deceit/
 See the companion piece: Roberts, “The HR Lobby in UK: Deskbound and Devious,” in Thuppahi.