"Decency in War, a Lost Art?"

“Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces need to decide what kind of organization they will be. They have previously claimed to be a professional military that matches its technological advancements, and improvements in its strategy and tactics, with a superior moral and ethical standard than those used by their enemies.”

By Eric Bailey

(May 20, Texas, Sri Lanka Guardian) As fireworks are lit in the streets and a thousand parties in Colombo celebrate the fall of the LTTE and the death of their leadership, the Sri Lankan Army continues to mop up remaining pockets of resistance and begins the grim task of identifying the dead. Finally proving the total success of the military, Sri Lankan troops have identified the body of the founder and leader of the LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

His death symbolizes the utter failure of the Tamil Tigers to divide the nation of Sri Lanka and is final proof that, on this island, civil war and the creation of a monoethnic, racist, state is not an acceptable solution to previous racism. The people of Sri Lanka, through force of arms and the ballot box, have declared their wish that this island, be it Sri Lanka or Ceylon, will be united and free for all races. There is still much work to be done to make this dream a reality, but the death of Prabhakaran and the fall of the LTTE are huge steps in that direction.

'At long last, have you no decency, sir?"-Joseph Welch at the McCarthy Hearings.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The difference between professional soldiers and skilled shooters is how they handle themselves before and after battles. Professionals do not desecrate the dead and any organization (army) that claims to be professional and honorable and represents the nation should try and punish those who do not meet a high moral standard.

Stripping the body of any person, even Prabhakaran, is a thug-like desecration, and soiling his body with dirt is the act of a gang, not a professional soldier or true patriot.

Unfortunately, there has also been a major step backwards, made when dishonorable thugs who are trapped in the hatred and revenge mentalities of Sri Lanka’s past and have no place in Sri Lanka’s future desecrated, photographed, and showed off the body of Prabhakaran. Earlier pictures show the terrorist leader as having died in his iconic uniform, the tiger stripe camouflage unique to the LTTE. He also had his dog tags and a laminated identification card. He had clearly been shot in the head in what could be an execution style shooting, though the wound was covered by a cloth. Disturbing as that is, that Sri Lankan soldiers may have murdered a prisoner of war instead of making him stand trial, more shocking photos were soon released, showing that soldiers had stripped his body naked, not even leaving his underwear, and had desecrated his body with dirt.

Prabhakaran was a brutal terrorist and it is no surprise that such feelings brewed in the soldiers who defiled his body. He was hated throughout the country and for good reason. His organization murdered thousands upon thousands of innocent civilians of every ethnic and religious background in the country and developed terrorist technology such as the suicide belt and boat that sent soldier and civilian alike to an early grave. However, despite being one of the most evil men in history, even Velupillai Prabhakaran deserves certain basics of respect in death. What the soldiers did to desecrate the body of a fallen enemy, no matter how evil and deserving of death, was abhorrent and should be totally denounced by the Sri Lankan government and Army. These soldiers should be held accountable for their actions.

Thought to be one of the best trained and most disciplined armed forces in South Asia, the Sri Lankan Army has had praise heaped upon it for victories from Jaffna, to Sampur, to Adampan, to Paranthan and Kilinochchi, to the final destruction of the LTTE. The task taken on by the Sri Lankan army in assisting Tamil civilians and taking measures to protect them from the LTTE in recent months has also been an admirable effort, often ridiculed outside of Sri Lanka by those who do not understand the horrible alternatives Tamil refugees faced and the logistical nightmare still facing all of Northern Sri Lanka. It will also be the Sri Lankan military that will lead the way in reconstructing the Wanni and getting supplies to those in need.

Picture Courtesy: Ministry of Defence, Government of Sri Lanka.

The brutish act of desecrating a fallen enemy’s body, however, is a scar on the face of the Sri Lankan military. It is an unacceptable insult, not just against the remains of one man, albeit an evil man, but against the entire Sri Lankan Army by making this decorated military outfit look like a band of savages. The soldiers who committed this act either forgot or did not care that their uniforms make them representatives to the world on behalf of their country and they have sent us all a very bad message. By desecrating the dead body of an enemy, they are stating that the Sri Lankan Army does not value human life, and takes those lives lightly. They are declaring that this war is some sort of game to them by treating a corpse like a toy. This is not how professional soldiers act and it will reflect very poorly on the Sri Lankan military and government if this is tolerated. The precedent this act will create, should it go unpunished, may result in many more mutilations of Tiger remnants and will show the Tamil people that they are considered animals by the Sinhalese. This act against Prabhakaran alone sends that message, but allowing it to continue will set that message in stone.

Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces need to decide what kind of organization they will be. They have previously claimed to be a professional military that matches its technological advancements, and improvements in its strategy and tactics, with a superior moral and ethical standard than those used by their enemies. Countless acts of mercy and kindness, often unsung outside of Sri Lanka, have helped shape that image and has given the Sri Lankan military a reputation for excellence. If the military wishes to keep those values and their image along this path, it must take action against the soldiers responsible for this heinous act of barbarism.
The difference between soldiers and any other group of killers isn’t their ability to kill more people faster than a criminal. It is their status as a political tool of their country and their status as national symbols. The difference between professional soldiers and thug-like soldiers isn’t why or who they are fighting. The difference is in how they act before and after the battles they fight.

Professional soldiers understand that they are being entrusted with their country’s reputation. They follow a code of conduct that allows them and all Sri Lankan citizens to take pride in their work. They have personal honor that will not allow them to participate in or tolerate intentionally morally corrupt acts, especially those that are war crimes. Finally they place emphasis on their loyalty to their country and unit. The soldiers responsible for this act have forsaken all of these values. They have embarrassed their country, they have shown themselves to be without honor, and they have been disloyal to their unit by marring the good name of the 53 Division.

There have been four “Eelam Wars” in the Sri Lankan Civil War and with the end of Eelam War IV, the nation finally has the opportunity to win a lasting peace. Every effort should be made to ensure that this peace is successful and that all races can live together without hatred and the constant fear of violence. The Tamil people are watching to see if the Sri Lankan government will make good on its promises to make a country safe for all ethnic groups. How it handles this desecration of Prabhakaran’s body will give some insight into how dedicated the government really is to these ideals.
-Sri Lanka Guardian
zenzil said...

Making the dead body naked for identification is an accepted procedure and it does not mean disrespect. About the mud, it is not very clear.May be the mud was already under the uniform and after undressing they did not washed the body.

Unknown said...

This type of indecent behaviour by the troops should not be tolerated, who ever did this should be given the harshest of punishments. Desecrating a body is absolutlely evil.

Unknown said...

Decency? From Sinhalese??? No Way

anyway well said sir' Disturbing as that is, that Sri Lankan soldiers may have murdered a prisoner of war instead of making him stand trial'. Thats what has happened. LTTE leader has no need to wear a Tag or ID card. everyone in LTTE know who is he? and He would have died by consuming cynide.If he died by gun wound it would have been by a long range shot rather than close range excution style shot. LTTE leader is a not a tall man as the body shown in the pics. Its a cover up to satisfy the sinhala budhist monk. sinhala chavunists, and the sinhala public that LTTE leader is DEAD. wait till he show up from no where. he will soon.

Lokubanda Tillakaratnefo said...

I am a native of Mamaduwa, in the Vavuniya District of North Central Province. Based on my existential know-how of customs associated with the treatment of the dead in this area, I believe your diatribe accusing Sri Lankan army may be a little premature. Having conducted the war so admiredly so long to uphold all known battle ground etiquettes, it is difficult to believe the Sri Lankan soldiers can instantly go berseck and commit the 'atrocious acts' as alleged by you.
Every soldier in the battle field comes from a rural area and bring to the field not a culture shaped by Majestic Plaza mentality. Their customs, even it is in the midst of cannon going off left and right and collegues falling with every burst of gun fire, come from the village.
In some villagers of Northern Sri Lanka, the extreme heat can spoil a dead body within hours. Thus one custom they practice is to cover it with a layer of mud do keep it fresh until washed later for burial. This will obviously cover the body from flies (have you seen on the video some soldiers using palm to shy away flies on VP's face?) which can drop maggot accelerating the decay. If they are so callous did you notice they were trying to cover the blown off head of VP with a piece of clothes - not just a newspaper, but a clean piece of clothes? If they are disrectful, they could have let the blown off part of his pea brain to be seen by the whole world. Obviously, for the notoriety of this dead person, keeping it longer was in the minds of the soldiers to secure forensic evidence. When I was a young boy, after we skinned a deer, the skin was pegged around with shole- pins to dry. Then the first thing my father did was to cover the bloody skin with a layer of mud. Similarly, a wound on a buffaloe is treated with mud so maggot won't eat it away and interrupt its healing process.
As an anthropoligist, my opinion is that someone with the same experience of any villager must have thought to save forensic evidence at any cost (refregiration is a hundred mile away; the real time battle ground conditions could easily prevent transport of the body to a facility soon to collect critical judicial evidence) and used the best available treatment at the time and place - mud.
This is not the time to speculate and doubt the soldiers' actions!

Lokubanda Tillakaratne

Unknown said...

Eric Bailey,
Prabhakaran was a misanthrope if you did not know. As Zenzil has mentioned, it is fair enough to make the dead body naked for a complete identification of the coward terrorist of the mankind. Had it rained on that day, who would care to put at least a polythene cover above his dead body? I wouldn't even use a stretcher to carry him instead of dragging him. Therefore having mud on his body is also fair enough. We have also seen so many videos,pictures..etc of how the prisoners were treated in "GITMO". So,all of sudden why did you decide pick on Armed forces of GOSL?

Anonymous said...

Note that the entire body, except the head was smeared with mud - that is purely to avoid flies landing/maggot infestation starting since proper mortuary facilities would have been many hours away. That was perfectly the right thing to do. Defence.lk webmasters too panicked thinking that this was a group of soldiers being disrespectful;certainly not so.

One can safely assume that body has to be the most 4th most secure body in the island after MR, GR and SF even though is only a carcass and ther other 3 are alive!

Chamitha said...

The way soldiers treated the slain boldy of Prabakaran is absoulutely great. A butcher like him does not deserve a treatment like that. The fact came into my mind when I saw these images for the first time is the way Russian soildiers displayed the body of Chechnian guarilla leader after his prosecution. It's exactly the same as Prabakaran in this image.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Srilankan. It's my motherland.unfortunately whatever things happend in the past ( 1958. 1983, untill now 2009)it's not fare. sometimes life is not fare atall.I f do have faith in peace, harmony & etc. We need to earn the respect & the love again. If we need the united, peaceful Srilanka.
At the same time I do have a doubt about Praba's death.
1) Where is his famous Cynaid cabsule?
2) Why don't the Srilankan Govr. bring the body of the supremo to Colombo & call all the foreign media to shaw the proof of his death?
Please anyone answer to this.

Unknown said...

I don't know the big deal about this news item. This is a normal expected behaviour of the Sinhalese Army (the Armed Village Thugs). You can see the hatred in most of the posts here. The only thing the Army is sorry about is not finishing off the 250000 rest of the people.
What Racism!

Thambapanniya said...

LTTE leadership was given opportunity again and again to surrender which they refused. Instead they waited till last minute to surrender (Nadesan, Pulideevan) they very well knew this would be unevitable


they put the innocent sri lankan tamils in harms way

Failed to swallow the cyanide (as u mentioned it is likely that he was executed) considering this VP or any of the top ltte leadership does not worth the honours of a soldier

if we going to pay respect it should be done for the low rung ltte cadres who was brainwashed and was forced to fight to save a coward

soldiers ain't cowards

If VP indeed was Elara then he would have deserved military honours and respect... but not VP

Udesh said...

1. The body was found in mud itself.
2. The scene is under investigation and identification.
3. Have you ever seen an autopsy being done? You'll cry if you see one. Watch one before posting comments like this. And tell what is more humane.
4. I accept publishing these pictures is wrong. But then this blog also responsible for that as I myself saw this first here.
5. After dedicating thousands of lives to keep up the good name, and keep a minimal number of civil casualties, how can u comment on professionalism of Sri Lankan Army? It's not you who died on the battle field. It's not your leg crushed by bombs. It's not your husband, son, wife, child killed by LTTE.
6. About prisoner of war myth, do you know what Prabha had mentioned before? He'd clearly stated that he'd not allow the Sri Lankan army to find his ash even. So who says he surrendered? Government always wanted to catch him alive as it'll be more convincing to the LTTE diaspora. Did government forces shoot at Daya Master? Or others who surrendered?
7. you better know how our soldiers carried elderly tamil mothers and fathers miles walking. You better know how they fed them by their own hands. How army doctors and nurses treated them. If those innocent civilians given a chance, they'll worship Sri Lankan soldier's feet and will spit at the world's most ruthless and cruel terrorist leader though we don't accept such dishonor for the death. But Let the tamil people who were harassed by LTTE decide it... Because it's their right...