by Tassie Seneviratne
I could not believe my eyes when I read in the Sunday Island of 19th May 2019, statements attributed to the Army Commander, Mahesh Senanayake.
He is reported to have stated, inter alia, that, “If a soldier has done something wrong, it is the people who have given the orders, who should be held responsible. So I request kindly, all of you to go and find out who gave the order to him.” – Most astonishing!
If the Army Commander has in fact made this statement, (which he has not denied) he is referred to the Army Act, wherein it is clearly stated that soldiers should carry out only lawful and legal orders.
The Army Commander has made this utterance to cover up the controversial re-instatement of an army officer accused of several crimes including the murder of one journalist and torture of two others.
There is a landmark case in this very regard, which the Army Commander, if he is worth his salt, should be acquainted with. The case in point is the case against Lieutenant Volunteer Officer Alfi Wijesuriya, in the Kataragama Beauty Queen murder case.
When he realized that the prosecution had made a watertight case against him, Lieutenant Alfi Wijesuriya stated in evidence that he carried out orders of the Co-ordinating Officer, Col. Nugawela, to “bump off” the prisoners – under Emergency Regulations.
The prosecuting Senior State Counsel asked only two questions.
First Q. was, whether an order to shoot a prisoner in custody, was a lawful order. His answer was “No.”
Second Q: – Having referred him to the Army Act, he was asked if he was bound to carry out unlawful orders. His obvious answer was also, “No.”
That sealed his fate. There was no chance in the appeal either, because he was convicted on his own admission.
In the case of Major Bulathwatte, if what the Army Commander says is Major Bulathwatte’s position too, he will have to face the same fate as Lieutenant Alfi Wijesuriya.
The Army Commander should not mislead the people with this type of skullduggery.
Complicity of Commanding Officers: The fact, that an unlawful order from a Commanding Officer is no defence to a soldier committing a crime, does not mean that the Commanding Officer who gave the unlawful order is absolved of the offence. He is culpable of aiding and abetting the offence. A delayed statement of an accused, implicating the Commanding Officer in his defence, however, is not reliable evidence. If there be corroborating evidence to prove his allegation, then the courts will pass judgement accordingly.
(The writer is a Retired Senior Superintendent of Police – in support of the fourth estate)