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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

Lalin’s Column: Army Legal Services-An interlude

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

The many appreciations following the death of President’s Counsel Daya Perera brought to mind exploits of some officers who made their mark in the Army Legal Services (ALS) of the past. One went on to become rich and famous and another did not but had delusions of grandeur.

A past Army Commander’s inter action with the ALS also features here. The ALS is charged with providing justice in the Army covering administrative, operational and criminal law issues.

Col Noel Jansz. Col Jansz the first judge advocate, was an avuncular, much respected and helpful officer who made sure that as many young officers as possible not only knew their military law but were given real life instruction on the workings of military courts by serving as officers under instruction at Court Martials and then as junior members of Court Martials and were advised on personal legal problems. His summing up of trials which guided the members of a court martial to come to a correct verdict was educative and excellent. He with Major Clinton Labrooy set up the ALS on a very sound footing. Labrooy’s son Keith captained S Thomas’ College at cricket, The 6 foot soft spoken subaltern from the Light Infantry Volunteers NH Niriella joined around 1964 and was promoted Captain in the General Service Corps. He went on to become a Colonel and JAG later on.

Daya Perera. The diminutive Daya Perera virtually parachuted into the ALS from the AG’s department in 1964. He spent a whirlwind ‘secondment’ under Col Jansz the first judge advocate of the Army .Daya was recruited as a captain and promoted Lieutenant Colonel in the Light Infantry to overcome establishment difficulties for a post that had apparently been created for him as adviser.

Arrival. Daya made sure the officers knew that he was from Royal College Colombo, a rugby coloursman and that he was senior at school to Sandhurst trained Major TI (Bull) Weeratunge (later Army Commander 1981 -1985 and JRJ’s nephew)and Major (later Brigadier) SDN (Denis) Hapugalle. He was dead pleased to be called ‘sir’. A former colleague remarked that when Daya asked him at the AG’s dept what school he came from and he had answered ‘Ananda College’, Daya had blurted out “Oh that Maraiyakade School”. But Daya was also the chief Dayaka of the temple of his choice (Thimbirigasyaya?).

Departure.Hardly had Daya arrived than he was sent to UK to study the British ALS system. Shortly after his return he reverted to the AG’s dept from where he resigned and went on to do a very lucrative private practice. He enjoyed being called ‘Colonel’ by his lawyer colleagues. He was later SL’s ambassador to the UN (1989-91) and High Commissioner to Canada in 2009.

Prosecutor. Daya prosecuted at a court martial case where the accused was a lance corporal instructor at the Army Training Centre (ATC) Diyatalawa. He demonstrated his forensic skills to win his case, impressing captains like the writer who were under instruction. The soldier on being found guilty was discharged from the army. Intriguingly he was taken back and posted to the Diyatalawa Garrison where the soldier’s former CO (later General) was Commander in 1975-6. This certainly made military law look an utter ass.

Kalattawa. Daya used to regale us in the evenings in the ATC officers’ mess with his favourite story, the notorious Kalattawa (Anuradhapura) serial murder case. He had successfully prosecuted and ensured the accused called Soysa was sent to the gallows. Coincidentally the place where the numerous dead bodies were buried by Soysa is today an army camp.

Thiagarajah .The next time I met Daya around the late 1970s, was when I was ‘friend of the accused’ a Quarter Master Sergeant Thiagarajah of the First Reconnaissance Regiment. Although Thiagrajah’s request was an honour especially as I was from another regiment, the fact that mine was 200kms away in Diyatalawa was inconvenient. I had benefitted from his instructions in classes for Regimental Accounts for the officers’ promotion exams, held at Rock House Camp. He was accused with another of dumping unaccounted ammunition in the Beira lake (his camp was located nearby) pre empting a military police search. At the time he was extra regimentally employed with the 2nd Battalion of the National Guard, a Volunteer unit. Its adjutant was a captain from his regiment along with other Armoured Corps regulars. A sad affair.

Rock House blues. Thiagarajah networking through his former CO, Lt Col Hapugalle had Daya as his lawyer. During the trial Daya crossed swords with a prosecution witness, Captain Cecil Waidyaratne (later General and Army Commander). Daya expecting Cecil to show respect to a renowned lawyer and former ALS senior officer became agitated with Cecil’s ready flow of witty repartees, bordering on insolence. Daya changed tack hoping to embarrass Cecil. He asked Cecil whether he was aware that there were 2 camps in his regiment with one supporting the past Commanding Officer Lt Col Hapugalle and the other the incumbent CO Lt Col MD Fernando. Cecil avoiding the expected ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer retorted pithily that he knew of only one camp in Mutwal and that was Rock House.

Cease fire. Daya went multi barrel ballistic. There were heated exchanges and tension mounted. The trial was momentarily suspended. Cecil appealed through the JAG to the army commander Attygalle to get Daya to stop his line of questioning. Daya muttered that if he was not allowed to cross examine CW as he wished he would pull out of the trail. I was concerned that if he did so not only would Thiagarajah suffer but I could have been be asked to take over the defence. The Solomon like judgment of politically aware Attygalle in the early part of the 1970s dampened DP. The trial ended without any more pyrotechnics and a guilt finding.

Skinning army ‘defaulters’. In the 1990s when I was in a civil job, Daya rang me and said that a Finance Director of the Group in which I was working had threatened his client who was a tenant of a house belonging to the Director. Daya promised there would be a lot of pain for the latter if he did not cease fire. I conveyed this to the Director with some advice of my own. The matter was sorted out. Daya took time off to tell me he was appearing for most of the mainly officer crooks that the army had spawned during the Eelam conflict. His terms were something like 80-90 % of the stolen/defrauded amounts. He said most of it was given to his juniors who were packed into the case to dip into the spoils. I did wonder what effect all this had on the discipline, integrity and morale of then badly hemorrhaging army he too had served in.

Donald D Hewagama. Hewagama joined the ALS in 1967. He took over from Col Jansz He later made it known he was a cousin of JRJ and had been his secretary too. There were some seriously odd incidents during his time and at least one after he left the service.

Execution stopped. In 1971 when he with Major NH Niriella and Capt SJ Weerasena (Engineers) were visiting army units in the South they arrived at the Ambalangoda police station just as some JVP prisoners were about to be executed by a swarthy sergeant of the Ambalangoda police station. They intervened, ordered the policeman to desist, took down particulars of the prisoners and left, giving the OIC Ambalangoda police a dire warning.

Major Sarath Wijesinghe encounter. Sarath , the tall and powerfully built Sapper (Engineer Regiment) officer not only drank well but in his cups that over flowed was wont to make reckless statements, the truth of which could not be easily disproved. He had previously when Staff Officer in the Pioneer Corps (labour battalions) reported his Commanding Officer for soliciting a bribe. The latter was arrested by the police .Politics got him out. Not to be out done Sarath then poured his heart out about the brother of a VVIP (1973).

East Germany. Consequently Sarath, then about 46 years of age and the towering national champion in athletics throwing events, was dispatched of all places to East Germany to follow of all things, a Physical Training course. This was mainly to keep his mouth shackled but Bacchus denied the government its victory. At an embassy party Sarath regaled other, as usual, with his multifarious allegations. He was immediately flown back to Colombo and a court of inquiry was convened. This never got off the ground as everyone knew Sarath was determined to broadcast the ‘truth’. Some hated the truth.

Estate skirmish While waiting for the proceedings to start, Hewagama (the JAG), of all people, offered him a break on an estate of his in the Kalutara district. Sarath was to administer it. Very soon Hewagama was informed the workers had complained to Sarath that they had not been paid and refused to work. Sarath had taken their side. Hewagama, who was versed in the application of force, took an enthusiastic lot of thugs and forcibly evicted Sarath. No mention of the proceedings of the Court of Inquiry was ever made known. Attygalle was the Army Commander.

JAG Hewagama’s putsch. n 1977 the UNP came into power. Hewagama a non combatant Colonel made it known that he was close to JRJ and hatched a diabolical plan. Army Commander Attygalla’s tenure was due to end after 10 painful years of command. Hewagama invited Cecil to his office and confided in him. Cecil having found out that I was visiting Army HQ from my office at nearby Engineer Group invited me to join them. I did. He assured me that it was going to be entertaining.

The plan. I heard the most preposterous and ludicrous suggestion. Hewagama had come to the conclusion, probably after seeing Attygalle perform, that what was needed most to be an army commander was an uniform with some medals for long service, rank, political affinity and “blood is thicker than water” (Weeratunge) connections. He, without even the ability of a private, had the temerity to reduce command of the army to suit his ridiculous if not lunatic assumptions. Hewagama imagined that for him to carry on as a Commander all he needed was the support of professional army officers to do the actual work about which he was clueless. He said he would ask JRJ to promote him Major General and appoint him Army commander. The only issue was who was to be his Chief of Staff?

Approaches.Hewagama knew that Cecil was married to JRJ’s niece so he proposed that Cecil should be made Chief of Staff (COS) who would advise him on what to do while he, Hewagama, was Army Commander. He was aware that the top politicians believed that only the relatives or politically connected individuals should command and have the senior appointments in the army. Cecil impishly went along with him on this outlandish ‘conspiracy’ hoping to make use of the main chance if it came his way. It did, much later.

Confirmation. Retired Major General Upali Karunaratne (late SL Light Infantry), confirmed to me a few days ago that Hewagama indeed had made the same preposterous suggestion to him, offering the COS position to him as well, knowing Upali’s strong political connections. Upali told him to get lost. He had not known of the offer to Cecil before I told him last week(13 July 13)!

Contempt. Upali added that people like Hewagama must have had utter contempt for the appointment and role of army commander, purpose of the army and army officers in general, not to say the politicians who allowed this state of affairs to exist. This was not at all surprising because the attitude and conduct of far too many ‘senior’ officers’ especially at Army HQ at that time, had coloured Hewagama’s cloistered thinking, confined to the musty walls of his office that he rarely left except to go home. It was Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew who remarked that he could not understand why JRJ wanted him to release a maverick Sri Lankan pilot Wickramanayake from Singapore Airlines to be CEO of ‘Air Lanka’ but LKY did and the rest is very mortifying.

The wages of sin. There was the case of a officer who was found guilty of rape within the military community and dismissed but in 1978 Minister Lalith Athulathmudali , coached by ‘Bull’ Weeratunge, persuaded ‘Dharmista’ JRJ to take him back . Gen JED Perera, the Army Commander, was against doing so but was compelled to obey ‘orders’, a process of slowly undermining his command. Gen Perera placed this man on the supernumerary officers list to separate him from the proper army seniority list. In time as expected, he escaped that list, was promoted Brigadier, made Jaffna SF Commander and was well known to collect empty cases after any incident. He lost control completely in July 1983 leading to the conflagration that lasted 26 years. But he and his buddy found a scapegoat to take the blame. There were a few others who transported timber and cattle, were charged but survived to make –guess? General rank! Guess why Velum P was smiling in them days.

Magistrate. After retirement (1982) Hewagama was finally employed as the Colombo Harbour magistrate, a far cry from the Army Commander he had dreamt of being with flags flying from staff cars, bugles blowing and soldiers saluting.

Rajiv Gandhi assault case. When sailor Vijithamuni de Silva disgracefully and murderously took a swipe at Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at a 1987 SL Navy guard of honour and was court martialed, no lawyer would take his case.

Hewagama did. Had the blow not been diverted by Fleet Petty Officer Perera, Gandhi may have been severely injured . de Silva was found guilty of ‘attempted culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, sentenced to 6 years imprisonment and dismissed with disgrace from the SL Navy. Interestingly Hewagama’s ‘cousin’ JRJ who was not called as a witness, told the international media immediately after the incident that de Silva had ‘tripped a little and slightly lost his balance” and did not hit Gandhi. Gandhi said indeed he was hit and on board the IAF plane prior to take off, showed Dixit his High Commissioner in SL the blue welts ‘away from his neck and on his shoulder blade’. Perera, highly recommended by Rear Admiral Frank Wickramaratne, was later employed by the writer in a security company.

Not right.Somehow the fact that a former JAG defended a serving forces man on such charges did not appear to be the correct path. Maybe there will be some rule forbidding such perversity again. Otherwise, who knows, heaven forbid, a JAG might even make it to Army Commander!

Col JE de Soysaa six footer from the Light Infantry served in the ALS too.

Major (later Brigadier) Eustace Fonseka a showman and an unforgettable Artillery (Gunner) officer who spoke in impeccable English, served there too and enjoyed himself. He used to lecture captive junior officers on military law late into the night - in the bar! Fonseka was a legend in his time, played tennis for Sandhurst and rugby for the Army. He also played the piano and sang very well too. He was made to rue the day he called his school friend Major David Raymond of the Light Infantry to the stand to give evidence for the prosecution. Raymond messed up his evidence by failing to remember what he had faithfully recounted earlier. Raymond who used to pay his Light Infantrymen out of his own pocket if the salary payments were late, committed suicide later for some unrelated reasons. He imagined he was Japanese war time commander Tojo. He was confined for some time too.

Lt Col (later Major General) Jayantha Jayaratne another Gunner officer presided at a court martial (CM) of a private who had struck a sergeant. This would normally have been a shut and dry case. However the prosecuting and defending officers decided to have a go at each other over their romantic preferences at Peradeniya University than argue the case at hand. In fact it was suggested that the opposing officer and not the accused should be in the dock! Transfixed by these steamy revelations Jayantha and the other members of the CM appeared to have lost track of the case itself. The outcome was a shocking verdict of not guilty. Fortunately this did set a dangerous trend in the units.

Pallaly. Jayantha, also a brilliant raconteur with a razor sharp mind, was the first to qualify as an Instructor Gunnery (IG) in the Artillery. He was the next after Gen Udugama to visit Yugoslavia from where SL received its first mountain pack howitzers. Later as a Brigadier at Pallaly in 1987 he famously told the GOC IPKF (Gen Harkirat Singh?) who threatened to place his armoured vehicles across the runway at SLAF Pallaly to prevent the much wanted LTTE cadres arrested by the SLN being flown out to Colombo , “I’ll blow them up with my guns”. The cadres eventually committed suicide.

Lady JAGs. Latterly there were 2 lady JAGs, now retired, in the ALS. Major Generals Peiris and Wijeratne married army officers who too held the same rank, providentially! General Wijeratne lost her Gunner husband General Larry in Jaffna to a suicide bomber. He had mastered public relations for which he showed much flair when as a newly commissioned Artillery officer he served with the writer in the 1977 riots in Colombo. Gen Mohanti Pieris was from Jaffna where her father was an eminent lawyer. This writer, at the time Officer Commanding Troops Jaffna, with his wife attended her wedding to then Service Corps captain Basil Peiris in Jaffna in mid 1980. The writer had also previously attended the weddings of then Captain (later Major General) George Thevanayagam (Sinha Regiment) and Captain Chandrapragasam (Light Infantry) in Jaffna before. Col (later General and Army Commander) Richard Udugama attested Chandraprakasam’s marriage.

The Guard changes. The old ALS guard has moved on. The new guard under the present JAG Brigadier Upali Weerasinghe (late General Service Corps) and the Director Legal Services Brigadier Ranjith Rajapathirana (late Engineers and wounded and disabled in action) have a mixed if interesting legacy to take forward in much more challenging and fast changing times. With our troops on UN Peace Keeping duties there is much international law to follow too as the ALS march to the tune of ‘Scales of Justice’.

- Asian Tribune -

Lalin’s Column: Army Legal Services-An interlude
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