Gotabaya Rajapaksa Clarifies, III: American Volte Face in 2008

Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph

During the telephone conversation with former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on Monday 7th March a tangential path developed towards the end of the session: namely, USA’s striking shift of emphasis and increasing hostility to the government of Sri Lanka at some point in 2008. Gotabaya Rajapaksa agreed with my allusion to this change. The information below does not follow the sequence of my notes, but adheres to a temporal order.

RICE + OBAMA + EBDEN Ebden, Rice & Obama

Gotabaya affirmed that USA and its Ambassador Blake were extremely friendly towards the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government at the outset. Quite early in the day Blake asked GSL to sign a “Cross Services Agreement” relating to the hosting of visiting warships in the respective ports of Sri Lankan and USA (obviously a one-sided weightage in frequency). Blake said: “this is nothing really; but it will show that we are behind you.” Ranil Wickremasinghe had refused earlier to sign this pact, but Mahinda Rajapaksa asked Nimal Siripala to get cabinet approval and the agreement was consummated (note Gamage 2007).

Thus “at the early stages of the war” USA was “very supportive” towards Sri Lanka’s policies. Once Blake even told Gotabaya: You know, I am the spokesman for your government. At that seminar in Singapore [no details were provided] I spoke in glowing terms about the high-tech companies that have invested in Sri Lanka and argued for others to follow suit.”

Again, on one occasion, Bob Blake “even asked me if we wanted help to kill Prabhakaran.” I said “Yes.” That line of operation was not pursued it seems. However, USA had assisted Sri Lanka in securing radar and weaponry at certain points;[1] while helping with satellite coordinates in hunting down the LTTE’s rogue warehouse ships in 2007.[2]

-Samantha_power_harvard_law_2010 Samantha Power in full flow–Pic from Wikipedia

So, inevitably, Gotabaya Rajapaksa and this writer confronted the question “WHAT CHANGED?” Gotabaya’s answer: “with the Obama administration there was a big turn.” In his view this shift was due less to Hilary Clinton than to Samantha Power and Susan Rice. Power’s office, he stressed, was next to Obama’s and she was able to sway both the President and his wife Michelle. Power was a champion of RtoP interventions in vigorous mode. Moreover, he said, the Tamil diaspora in the Americas were active in lobbying well-placed champions human rights as well as US politicians.[3] Though he did not elaborate on these opinions, the implication was that the Obama administration was converted towards an interventionist policy in Sri Lanka that favoured the Sri Lankan Tamil peoples.[4]

That this significant issue was not explored in further depth was/is my fault: I was running out of steam (and time) … and a reference to KP’s tel-conversations with the Tiger command diverted me towards that topic because it is central to an article I am finalizing.


One: Robert Blake holds threat of war crimes charges in face of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, mid-March 2009

“Although he discerned the LTTE’s strategy, the American ambassador [Blake] proceeded to support it. That is, in effect, he became a Tiger instrument. At a meeting with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister on the 18th March 2009, Blake told him ‘that the deaths of thousands or even tens of thousands of civilians from [any attack on the safe zone by GSL forces to inflict a final defeat on the Tigers] would cause an international outcry, likely subject the GSL to war crime charges, and almost certainly undermine public support in the U.S. and other donor countries for future reconstruction efforts in the north’ (emphasis added)” = Michael Roberts, “Crunched In-Between the Sinha-Le Activists and the Self-Righteous International Cabal,” 9 February 2016, /crunched-in-between-the-sinha-le-activists-and-the-self-righteous-international-cabal/

Two: Tamara Kunanayakam’s Telling Personal Encounter within UN Corridors in 2011

“In September 2011, another failed attempt to place Sri Lanka on the agenda followed, this time with Canada acting as Washington’s proxy, given that the US was not a member of the Human Rights Council. I was then Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva and found myself facing a furious US Ambassador, Eileen Donahoe, who exploded, We’ll get you next time! Six months later, the US, which had by then become a member, took the lead and two resolutions followed in 2012 and 2013, culminating in the notorious 2015 resolution that was adopted without a vote, because of co-sponsorship by the new pro-Washington Government in Colombo” = See “A Tour de Force by Tamara Kunanayakam…,” 23 February 2016,2016 

Three: Tamara Kunanayakam’s Summary of Events, 2013

“That there was indeed a strategy to frame Sri Lanka became evident many years later, in 2013, when Sri Lanka was chosen as one of six countries for RtoP application by a US working group on “The United States and RtoP: from words to action,” which was co-chaired by former Secretary of the US State Department, Madeleine Albright, and US Presidential Envoy to Sudan, Richard Williamson.  Gareth Evans was part of that group.” = See “A Tour de Force. ….,” as above.


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Richard A. Boucher, 2008 “U.S.-Sri Lanka Relations,” 3 August 2008, p/sca/rls/2008/107655.htm …. Also at at

Mark Bowden 1999 Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Signet Books.

Daya Gamage 2007 “Military Agreement between United States and Sri Lanka Could be politically tricky,” 22 March 2007,

Gerald H. Peiris: 2009 “The Doctrine of Responsibility to Protect: Impulses, Implications and Impact,” 30 June 2010, AND

Michael Roberts 2014Winning the War: Evaluating the Impact of API WENUWEN API,” 1 Sept. 2014,

Michael Roberts 2014 Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Michael Roberts 2014 Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications.

Michael Roberts 2015 “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015,

Michael Roberts 2015 “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015,

Michael Roberts 2015 “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 15 September 2015,

Michael Roberts 2015 “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015,

Michael Roberts 2015 “Lilliputs in a World of Giants: Marga and CHA bat for Lanka in the Propaganda War, 2009-14,” 18 November 2015,

Michael Roberts 2016 “Speaking to Gotabaya, I: Plans Afoot in 2009 to Rescue the Tiger Leadership,” 8 March 2016,

Michael Roberts 2016 “Speaking to Gotabaya-II: Listening in on KP’s Chats with Prabhakaran’s ‘Man Friday’,” 8 March 2016,

Jeevan Thiagarajah: Confronting the OCHR Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Memorandum from Jeevan Thiagarajah,” 19 November 2015,

Stephen Wertheim, 2010 “A Solution from Hell: The United States and the Rise of Humanitarian Interventionism, 1991–2003,” Journal of Genocide Research 2010, Vol 12, No. 3, pp. 149-72. …

Sunday Times: “Marga/CHA confront the OISL Investigation in Geneva, September 2014: Godfrey Gunatilleke in Q and A with Lasanda Kurukulasuriya,” 19 November 2015,


[1] During a convivial chat at a friend’s house with Commodore Karannagoda of the SL Navy in May 2015 Karannagoda informed me that Blake helped the Navy to secure Bushmaster cannons and to upgrade its radar monitoring towers and equipment. He was opposed to any criticism of Robert Blake.

[2] I did not press Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he mentioned – more or less in passing. — the USA’s help re satellite coordinates. However, my information from a senior naval officer is that the SL Navy worked out where along the equatorial line the LTTE marshalled its trawler fleet for transfer of goods from the warehouse ships. The first naval strike expedition deep into the Indian Ocean was a major leap forward – undertaken with great secrecy and, as it happened, with great success. My source insisted that there was no US aid of consequence during this first strike. Subsequently the US Command was more helpful.

[3] A well-placed friend in one of the eastern Cities of USA sent me this note: “Tamil diaspora groups like USTPAC have spent money in hiring leading lobby groups like Podesta to influence Congress personnel while also devoting enormous efforts in time to influence the US State Dept, media, think tanks etc and in these ways brought pressure to bear on all arms of the US govt.


[4] Also see Michael Roberts 2015 “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” and some of the other references in the Bibliography.


Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, economic processes, governance, historical interpretation, Indian Ocean politics, law of armed conflict, life stories, LTTE, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, Rajapaksa regime, Responsibility to Protect or R2P, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil migration, Tamil Tiger fighters, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, war reportage, world events & processes