Preventing the police from becoming a Gestapo
Posted on December 1st, 2018

by C. A. Chandraprema Courtesy The Island

At this moment, we are in the midst of a political crisis that was sparked off at least in part by a police officer. DIG Nalaka Silva is now in remand on suspicion of having being involved in a plot to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. According to the recorded telephone conversations that were made public by a police informant Namal Kumara who had worked closely with DIG Nalaka Silva, the plan was to have both of them assassinated in the Battiocaloa area by underworld figure Makandure Madush. The mere fact that a senior police officer could claim to be able to get such things done by the most wanted underworld figure in this country, is in itself sufficient to show that something has gone very wrong with our police force.

Whether The UNP hierarchy was even aware of the favours that enthusiastic members of the police force were planning to bestow on them is a moot point. This entire telephone conspiracy could have been a result of some overly loyal and overly enthusiastic policemen trying to protect the interests of their master. The end result of all this has been that the master they were trying to serve has now ended up very much like the sleepy king who had a loyal monkey that would not allow even a fly to settle on his royal master. The Sri Lanka Police Department and especially the Criminal Investigation Department has shown a consistent tendency to throw up officers who are willing to do any kind of dirty work for the government they serve under.

One has to admit that society cannot function only with refined, well educated people of a gentle disposition. You need tough men who will do the bidding of their masters especially in the running of a state. However the state must be careful as to whom they use these tough men against. If the state uses them against terrorists, criminal gangs, drug smugglers, extortionists and the like, that will benefit the nation and the general public will be full of praise for those who make it possible for ordinary people to sleep peacefully at night. However if one uses them against one’s political rivals, that is going to evoke different kind of reaction. Organizations that operate under the radar and which carry out arrests and interrogations have always had a bad reputation throughout history in all countries.

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Bodies like the CID are not organizations that fight open battles, where valour, honour, chivalry are held in high esteem. Officers serving in bodies like the CID run virtually no risk to their own lives but have the power of life or death over others. Hence there is the likelihood of such bodies attracting individuals with certain psychological tendencies. Having an opportunity work in an outfit like the CID would be the dream of every twisted sadist in society. This makes it all the more imperative to place bodies like the CID under very balanced, steady officers who can control the more Neanderthal elements that inevitably serve in such organizations. Bodies like the CID when they take on political tasks, essentially do what the Gestapo did in Nazi Germany.

The Milgram experiment

It was Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University who conducted a famous experiment in 1963 on the behavior of otherwise sane and normal people when they have complete authority and domination over other people. Milgram selected participants for his experiment by advertising in the newspapers. The participants so selected were paired with another person and lots were drawn to find out who would be the ‘learner’ and who would be the ‘teacher.’ The draw was rigged so that the participant was always the teacher, and the learner was one of Milgram’s people pretending to be a real participant.

The learner was taken into a room and had electrodes attached to his arms, and the teacher and researcher went into a room next door that contained an electric shock generator and a row of 30 switches marked from 15 volts to 450 volts. The intention was to find out how far people would go in obeying an instruction if it involved harming another person and how ordinary people could be influenced into committing atrocities. After he had learned a list of word pairs given him to learn, the “teacher” tests him by naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner/pair from a list of four possible choices. The teacher is told to administer an electric shock every time the learner makes a mistake, increasing the level of shock each time.

The learner deliberately gave mostly wrong answers and for each of these, the teacher gave him an electric shock. When the teacher refused to administer a shock, the experimenter would give a series of instructions to ensure they continued. The experimenter would start by telling the ‘teacher’ to ‘please continue’ and keep egging him on with phrases like ‘The experiment requires you to continue’, ‘It is absolutely essential that you continue’ and finally, ‘You have no other choice but to continue’. The horrifying result of that experiment was that nearly two-thirds of the participants continued to the highest level of 450 volts and that all the participants continued to 300 volts. If that was the result of a random sample taken from among the general public, such tendencies are certain to be far more pronounced in a body like the CID.

Because of this likelihood, organizations like the CID have to be kept on a leash and directed only to work that involves protecting society from anti social types. But what happened after the yahapalana government came into power is that the police in general and bodies like the CID and FCID in particular, assumed an importance that they never had under any previous government. The entire future of the government was predicated on what the police department does. Special police units like the FCID was set up under the direct supervision of the political authorities. The FCID worked directly under a Cabinet sub-committee styled the ‘Anti-Corruption Committee’. There was probably no previous government that spent so much time talking to policemen.

The monkey sang the national anthem

The Anti-Corruption Committee was headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Patali Champika Ranawaka, and Rauff Hakeem, and parliamentarians Anura Kumara Dissanayake, R. Sampanthan, M. A. Sumanthiran and Democratic Party Leader Sarath Fonseka along with President’s Counsel Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, J. C. Weliamuna and Malik Samarawickrema. There was also an ‘Urgent Response Committee’ within this Anti-Corruption Committee with MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake as its head. Nothing like this has ever happened under any previous government. The sole purpose of this entire mechanism was to investigate the political rivals of the government in power. These police units coordinated closely not only with the UNP politicans but also with the pro UNP media.

Wasanthapriya Ramanayake who is now a Media Director working for President Sirisena told this writer that he had once been asked to report to the FCID to record a statement about a publication that had been done by the Government Information Department where he was then employed and before he got home after visiting the FCID, the details of the questions he had been asked and the answers he had given had appeared on Lanka e News, a pro UNP website operated from overseas. In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that some officers in the police force like the monkey who wanted to protect his master would have hit upon the idea of getting rid of their benefactor’s competitors. Since they were privy to the conspiracies hatched by their bosses against their political rivals, they would naturally think, if it was ok to imprison the political rivals of the government even on manufacturted charges, why not go just one step further and solve the problem for good?

On the one hand, we saw police officers being egged on by politicians to go out of their way to hunt down and persecute members of the former government. An even more dangerous tendency has emerged for people who are politically closely associated with the yahapalana camp but who masquerade as ordinary members of society, to encourage police officers of the CID to redouble their efforts in doing what they had been doing for nearly four years. This is the Milgram experiment taking place again in Sri Lanka. Last week, this columnist wrote about the mistaken belief that Lasantha Wickrematunga’s daughter appears to be laboring under that the CID and especially one particular officer – Inspector Nishantha Silva – was investigating the murder of her father.

Ahimsa Wickrematunga lost her father and now her name is being used to prop up people who had played a lead role in ensuring that no actual investigation into Lasantha’s murder ever took place. We should be able to tell the difference between a murder investigation and a red herring thrown across the trail. The only real investigation into Lasantha’s murder took place in 2010 under the Rajapaksa government when five SIM cards that had clearly been used in the operation were detected and the person in whose name the cards had been bought was arrested. I do not know whether IP Silva was involved in that investigation. If he was, the credit should go to him. But thereafter, the investigation hit a dead end.

A soldier of the Sinha Regiment who had closely associated with the Nuwara Eliya based Tamil man in whose name the SIM cards had been bought was also arrested and kept in remand for two years and then released. If we suppose for a moment that the Rajapaksa government had the right lead when they arrested the Sinha Regiment soldier and they had deliberately suppressed the investigation at that point for fear of exposing the actual killers, then that investigation could have been revived after the yahapalana government came into power.

The fact that that investigation was never revived even under the yahapalana government means that the dead end reached by the Rajapaksa government was a real dead end and there was nothing further that anyone could hope to achieve by pursuing it further. After the yahapalana government came into power, there was talk about a motorcycle that had been found on the banks of the Attidiya canal in the days following Lasantha’s muder and there was an investigation into that. Then there was an investigation into Lasantha’s notebook which also ended up in a dead end when it was discovered that the numbers of the motorcycles that had followed Lasantha on the day of the incident were false.

Even though Ahimsa Wickrematunga will not be aware that an investigation into what happened to Lasantha’s notebook is not an investigation into his murder, Nishantha Silva certainly knows the difference. The yahapalanites are deliberately misleading Ahimsa by conveying the impression to her that there is an intrepid policeman who is pursuing her father’s killers day in and day out and that one of these days the culprit will be apprehended. Ahimsa herself had told inspector Nishantha Silva that when Lasantha was alive, he had told her that he would be killed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa because of the revelations he made about the much spoken of MiG deal.

Once again, I would sooner believe that the monkey sang the national anthem than believe that Lasantha actually told his daughter that he would be bumped off. Is that the kind of thing that any father would tell a young daughter or son? That just does not sound like Lasantha. I cannot ever imagine Lasantha actually telling his daughter that he is going to be bumped off by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and therefore they should prepare for life without him. If you go by the claims being made by the yahapalana mafia that hijacked Lasantha’s dead body, (and now apparently his children as well) he seems to have been doing nothing but predicting his own death. Just look at the last editorial that he is supposed to have written where he had not only predicted his own death but even indirectly named the killers. Given this propensity to predict his own death, it seems very strange that Lasantha has never predicted his own death in any conversation with me. Neither has he predicted his own death with any other journalist that I know of.

The last time I met Lasantha was several weeks before he was murdered and he was certainly not preparing to depart from the world. He told me then that after the 2010 elections, there had to be a national government meaning a UNP-UPFA government and that if something like that does not materialize he will go off to live in Australia. I told him then that in Australia he would be just nobody. Lasantha’s answer to that was that he was prepared to be a nobody. It is now common knowledge that Lasantha had opened up a line of communication to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and they were meeting at regular intervals with Dr Eliyantha White as the go between. I believe he had started these regular meetings to negotiate the national government that he was talking about.

The Milgram experiment in real life

Ahimsa should know that it is very unlikely that her father would have wanted to have any truck with the Rajapaksa government if he thought they had actually diddled the nation of millions of US Dollars via the MiG deal. All journalists go on the basis of information available to them. Lasantha may have made some allegations about the MiG affair, but that does not mean he was right. Of any journalist in this country, the one who has the most complete picture about that transaction is this writer. The fact that this writer has the correct picture about the MiG transaction is borne out by the fact that even after nearly four years of investigations by the yahapalana government, absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing has come to light.

The yahapalana camp should at least at this late stage refrain from doing real life Milgram experiments by egging on officers of the CID by writing articles in praise of their actions so as to get more dirty work out of them. It is obviously a process like this that got DIG Nalaka Silva landed behind bars. It could be seen from the manner that the UNP government went out of their way to defend Nalaka Silva that they had undoubtedly got him to do their dirty work for them. Once you get your dirty work done by the police, you end up having to shoulder the responsibility for the dirty work they may do on their own initiative as well. Furthermore, Inspector Nishantha Silva is already in enough trouble without being encouraged to get into more trouble. In 2016, the Supreme Court held that Inspector Nishantha Silva had violated the fundamental rights of one O.M.D.Gamini. The judgement was delivered by a three member bench comprising of Justices Sisira J De Abrew, Anil Gooneratne and K.T.Chitrasiri. In a separate judgement delivered by Justice K.T.Chitrasiri, he had cautioned all the police personnel involved in that case in the following words:

“The Police should remember that they exercise their powers in safeguard the rights of those very same members of the public whom they seek arrest, interrogate and detain. A Police officer, whilst displaying initiative, skill and finesse, should not make the investigation of crime, a personal crusade. He must investigate with an open mind and be always ready to change any theories he may have regarding the manner in which the crime was committed or the identity of offender, on the basis of fresh material which of course has to be carefully verified…”

IP Nishantha Silva has been involved in several other scrapes as well. There was a case in the Fort Magistrate’s court regarding the abduction and disappearance of 11 persons. The key winess in that case an ex LTTE  cadre named B.M. Vijekanthan had made a statement before the Fort Majistrate accusing IP Nishantha Silva of fabricating false evidence by getting him to sign a statement to the effect the he had seen 12 persons in Trincomalee whereas he had never known or seen the persons in the 12 photographs he had been shown. Vijekanthan had told the Magistrate that he had been surprised to hear that the entire abduction and disappearance case had been based on the statement that he is supposed to have given to the CID.

Mrs. WM Priyangani, the wife of an ex naval rating KA Gamini who was arrested by the CID on suspicion has complained to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka stating that the CID had tried to induce her husband to give false evidence and to become a state witnesss with regard to the case relating to the abduction and disappearance of 11 persons in 2009. He had been promised an opportunity to migrate overseas with his family if he cooperated. Even though IP Nishantha Silva’s name has not been specifically mentioned in this complaint to the HRC, we hear he too is implicated in this matter.

However another affidavit signed by a naval officer by the name of M.M.D. Anil Mapa who had also been arrested in relation to the abduction of 11 persons, which has been countersigned by a Jailor of the Welikada prison and a lawyer, has in fact mentioned IP Nishantha Silva by name. Officer Mapa had been told to give evidence implicating the war time Navy Commander Wasantha Karnnagoda and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the alleged abduction of 11 persons by the navy in exchange for being released.  He had tried to persuade Mapa to become a state witness and obtain a release. If there is any truth in these allegations against IP Nishantha Silva, we see that he has not learnt anything from what Justice K.T.Chitrasiri told him in 2016.

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