Presidential Pardons for Criminals, Terrorists, and Who Else?

Chandre Dharmawardana, whose thoughts should be ruminated on in the light of the preceding item =

When the family of the Czar Nicholas, children and women included,  were brutally killed by the Bolshevik revolutionaries, that was justified by a throng of intellectuals who were ready to defend anything done in the name of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. Clever dialectical arguments were presented as to why even the children had to be killed. More sensitive souls presented excuses rather than justifications. A  favorite one was that “it is inevitable” that some bourgeois  sentiments will be upset when a little extra blood is let – but all that is justified in the quest to reach the coveted end.

President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has raised the ire of human rights (HR) activists when he pardoned  Sunil Ratnayake, a former army staff sergeant, convicted and sentenced to death  for murdering eight Tamil civilians including a five year old child  in Mirusuvil (Mirijjavila)  in  December 2000. While Sunil Ratnayake has been duly tried by the courts  and found guilty, the  HR activists have include people like General Shavendra Silva and Gotabhaya  Rajapaksa himself with the same “war criminal” labelThis  blunts  the focus and  strength of the HR claims  by  converting a clear mater of justice  into a matter of political activism.

The Bolsheviks, Fascists  and other killer ideologues  of history have also found solace in using political objectives in laundering their crimes. Thus, what appears as a “heinous crime” to one set of people becomes “unfortunate collateral” to the opposite political camp, if we are to use the words of the Secretary of Sate Madelein Albright  (a one time Amnesty International official) calmly asserting that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children.

In his address at the annual general meeting of the TULF on 29-Dec-2012 Mr. V. Anandasangaree stated that: “The mass scale killings of the LTTE injured cadre by the LTTE itself, recruitment of child soldiers even during the last lap of the war by the LTTE, were all concealed from the voters. When some of these matters were brought to the notice of a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Parliament based in Mullaitivu, he commented that these things cannot be avoided in a war”.

While a murder can have painful and disastrous consequences to the families of the victims, the political ideologues, dazzled by some nationalist, Eelamist or even Hegelian political Valhalla  are ready to ride rough shod over individual humans. The regimes they set up are ready to exterminate innocents in gas chambers, gulags and in the killing fields of cultural revolutions or JVP style “burning-tire”  immolations.

In an earlier era, the Portuguese soldiers and Spanish conquistadors had no qualms in using their bayonets  on pregnant women’s bellies as “unbaptized heathen” will end up in hell anyway! Today, violent religious fundamentalism has become an acceptable ideology which rose to destroy Churches and tourist hotels last Easter.

A case unobscured by political ideology was the pardoning in November 2019  by President Sirisena of  Jude Jayamaha,  a well-connected Sri Lankan  convicted in 2005 of murdering Yvonne Jonsson, a Swedish woman personally involved with the murderer. Why did he do it?

While a murderer should be made to “pay retribution” to those affected by his crimes, what justification has the state to become murderer and take a life as “punishment” for even a capital crime? In recognition of this, most civilized countries have banned capital punishment.

Unlike with a premeditated murder or a bond scam, a “war-crime” of a soldier is the act of  a war machine  trained to kill, with his emotions and free will deadened by many days of drill and obedience. Add to it racist or ideologically nursed hate, coupled with the rush of adrenaline that controls the actions of the murderer who has been trained to kill  by their training as soldiers, then  the whole concept of trying soldiers for “war crimes” becomes similar to putting down a Pavlovian dog who had been trained to kill, when it actually kills with no moral discrimination.

It is useless to talk of “rules of good conduct” that apply to soldiers at war. The winners of a war usually try the vanquished at “war tribunals” for “war crimes” using such rules, while their own warriors are not tried, but treated as heroes.

But that absurdity should not be perpetuated.

So, how should we deal with our criminals and war criminals? In my view, the state is as guilty of these crimes as the accused individuals are. The state must pardon all such criminals, and rehabilitate them as far as possible. Most Pavlovian dogs can be re-trained using exactly the same Pavlovian methods. From then on, they should be made to work, even on useful manual jobs, and a part of their earnings should be used to pay “retribution” to the victims of their crimes. The state too must add an equal amount to the “retributive pay”, as the state is equally  guilty of the crimes, as are the individuals. Of course, these principles do not apply to premeditated crimes where the intent to commit  the act existed  over a time period.  A different set of principles, based on a person’s community of “friends” and its values, economic conditions, as well as the psychiatric condition of the accused must be assessed. But most courts of law do not follow such principles or conduct experiments in neuroscience on accused individuals. If they do, they err on the wrong side, for example, by relying on the pseudoscience of  “lie detectors”.

Neuroscience has taught us that the degree of “free will” that humans have is indeed very limited, and most of their actions are controlled by processes not powered by the conscious mind.  For instance, if you see someone approaching you, and recognize her as a friend, you may decide to shake her hand or embrace her. But neuroscience shows that the unconscious mind had already made that decision long before the conscious mind knows of it. The conscious mind is only subsequently “informed” of the course of action to take, and then it identifies with the course of action “thinking” that “you decided” to follow the prescribed action (remarkably enough, this was already known to Helmholtz in the 19th century). That is, what we do, what we decide to do, and how much of it is our own conscious volition or unconscious-conditioned action, are a gray area that even careful neuroscience experiments cannot easily clarify. This is why “Human Rights” claims often go counter to the facts of neuroscience.

So, the only scientifically rational action is to pardon almost all criminals and look for ways to rehabilitate them, while the pardoned criminals  are made to compensate the victims and  dependents by their own earnings, augmented by a contribution from the state which is equally guilty of the crime in most cases. Such an approach can also be justified by the compassionate teachings of most religions, while a majority of Sri Lankans should know what the Buddha taught. He even enrolled the rehabilitated serial killer Angulimala into his order of the Sangha. Human Rights Watch of the time, run by  well-heeled Brahamins, surely did not approve!


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2 responses to “Presidential Pardons for Criminals, Terrorists, and Who Else?

  1. Chandre Dharmawardana

    This article has now appeared in the Island newspaper, 1st April 2020.

    1. Other articles on the same topic have appeared elsewhere. The articles in the journals like Colombo Telegraph or in the Tamil medium write condemning the President. Many articles in Sinhala newspapers support the President or argue that the LTTE terrorists who bombed the central bank were freed, or that Staff Sargent Ratnayake already spent 20 years in jail waiting for judgment etc., and hence his release is justified. Or they point out other examples like:
    The soldiers in My Lai,didn’t encounter any enemy troops in Vietnam in 1968n. Yet they proceeded to set huts on fire, gang-rape the women, and murder some 500 unarmed civilians including approximately 50 children under the age of four. President Richard Nixon reduced Lt Calley’s who was the senior officer present sentence to a light punishment—three years of house arrest. Similarly, the British, even as recently as under Theresa May rejected trying any soldiers.
    However, one wrong does not justify another.
    But my point is that it is even more wrong for the state to undertake murder, especially in cases where soldiers or terrorists, i.e., people who have been trained to kill, do just that.
    This does not apply to drug barons, bond scammers and others who are committing premeditated crimes. They need to be punished in a way consistent with more neuroscience, and NOT going back to the philosophy of taking vengeance.

    2. I had included what is believed to be the original Sinhala place name, “Mirijjavila” within parenthesis for Mirusuvil (which is the current Tamil place name), and I thank the editor of Thuppahi for not removing it. The Island Newspaper Editor edited it out!
    In Sinhala, Mirirdiyavila –> Mirijjavila means “fresh-water pond”, or fres water lake, but the Tamil word “Mirusu” has no clear meaning in this or any other context, and is most likely a distortion of the sinhala place name. Similarly, the word “vil” in old Tamil did not refer to a pond or lake, but to a “bow” and (other meanings) but has no clear topnomyic meaning valid in this context (see: Madras Tamil lexicon, entries from p3672 to p3731, or similar entries in Cologne University old Tamil dictionary etc.)

  2. Chandre Dharmawardana

    Apologize for my free-hand typing/spelling errors. e.g., topnomyic, Mirirdiyavila etc. The latter should be Miridiyavila .

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