Congressman Danny Davis Calls Tamil Tigers “freedom fighters,” Sinhalese “slave owners”

Strangely, this information went unreported by the press in Chicago and there has been no public outcry demanding to know the extent of Congressman Davis’ involvement with the LTTE. How easy is to accept that the congressman spent a whole week in the company of hardcore LTTE leaders without being privy to secrets about their activities in the US?  

by Hassina Leelarathna

(December 29, Los Angeles, CA, Sri Lanka Guardian) Congressman Danny Davis (D-Illinois) who recently led a coterie of US lawmakers in urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to launch a probe into alleged rights violations by Sri Lanka in the final days of the war, was at it again, defending the Tamil Tigers as ‘freedom fighters,’ comparing the Sinhalese majority to ‘slave owners,’ and denying that the LTTE paid for his controversial 2005 trip to Sri Lanka – although US prosecutors have established it as fact.

In a Q&A with the Chicago Sun-Times (December 19), Davis bristled at the US State Department’s labeling of the group as a terrorist outfit. “The Tamil Tigers would be called ‘freedom fighters’ by many people throughout the world… The Tamils were always a minority who said they were discriminated against by the majority, the same way black folks were discriminated against by slave-owners, or groups in Ireland were discriminated against by the dominant group,” he said.

Spotlighted in the newspaper’s ‘meet the candidate’ feature, Davis, who is running in the hotly-contested Chicago mayoral election, was asked about his controversial 2005 LTTE-funded trip to Sri Lanka: but only, it seemed, to clear the air and to ensure the question would not be asked again during the campaign ahead. “I’m not certain that the trip was paid for by the Tamil Tigers. It was paid for by a legitimate group organized to empower people of the Tamil heritage,” he answered. This contradicts what he said in 2006 and what the very person who arranged the trip admitted in court. But the Sun- Times reporter simply let it pass, even prompting him with a respectable raison d’être for his weeklong sojourn with hardcore militants in the Vanni jungles: “Your trip was after the tsunami?”

On that cue, Davis regurgitated LTTE rhetoric about the Sri Lankan government distributing tsunami resources to Sinhalese areas and not Tamil areas. “They asked if I would go and take a look. When we got there, the first thing we did was go to the U.S. Embassy. After we got back, one of the members of parliament who hosted us was assassinated coming out of his church on Christmas Day. We visited an orphanage. The government bombed the orphanage sometime after we were there. Forty kids were killed. They said they thought it was a terrorist training camp.”

Davis’ trip came under scrutiny in 2006 when the FBI arrested 11 LTTE supporters on charges of participating in a broad conspiracy to support the terrorist group through money laundering, arms procurement and bribery of U.S. officials. Davis was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as admitting that he knew the group was “associated” with the Tamil Tigers but that did not realize the trip’s costs were covered with funds controlled by the group. He also admitted having contacts with one of the men arrested: Murugesu Vinayagamoorthy, the LTTE operative who handled the arrangements for this trip.

Davis told the Tribune that he first met Vinayagamoorthy, a 57-year-old London physician, at a Tamil cultural event in the Chicago suburbs at which both of them gave speeches “a few years ago.” Vinayagamoorthy also participated in several of the meetings that Davis held while visiting Sri Lanka.

According to a statement issued June 9, 2009 by the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Benton J. Campbell, Vinayagamoorthy pled guilty to conspiring to provide support to the LTTE, specifically to laundering LTTE money through a Swiss Bank account to finance Davis’ Sri Lanka trip and to offering a $1-million bribe to an undercover State Department official to get the Tigers off the list of designated terrorist organizations. Three others arrested along with him also entered guilty pleas, admitting to raising millions of dollars for the LTTE through the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (a large part of it under the cover of the tsunami) and attempting to procure a long list of weapons, with a total price tag of $20 million. Included in the shopping list were "25mm Anti Aircraft Gun[s]" at USD 160,000 each, six "30 mm Twin Barrel Mounted Naval Gun[s] Type 69 (with base)" at USD 30,000 each, thousands of automatic rifles, millions of rounds of ammunition, grenade launchers, 50 tons of C4 explosive, five tons of "Phlegmatized RDX" explosive, 50 tons of "TNT – based on Chinese specification," and 50 tons of Tritonal explosive.

Strangely, this information went unreported by the press in Chicago and there has been no public outcry demanding to know the extent of Congressman Davis’ involvement with the LTTE. How easy is to accept that the congressman spent a whole week in the company of hardcore LTTE leaders without being privy to secrets about their activities in the US?

But then Congressman Danny Davis has always been blessed with a kind of good karma, of being somewhere near the precipice but never going over. His name was dragged in the scandal surrounding Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in 2009 when he was said to be one of the bidders to whom the governor was trying to sell the US Senate seat left vacant by President Obama. Davis admitted meeting with Blagojevich to seek his support but denied allegations of quid pro quo. An investigation by the Citizens for Ethics group listed Davis as one of nineteen corrupt lawmakers who funneled campaign funds to family members. He was found to have paid his wife Vera a sum of $14,829 in 2006 and $17,186 in 2004 out of campaign funds. He also made payments to three other individuals who shared his last name, but he refused to disclose his relationship with those individuals. In 2004, Davis played a prominent role in the ‘coronation’ of the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon, wearing white gloves and carrying a pillow which held a crown that was placed on Moon's head. The Korean-born businessman then went on to deliver a long speech saying he was "sent to Earth . . . to save the world's six billion people. . . “and that his teachings have helped Hitler and Stalin is "reborn as new persons." These indiscretions have not made a difference in Davis’ political fortunes: in the mid-term elections in November, he was elected to his eighth term in office.

And they won’t be important in the upcoming Chicago mayoral race either. The race is crowded, with 13 candidates, but it is primarily a battle between Davis and Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former chief of staff. Chicago’s black leaders have endorsed Davis as their "consensus candidate," but this race will not be a cakewalk for the congressman. Emanuel has $1.7 million in campaign funds and big-name endorsers within the party, such as former president Bill Clinton who will be campaigning for him in Chicago.

A spokesperson for the Emanuel campaign said the campaign would be run ‘strictly only on the issues.’ In other words, his rivals will not be talking about the congressman’s junket underwritten by a terrorist group or his relationship with a terrorist operative who offered a $1m bribe to a State Department official, or the campaign funds he funneled to family members.

That corruption is a non-issue in the mayoral race of a city whose name is shorthand for sleaze should come as no surprise. Who among the candidates can cast the proverbial first stone against Rep Danny Davis?

Hassina Leelarathna is a freelance writer living in California. She may be reached by email:

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