Sunday May 19, 2013
Is Google Earth Hiding Sri Lanka's Ghosts?Tim King Salem-News.com
Google, are we misreading this? Haven't Sri Lanka's Tamils been through enough?
(SALEM) - Does Sri Lanka's ongoing lack of transparency over its recent Genocide of Tamil people extend to Google Earth?
It's disturbing. Google Earth appears to be be using an unusual series of photographs to comprise its image of Sri Lanka as the regime stands accused of war crimes in Geneva.
It's a question that deserves to be asked; why is the exact area where so many were killed by government forces hard to make out, and why is that image specifically from 2005, years before the intense attacks on civilians in this area, while adjacent images are from May 2009, in the middle of the worst of the ethnic cleansing?
The number one online resource that people turn to for research should refuse censorship to any government that stands accused of grave violations of international laws regulating war, and crimes against humanity.
In my continual research of the Genocide that left up to 160k Sri Lankan Tamils dead and missing, I opened Google Earth to study the peninsula where the Sri Lanka Army directed people into free fire zones, and then attacked these civilians with heavy artillery. I was disturbed to see that a square filter appears to have been placed over these notorious killing fields of a recent Genocide.
In this area, on the east coastline of north Sri Lanka, the government's military forces unleashed bombardments week after week in 2009 onto a trapped population, while both the president and defense minister stared into the world's TV cameras and specifically denied that "heavy weapons were being used", when they were absolutely and ruthlessly used.
When asked about the trapped population, officials from this island nation were angry and frustrated and had no patience for the few questions that were asked. It has been revealed that even U.S. officials asked Sri Lanka's top political leaders to allow the Red Cross into the areas where civilian casualties were feared to be numerous, but the government denied that there were civilian casualties, and then refused to allow the Red Cross access into the affected region. Then, in an ominous contraction, President Majinda Rajapaksa said, "It was too late for that". There were not enough questions and far too few honest answers if there were any at all.
Is this Coincidence?
Groups with the motto "Do No Evil" should not place protective masks on Google Earth to shield the public from seeing areas where both war crimes, and crimes against humanity, are suspected of having taken place.
It seems fair to ask, what is Google's role in backing governments as their officials stand accused of war crimes in Geneva? At what point should the Internet giant be expected to rise above the fray simply because that is the right thing to do?
We know that after the Genocide, Sri Lanka hired an unscrupulous advertising agency in London, Bell Pottinger, to write their UN speech and denial of war crimes. It turns out that long before they started shilling for the Belarus dictatorship and writing speeches for Sri Lankan war criminals, Bell Pottinger were paid apologists for the brutal Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, lobbying hard to help the General evade justice after he was arrested in the UK on torture charges in 1998.
It does not seem impossible to imagine that Sri Lanka is somehow buying this shield from Google Earth. I have written to the email address they list for questions, specifically listing my complaint, asking why the image is more obscure in that particular area, and I have not received a reply.
This is a strong charge, but it is exactly what appears to be going on. Google is denying people the ability to look at a place where a government did everything in its power to commit mass murder; ethnic Genocide, and they did it effectively and with a self-assured attitude.
Island of Beauty and Death
For those who don't know, Sri Lanka is an island nation off the east coast of India, it is beautiful and tropical and has lush beaches, incredible food and rich history and traditions.
In this story we are talking about the northern part of Sri Lanka, also known as Tamil Eelam, where a three-decade long civil war for independence in the north ended in a terrible ethnic cleansing of civilians and an established resistance force.
Previously known as Ceylon, the island was a primary stopover for the early spice traders and even today has a national spice council. Tourism is one of the main industries and without question, Sri Lanka is known for incredible surfing.
Most of Sri Lanka, a little more than 80% of the population, is Sinhalese Buddhist. About 18% of the population is Tamil; most are Hindu, with a Christian minority. There was an ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the contested northern region in the 1980's, where the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils have traditionally lived.
Like all ethnic cleansing that has taken place here, the political and military moves made against Muslims were a large, regrettable mistake, and while they were mostly driven out and not killed, many did die and it is a stain on the history pages.
In fact, the Muslim exodus from north Sri Lanka is one of the first things I learned about this place. I worked with a friend at the Las Vegas FOX station, whose family, Sri Lankan Muslims, were refugees in the United States as a result of this ethnic cleansing. Tamils and Muslims do live throughout Sri Lanka today, though members of both often face segregation.
The most serious divide remains between the Tamils and Sinhalese, and it is rooted in policies established during the British colonization of Ceylon which lasted for many years. During the years of British rule, preference was often given to Tamils. They were allowed to work in government positions, they were often better paid than their Buddhist counterparts. Naturally, while this took place, resentment in the Sinhalese community grew and grew.
After achieving independence in 1948, Sri Lanka's Sinhalese Buddhist majority took over and a battle against the Tamil culture was unleashed; one that would lead to sixty plus years of terrible strife, and would culminate just over three years ago in a government orchestrated bloodbath.
For thirty years, beginning in 1948, Tamils attempted to hold onto their language and culture and their rights by using a Gandhi-style non-violent resistance, and all they did was lose. This led to the forming of the breakaway state, Tamil Eelam, and the formation of the LTTE.
As I have written very recently, the Tamil Tigers attacked military targets and then in 1983, after a military battle that left 13 SLA soldiers dead, saw Tamil civilian neighborhoods burned, and hundred of innocent non-combatants murdered by raging Buddhists. This Tamil tragedy is remembered as 'Black July' - marking the attacks carried out by mobs in Sri Lanka which began on 23 July 1983.
I cite this because, after the war raging so long, the LTTE was declared a terrorist group after U.S. President G.W. Bush took office and lost its rights to politically represent itself, as has happened to Hamas in Gaza.
This assessment was given to the LTTE, after hundreds of its own civilians were murdered by civilians in retribution to military action in 1983 - and at many other points in history. The Tamil Tigers began blowing up areas populated with civilians after their own were killed over military action. Never ever were the Tigers worse than the government it battled.
But after 30 years of violent war, and after the LTTE was declared 'terrorist', Rajapakse had his license to commit Genocide and he did it with grand fervor; so many old people and children were murdered that any reasonable person, particularly parents, have a very hard time watching it.
The place where the worst killing is blocked from view by Google even though the war is over, Google is obviously bowing to a request from Sri Lanka.
Channel-4 in London busted the Genocide tragedy open last year with Jon Snow's 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' and it was like lancing a festering sore, one Sri Lanka would much preferred to have left scabbed over.
The blood and gore is really unprecedented because it lasted for a long time and affected so many people. Bombs striking the ground, people's clothing articles in trees because the people's bodies were literally blown through the trees. They tried to find shelter in trenches that families dug; children screamed and there was little anyone could do at the worst points.
The activity that is forever recorded on YouTube also involved sexual debauchery of the cruelest nature; nude rape/murder victims being loaded into a truck like meaningless cargo, while SLA soldiers joke about wanting to rape them again, one says he, "would like to cut her tits off", and this is recorded on video and widely shown and of course extensively shown and explored in the Channel-4 documentaries. But trying to piece together events (crimes) with locations is a little harder because Google has a big patch over the exact area where the 'no-fire' zones were established, it seems too exact to be a coincidence.
In addition to the savage killing and starving of thousands of people, one lie after another from Sri Lanka President Majinda Rajapaksa was exposed and as the layers of their story are peeled away it becomes just like an onion, it makes you cry and if it doesn't, then I suggest seeing a doctor. I think I'm tough but I can't make it through the entire documentary without experiencing a tremendous emotional response.
And now Channel-4 has released a follow-up program; Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished and few titles have ever been so fitting.
The first program was called a 'fake' by overtly angry Lankan officials time and time again, yet everyone knows it is not and that the evidence is sickeningly thick and while the actual number of victims is unknown, some placing the number of dead at only 40,000, I believe it is well over a hundred thousand and that in fact very few of the 160,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who ceased to exist, are actually alive today.
This is because part of the evidence, well reviewed in our reports and the Jon Snow documentaries, involves people being executed after they are in custody, some as they happen and others after the fact. One is the supreme commander of the rebel Tamil Tigers- LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), Velupillai Prabhakaran, another is his 12-year old son, and this aspect complicates things for Rajapaksa all the more.
Executions of Velupillai Prabhakaran and Balachandran Prabhakaran
Velupillai Prabhakaran is a man I have not written about at great length in previous reports. His death is back in focus from evidence gained by Channel-4 reports involving the death of his young son, Balachandran Prabhakaran.
News about the death of a 12-year old child in this war has been making the rounds in the news worldwide. The tragic death of young Balachandran Prabhakaran and five men, presumably the five bodyguards sent to escort the boy to be surrendered, tell a story of torture and murder and when it takes place during a war, it is a war crime, plain and simple.
In the video and high resolution photographs, Balachandran is laying on his back, with only shorts on, and five distinct bullet wounds in his chest. One appears to have been fired directly into his chest at close range, the other entry wounds appear to have been fired after the boy was laying on his back, one exit wound in his upper left shoulder is visible.
The men laying next to him all have their arms behind their backs, as if they had been tied; one still has the rope that appears to have bound his hands, laying below his hands on the ground. It distinctly appears to be possible that this is sloppy coverup work from a war murder. The experts say it appears to be the case.
The theory is that the boy, who did not appear to have been bound or blindfolded, was forced to watch the bodyguards executed as the SLA extracted from the boy, the location of his father. An SLA officer told Channel-4 that is exactly what happened, and that the boy was executed after he revealed his father's location.
Military Commander Executed
The photo that the Sri Lanka government released showed the public the body of Velupillai Prabhakaran, with a cloth covering the top of his head.
In realty, there is no top of his head, he has been executed like the countless other Tamils, with a round fired into the back of his head, and it largely destroyed his forehead, replacing it with a gaping bullet exit wound.
The other photos and video showing the actual wounds were leaked. One shows the Sri Lankan government crudely removing pieces of Velipillai Prabhakaran's brain.
He is seen dead in uniform, with his clothing removed, and then with his body smeared in mud. All of this is depicted in the new Channel-4 program.
Prof. William Schabas is a Human Rights Lawyer featured in Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished. He says Velupillai Prabhakaran's fatal injury was not the result of a combat death, but an execution, a murder, and in this case, a war crime.
His 17 May 2009 death led to this statement from the LTTE:
"We announce today with inexpressible sadness and heavy hearts that our incomparable leader, the supreme commander of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), attained martyrdom fighting the Sri Lankan government," the rebels' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan said in a statement.
"His final request was for the struggle to continue until we achieved the freedom for his people," the statement added.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were defeated in Sri Lanka during the conclusion of this war in 2009, but the resistance force is still in existence and in spite of their branding as terrorist and the fact that they did carry out many acts against civilians, the group is largely viewed as a resistance force that stood only for the liberation of the Tamil people.
It is a fact that the final push that began in 2005, came at a time that a cease fire was in existence. This was not observed by Sri Lanka's government.
The new documentary reveals how the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) located this otherwise elusive military leader. It seems Velupillai Prabhakaran's fatal mistake, was trusting that officers in the SLA would behave like human beings and above all else, respect civilians who surrendered. He made the wrong assumption, they tortured his son into providing the information.
Blurring the Evidence?
According to strongly corroborated evidence presented in, Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, Sri Lanka deceptively trapped the Tamil people from the Vanni on a parcel land, called by Sri Lanka, a 'No Fire Zone' and then began firing on them with heavy artillery. The weapons were located on the mainland, to the west, and so began the final elimination of people in the active conflict.
United Nations representatives in the area said they were "100% certain" that the weapons being fired into the 'no-fire' zone were from Sri Lanka's military.
Tamil Tiger units were also set up in positions where they could have shelled their own people, an absurd notion by any standard, yet that is what the SLA said.
President Majinda Rajapaksa, his brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's Minister of Defence, and other top commanders like Major General Shavendra Silva, stated unequivocally that they fired no heavy guns, and that there were only five thousand civilians involved, when the civilians numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
'No Fire Zone 1'
The SLA made the mistake of shelling a provisional hospital set up in the center of the first area where people were told they would be safe, 'No Fire Zone 1'; by members of a United Nations crew that was trying desperately to save the civilian Tamil refugees.
The heavy artillery shells began falling directly on the hospital and the UN team recorded what happened, which was pure carnage, bombs falling in the center of a large area of human brings. They photographed the torn up bodies of the Tamils who helped construct the hospital, that were killed in the SLA's constant barrages of fire.
Prof. William Schabas, says the photographs of the people killed at the UN hospital tell a grim story. In one case, a person's head is decapitated, it appears to have been blown off. In another photo, Dr. Schabas says it is clear that a woman's face shows signs of shrapnel entry, consistent with the exact type of weaponry Sri Lanka's government says it never at any time used.
There are many points along the way where the 'official story' seems like pure fiction and is extremely contradictory, but it truly hit home when the same United Nations representatives who were surviving the direct fire in the 'no-fire' zone, contacted the government in Colombo and soon, the shells began falling in the no-fire zone - but about 100 metres away.
This proved conclusively, that the shells killing the civilian refugees in a no-fire zone, who were starving from not being provided ample food, also a war crime, were indeed being directed by government forces, and it proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the SLA had the ability to fire the guns in any direction they chose.
It is important to note that the Google Earth page has this area; where the SLA says they were not bombing civilians, but in reality according to some reports, sent a thousand tons of artillery at the civilian targets, visible but seemingly obscured. I have seen this on Google Earth before and I believe national security is perhaps a fair reason, but this war is over, or as the Tamils still in the military-occupied Vanni often say, it is not.
'No Fire Zone 2'
Next came the establishment of the second so-called 'no-fire' zone, which was smaller than the first region. Once people were established, the heavy weapons began again, at times leveling people and at times leaving many victims alive and screaming desperately for help that was not available.
Doctors with the Sri Lankan government voiced complaints about not receiving adequate medical supplies, later they would all be jailed, and then the subject of an unusual 'retraction' of statements they made during the war.
The SLA forces began moving toward the remaining population of living Tamils trapped on the peninsula, and that is when, for a brief time, the civilians thought they would be rescued.
That is after all, the government's way of describing the entire operation, as a "rescue operation". Over and over again Snow shows the two Rajapaksa brothers stating this outrageous claim; and they are not by any means the only officials shown parroting the same words.
The fact that the bombings lasted for weeks, and that journalists who would have told the story more completely were the first to be exterminated, is highly unacceptable and again rings of a government with absolutely zero regard for human rights and international law.
They said repeatedly that they never killed a single civilian, it is embarrassing as a human being to see this situation actually taking place still, with denials at the forefront and responsibility basically non-existent.
'No Fire Zone 3'
Then came the third and final, deadly 'no-fire' zone... Now, squeezed into a tiny parcel of land, the remaining civilians were being blasted constantly by artillery and when it stopped, soldiers arrived on foot, and this is where so many of the most terrible crimes against humanity became far more personal.
Those able to survive did so under brutal conditions; lacking security, medical supplies and food. The anguish, again, is highly documented and painfully portrayed in 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished'.
Nearly if not all, lost family members and friends. They were from all walks of life, they were families, old, young, babies, mothers and fathers.
A witness in the Channel-4 program says he was in a bunker, injured badly, but he refused to believe that the SLA was simply moving through and slaughtering the survivors of their bombing campaign.
The man said, "Then I saw them pull about 15 people out of a bunker and spray bullets at them at close range". Then he knew that anyone Sri Lanka's soldiers found, was as good as dead, no age requirements, no gender preference on the killing, though women and girls suffered extra horrible fates in many cases.
Part of it again, ties back to the labeling of a resistance movement with the word 'terrorist'. In this case, it is used to dehumanize the human being who was born into a culture and place where a movement is underway opposing a government. Even the rape victims were "just terrorists" as the soldiers clearly state on the videotapes that recorded their heinous thoughts and deeds.
Beyond the terrible sexual crimes and torture, this type of savagery is truly the most refined type of ethnic cleansing; it is a Hitler-style crime because government military forces were directed to literally exterminate all of the people they encountered.
The images of suffering human beings, already so deprived and terrified, having to literally run for their lives, is a devastating image. The video from this exact time is not something that any viewer will soon forget.
So for those just discovering this tragedy, and I know there are plenty of you, the bottom line is that human beings were slaughtered like animals by the current Sri Lanka government, and a continual lack of transparency has been Sri Lanka's inflexible position; that much we know.
We also know that the country's acts have been fully outed and it is the United States that is actually leveling charges against Sri Lanka at the present time. They almost got away with it, but humanity has a strong voice and that is how and why I am able to deliver this information to readers right now.
Google Earth's apparent effort to blur the image of the place known as 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields' is high octane fuel on a still smoldering fire. It makes Google complicit to Sri Lanka's lack of transparency at best, and a partner in their project to conceal war crimes at worst, and sadly that is how it appears.
This area so hard to make out on Google Earth, the section of the peninsula where the final group of terrified refugees were herded and then attacked, is a place where people were told they would be safe, and they were killed by months of unchecked rampant state terrorism; the worst possible kind.
As I have written so many times and always will, Sri Lanka's Rajapaksa regime eliminated the journalists in this place who were willing to tell the truth about the Tamil's plight. A long list of dead and missing reporters and editors and other media employees defines the true spirit of this current government.
Google should not have anything to do with it, but I fear that they do because that hazy patch looks too square, too precisely located; too foreign on an otherwise clear picture of a normally sunny and clear country. I suspect that a clearer image might reveal a number of details that Sri Lanka does not want us to see.
Tim King's previous Salem-News.com reports on Sri Lanka:
Mar-11-2012: War Crime Court and its Conflicting Interests
Mar-08-2012: Sex Abuse and Murder in Sri Lanka- New Photos Emerge
Feb-28-2012: Tweets from Tamil Eelam
Feb-24-2012: Two of Sri Lanka's Foulest War Crimes
Nov-24-2011: Fear, Genocide and Torture in Sri Lanka
Oct-15-2011: Genocide 101: World and Media Apathy
Oct-05-2011: War and its Aftermath... a Real Killer for Tourism
Oct-01-2011: Sri Lanka in the Crosshairs of Canadian Parliament
Sep-13-2011: Sri Lanka Recalls Diplomat Accused of War Crimes
Jun-20-2011: Sri Lanka's Violence Toward Tamil Minority Continues
Jun-02-2011: UN Experts: Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide Video is Real
May-31-2011: Sri Lanka Tamil Genocide: Killing the Messenger
May-03-2011: Confronting the Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka
Apr-27-2011: Tamil Genocide in Sri Lanka Emerges Into Public View
Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Tim is Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. His background includes covering the war in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, and reporting from the Iraq war in 2008. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.
Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing from The Associated Press the National Coalition of Motorcyclists, the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs, Electronic Media Association and The Red Cross In a personal capacity, Tim has written 2,026 articles as of March 2012 for Salem-News.com since the new format designed by Matt Lintz was launched in December, 2005.
Serving readers with news from all over the globe, Tim's life is literally encircled by the endless news flow published by Salem-News.com, where more than 100 writers contribute stories from 20+ countries and regions.
Tim specializes in writing about political and military developments worldwide with an emphasis on Palestine and Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Marines. You can write to Tim at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Tim's Facebook page (facebook.com/TimKing.Reporter)
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