September 22 is for remembering

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Daily Mirror


The 4th article of the Dasa Raja Dharma, Lord Buddha?s incomparable treatise on good governance is about Ajjava, i.e. honesty and integrity. The ruler, the Buddha said must be absolutely straightforward and must never employ any crooked means to achieve ends. This week I planned to dwell on this particular aspect of good governance but am compelled to employ the idea to dissect something more specific. I write about honesty and integrity but only in terms of how they relate to the month of September.
I am writing this on September 22, 2010. September 22 is significant for a specific and personal reason. It marks an anniversary. On this day, exactly one year ago, the Daily Mirror published an article by me titled ?Welcome to Sri Lanka Ms. Patricia Butenis?. Ms. Butenis had just assumed duties as the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka. My comment followed a statement she issued to the press subsequent to presenting credentials to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
She said in that note, ?No country, including the United States, has a perfect record in safeguarding human rights? but said that even while addressing its own shortcomings, the USA has a responsibility to advocate for the rights and freedoms of people worldwide. Ms. Butenis is aware I am sure of the adage that charity begins at home. I expressed in my response to her ?note? the hope that once she recovers from jet-leg, Ms. Butenis would write a lengthy piece informing Sri Lankans about what exactly the USA has been doing by way of addressing shortcomings.
A lot has happened since September 22, 2009. We?ve had Nick Clegg of Britain?s Liberal Democratic Party confessing while acting as Prime Minister that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. We?ve had ?Wikileaks? telling us of the horrendous and systemic perpetration of atrocities by US troops in Afghanistan. We?ve had the US justice system virtually giving a green light to torture of prisoners as long as it happens outside the borders of that country. We?ve had President Barack Obama wanting photographic evidence of excesses perpetrated by US troops in Iraq suppressed in the name of ?national security?. We?ve not had Ms. Butenis saying a word about these things.

Here are some sobering numbers. The number of Iraqis slaughtered since the US invaded Iraq stands at 1,366,360. That?s close to 1.4 million people. The USA has lost 4,739 military personnel. This means that roughly 288 Iraqis have died for each US soldier. Ms. Butenis knows of all this because she tried to buy the silence of one Mohammed Hafidh after trigger-happy security personnel deployed to protect a US diplomat belonging to the contractor Blackwater opened fire on a group of civilians killing his 10 year old son Ali. Ms. Butenis was at the time the Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad and had offered the boy?s father US$ 12,500. He had refused. She must know these numbers. She must know what that invasion was about. She must know that the US invaded that unhappy country in order to eliminate non-existent weapons of mass destruction. She must know that in addition to the 1.4 million Iraqis killed after the invasion, half a million Iraqi children died courtesy of the US-led economic sanctions imposed on that country. I am yet to hear Ms. Butenis talk of ?shortcomings?. Her country has already spent US $ 1,083,252,716,408 in executing the wars on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and I refuse to believe that these adventures did not generate returns that justified investment.

There are 30 days in September. On the 24th day of this month in the year 2009, it was revealed that declassified documents of the US embassy in Bogota showed that US authorities had been aware since 1990 that the Colombian military had been murdering civilians and dressing them up as guerrillas to increase body counts. Colombia is the largest recipient of US military aid in the Western hemisphere. Ms. Butenis knows. She was Consul (1990-1993) and Consul General (2001-2004) in the US Embassy in Bogota. She could not have been ignorant of these matters.
Ms. Butenis also served as the US Political Officer in El Salvador (1982-1985) and as El Salvador Desk Officer (1988-1990). This was when that country was in the middle of a civil war where US-backed dirty tactics (developed using CIA experience from ?Operation Phoenix? in Vietnam) caused over 75,000 deaths. And this lady had the audacity to tell the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that ?the Lankan government must seriously address precious human rights abuses, including establishing accountability and rule of law by bringing to justice those responsible for extrajudicial killings, disappearances and numerous attacks against press freedom that have occurred in the last several years?. Ms Butenis could tell us what kind of bringing-to-justice was facilitated by her Government of murders her Government has supported and continues to support in Latin America. Given the posts she has held, Washington?s policy directives she had to execute as part of her JD and her sanctimonious posturing, it is indeed surprising that she?s in Colombo and not in the Hague.
My ?welcome note? to Ms. Butenis is no longer available on the internet. I saw it a few days ago, posted the link on facebook, but it?s since disappeared. I am not surprised. I have a copy saved though. Here?s a quote referring to her meddling stint in Bangladesh:
?At a farewell speech at the Gulshan Club, Dhaka, she had said that although some Bangladeshis believed she was sometimes too outspoken, this was because Ambassadors must be clear about their country?s interests and viewpoints to avoid misunderstanding. I was told that Dr. Abdullah Dewan, Professor of Economics at Eastern Michigan University and a Bangladeshi American had observed: There was no ?misunderstanding? on our part; she was not just ?outspoken?, but openly meddled, apparently beyond her mandated duty, in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and made it look like a client state of America.?
Last September I made a list and shook it twice at Ms. Butenis, in lieu of an official red-carpet welcome. This is the list.
US troops massacred 300 Lakotas in 1890. The USA has sent troops abroad or carried out military strikes against other countries on 216 occasions since independence from Britain. Since 1945, the USA has intervened in more than 20 countries throughout the world. People are aware of ?Vietnam of course, where over 3 million people were killed before the then US President decided to withdraw. There are other unhappy countries. These include China (1945-46), Korea (1950-53), Guatemala (1954), Indonesia (1958), Cuba (1959-60), Guatemala (1960), Congo (1964), Peru (1965), Laos (1964-73), Vietnam (1961-73), Cambodia (1969-70), Guatemala (1967-69), Grenada (1983), Lebanon (1984), Libya (1986), El Salvador and Nicaragua (throughout the 1980s), Panama (1989), Iraq (ongoing), Sudan (1998), Afghanistan (ongoing) and Yugoslavia (1999). After World War II, the USA has assisted in over 20 different coups throughout the world and the CIA orchestrated countless assassinations and attempted-assassinations of dozens of political heads of state.
I also pointed out that Ms Butenis does not have to read Noam Chomsky to understand that Uncle Sam will support democratic regimes, dictatorships, monarchies, military juntas and all manner of totalitarian regimes guilty of horrendous crimes against humanity as long as US interests are served. That is the bottom line and I was sure Ms. Butenis must have been briefed on this when she was inducted into the US Foreign Service.
The USA has on numerous occasions deployed military police overseas, mobilized the National Guard, sent her Navy to patrol seas off the coast of numerous countries to show strength, carried out covert actions where US forces were not under direct US command, deployed US pilots to fly foreign planes, trained and advised military hierarchies in unpopular and tyrannical regimes and of course assassinated heads of state and other ?undesirables?.
I strongly recommended that Ms. Butenis read Willian Blum?s ?Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II?. I said that if the US throws the book at us, we can drown them with a hundred books, such is the magnitude of that country?s crimes against humanity.
Ms. Butenis? contention that it is good not to have misunderstanding was taken in that spirit. I asked her to comment. I hoped there wouldn?t be selective amnesia. One year later, I can report that we didn?t get ?selective amnesia? from Ms. Butenis. We got blanket silence. In Sinhala we would say ?kata uththara nehe? (silence on account of being tongue-tied).
Ms. Butenis might not have heard of the Dasa Raja Dharma. A year ago I might have thought that she would know the words ?honesty? and ?integrity?. Today, the 22nd day of September, 2010, one year after Mr. Butenis received that open welcome note I am saddened to observe that this lady doesn?t seem to have a clue and this because those are the two most inconvenient concepts for a diplomat from her country.
I finished that note with the following:
?Don?t underestimate us. Don?t misread ?smile? for ?pliant?. We will be watching your every move, trust us.?
I wished her an enjoyable tenure in Sri Lanka. I take this opportunity to tell her that we haven?t dropped our guard or blinked even once.
You are being watched Ms. Butenis. With greater suspicion in fact. You can thank your silence, double-standards, deceit and continued meddling for this.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.
Patricia Agatha Butenis was nominated U.S. Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives on May 27, 2009.
Prior to this assignment, ?she served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 2007-2009. From 2006-2007, she served as Ambassador to Bangladesh and from 2004-2006 as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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