Prabhakaran’s Death Revisited

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Via the legacy of Che Guevara and Col. Gaddafi

That Prabhakaran committed suicide cannot be provable, but is certainly believable, considering the above-listed five strikes against the probability that he was killed by an army sniper. If the Sri Lankan army offers sustainable evidences to negate the five strikes that I list above, then I will buy their version of Prabhakaran’s death.

The last time I wrote about V. Prabhakaran’s death was in June 2, 2010. It was entitled, ‘Dissecting Prabhakaran Death Story and Profiling the Liars’. After a span of 28 months, I revisit this issue, because three notable events have occurred during this period; (1) the killing of Libya’s long time ruler Col. Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011, (2) publication of The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lanka & the Last Days of the Tamil Tigers by Gordon Weiss, UN spokesman in Colombo during the final stages of the war,  in May 2011, and (3) publication of Gota’s War book by C.A.Chandraprema in May 2012, which could be taken as the ‘official’ version of the Sri Lankan (SL) army, of how it concluded its war with the LTTE.


Before proceeding further, I do note that a constituency among Tamils believes that Prabhakaran is still alive. I do not belong to this constituency.  As such, I write this analysis on the available evidence that the LTTE leader died in May 2009. If Prabhakaran turns up alive somewhere at some time, millions may be shocked, but I will not be one of them. Also, please make sure to understand that I’m not an oracle. I’m a scientist who evaluates the available data and arrives at certain inferences. If some important data are missing, then I’ll arrive at an alternate inference. If such important data is presented, I’ll change my inference accordingly.

Some (especially the LTTE defectors, like Kumaran Pathmanathan, and their henchmen) may question whether the issue of Prabhakaran’s cause of death necessary and relevant. I do think so. Even 190 years after Napoleon’s death, still the mode of his death is debated and analyzed. Was it a natural death, or was he killed? There is no doubt that Prabhakaran was the nearest item Tamils had to that of Napoleon. Thus, in my view, his death deserves repetitive scrutiny.

The ‘Official’ Version of the Sri Lankan Army on Prabhakaran’s Death

Chandraprema’s Gota’s War book can be taken as representing the ‘official’ version of the Sri Lankan army on Prabhakaran’s death. Reasons are crystal clear. It is a partisan book, published with the blessings of Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan army he represents. In my critical review of this book (presented earlier in this site), I omitted this topic. I quote the two paragraphs which deal with Prabhakaran’s death from this book (pp. 488-489).

“On the afternoon of 18 May, troops of the 59th Division accosted a group of LTTE cadres led by Bhanu and Jeyam and killed them. At dawn on the morning of 19th May, the 4thVijayaba battalion under Task force 8, sent in their first SIOT team into the last uncleared patch of land, a belt of mangroves by the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon around 800 meters long and 20 meters wide. There was a confrontation here with a group of LTTE stragglers and Ravipriya was told that about 20-30 weapons were heard firing from inside the patch of mangroves. He then inducted two more SIOT teams into the mangrove belt where they captured three individuals who revealed that Prabhakaran was in the mangroves with around 30 men. Upon hearing this, troops had fired into the mangroves until there was no more returning fire. Thereafter, troops had been sent in to search the mangrove swamp, and Prabhakaran’s body was found by a SIOT team leader.

His body was still warm when found indicating that he had just been killed. He had not shaved that morning and the faintest white stubble was visible on his face. His corpse was borne aloft on the shoulders of 4thVijayaba soldiers and brought for the senior officers to inspect. Brigadiers Jagath Dias, Shavendra Silva, Chagi Gallage and Kamal Gunaratne were all there to inspect the corpse of the terrorist who had led the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. Hundreds of delirious soldiers had been clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of the corpse. Later in the day, the former LTTE spokesman Daya Master and Karuna Amman were flown from Colombo to identify the body.”

Now, let me analyze the descriptions provided by Chandraprema. The last two sentences in the quoted first paragraph do indicate,

(1)  There was no eyewitness to record that Prabhakaran had been fatally shot and he died because of that one fatal wound to his forehead.

(2)  Even the “unnamed sniper” was not sure that he had targeted Prabhakaran specifically.

(3)  What was revealed in the last sentence of the first paragraph was that Prabhakaran’s body “was found” by a SIOT team leader.

(4)  No mention is made about the DNA testing and evidence (which was reported by the Colombo press) to prove that the body identified was that of Prabhakaran. Mention was made only that Daya Master and Karuna“identified the body”. It should not be forgotten that these two were LTTE defectors. To keep their necks save, they had to parrot-mouth the view of the Sri Lankan army and officials.

There are only four modes of human death. These are natural death, accident, homicide and suicide. There is no doubt that the first two modes (natural death and accident) can be eliminated as the cause for Prabhakaran’s death. Of the other two modes, the Sri Lankan army presented a case of homicide. In my view (considering all the evidence presented), the cause of Prabhakaran’s death had to be suicide.

October 9th marks the 35th death anniversary of Che Guevara (1928-1967), the Argentine-born physician, author and guerrilla leader. October 20th also marks the first death anniversary of Col. Muammar Gaddafi (1942-20111), the long-term ruler of Libya. Both were captured and killed. The exposed upper-body photos of their corpses, showing the wounds and blood did impress me to revisit the cause of Prabhakaran’s death in May 2009. After the posting of my previous commentary in 2010, via email, I conducted a discussion with a knowledgeable correspondent (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose erudition I respect much.  The following is the accurate transcript of our discussion.

Transcript of an E-mail discussion with a knowledgeable Correspondent

Sachi: May I ask your opinion? This relates to the death of Prabhakaran. You may have read the New Yorker commentary posted early this year by Jon Lee Anderson, and my rejoinder to that piece. He had mentioned that the photos of Prabha shown to him, had exit wounds – gaping hole in the skull. I’m puzzledby that note. From what had appeared in the internet, I noticed that both hands had shrinkage, as if soaked in water for many hours. In normal death, this type of tissue shrinkage cannot be noticed, I guess. I presume that he had committed suicide by taking KCN and what they had done was to show that he was killed, they had shot at his skull,after death. Though this is now an academic issue (as we don’t have access to his corpse), what I like to know from you is that, whether is it possible to check from the corpse, whether the gun-shot wound was while the person was alive or after death? I think that forensic specialists like Prof. Keith Simpson should have noted this topic. I gather that there is circumstantial evidence for my hypothesis.

(1) If Prabha was shot while alive, the Sinhala marksman would have become the hero, by bragging about it. As of now, no one had claimed this feat.
(2) Karuna, after inspecting the body, had deliberately stated that there was no cyanide vial on his body. This was to please his current sponsors. I would take the opposite of what Karuna had stated.

Correspondent: Soon after death (from what I can remember on Forensic Medicine by Keith Simpson) the skin shrinks due to dehydration. If the body had been in water as a result of drowning the skin may appear swollen/edematous. It is possible to distinguish gun-shot (head) injury inflicted when alive and after death. During life there will be bruising of the skin and subcutaneous tissues of the scalp and along the passage through the brain and at entry and exit areas for there will be blood flow in the vessels.  Soon after the death the vessels will be depleted of blood and most of it will track down to the dependent parts if the individual is lying on his back. Furthermore the blood would have clotted and there will not be any extravasation of blood into the surrounding tissues. Well as you said there is no way of proving it now.

Sachi: As a follow up to my previous response, herewith I attach the two photos of corpse of Prabhakaran, provided by SL military to the media. May I know, how you would interpret the whiteness in the hands and legs?

Correspondent: With death the heart stops pumping and the flow of blood in the vessels ceases. The blood will collect in the dependent parts of the body before the blood clots. If the body is lying on its back, the pooling will be evident in the flanks. You will note in the first photograph the little area that shows between the shirt and the pants is somewhat purplish blue. This discoloration is more so in the head- the lower part of the side including the ears.  This could be more than an artifact. The areas depleted of blood will be the non-dependent areas especially the extremities – the hands and feet and hence the ‘whiteness’ or’ pallor’. This will be the normal appearance after death. If the head wound had been inflicted when alive, death would have been instantaneous and there would have not been much bleeding and loss of blood externally. If the wound was inflicted after death the appearance as described above holds, that is the normal changes with death. In either case the appearances will be the same. If the wounds are such that could have caused a lot of bleeding so that the body is exsanguinated, the entire body may show a generalized pallor.

Sachi:I understood what you have described up to the penultimate sentence. But the last sentence, I cannot follow. Can you elaborate it a little? You mention ‘entire body may show a generalized pallor’, if what was supposed to be the fatal wound was inflicted after death. May I know, from the released photos, can one infer that the fatal wound was caused while the person was alive?  Another question: Can we also note that ‘the purplish blue’ you mention might have been due to cyanide poisoning? I don’t know how the body of cyanide poisoning victims looks like.

Correspondent: What I meant was that there is no difference in the autopsy findings in the appearance of the skin in the dependent parts following (i) normal death(ii) following the gun-shot injury to the head when alive and( iii) gun-shot injury after death. The color due the pooling of blood in the dependent parts is described as of a purplish -red or bluish-red. Probably this discoloration is largely due to the deoxygenated blood.  In potassium cyanide poisoning the color will be dark pink or brick red due to excess of oxyhaemoglobin and to the presence of cyanomethemoglobin in the dependent parts and can be confused with carbon monoxide poisoning where  it is cherry red due to carboxyhaemoglobin.

Re: the other point you raised, if there is extensive blood loss to be completely exsanguinated body will show a generalized pallor in that there will not be enough blood in the dependent parts to cause significant discoloration. You are more an expert in this than I am. My explanations may not be all that accurate.

Sachi: Thanks for the explanation. I get it now. It’s unfortunate we have no means of checking these details now!”

Comparison between the deaths of Che Guevara, Col. Gaddafi and Prabhakaran

Though 44 years separate the deaths of Che Guevara and Col. Gaddafi, one can deduce a similar pattern. From the videos that were released in the electronic media, we could note that Col. Gaddafi (while being alive) was ill-treated by his tormentors during his final moments. Then, after his death, his tormentors made sure that his upper body was made naked to be photographed. This was the same pattern we see in the released photo of Che Guevara too. We have not been shown such a treatment meted out to Prabhakaran, either when he was alive or for his corpse. The Reuter photo of Prabhakaran’s corpse, taken amidst the Sinhalese military men, shows a different pattern. There was no unruliness and his corpse was not ill-treated like the one we saw for that of Col. Gaddafi. Even though, Chandraprema had described that “hundreds of delirious soldiers had been clambering on top of one another to catch a glimpse of the corpse”, it appears that they did respect Prabhakaran’s stature in the battle field. Though Chandraprema had described it, as “corpse of the terrorist who had led the world’s deadliest terrorist organization”, the Sinhalese military men failed to defile his corpse instantly to the camera, by ripping open his upper garments. Why? One can call it, Buddhist norms in treating the dead with respect or that they were simply mesmerized by the legend of Prabhakaran who offered them a purpose in life, and bread and butter for their survival.

While the average Sinhalese foot soldier treated Prabhakaran’s corpse with respect, it was the higher-ups (Mahinda Rajapaka’s immediate circle), who defiled Prabhakaran’s corpse to boost their political prestige and they made the decision to dispose the remains in the sea, without offering the Tamils an opportunity to pay respect for the fallen leader. It has been the custom of Muslims to arrange for burial of the dead within 24 hours. But Col. Gaddafi’s defiled corpse was kept frozen for days. Why did the Rajapaksa clique opt for immediate disposal of Prabhakaran’s corpse? The simple reason was to hide their lies on the cause of death.

GordonWeiss’s book ‘The Cage’ (2011)

The back cover blurb of the book introduces Gordon Weiss as, “has lived in New York and worked in numerous conflict and natural disaster zones including Bosnia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and Haiti. Employed by the United Nations for over twelve years, he is now a visiting scholar at Sydney University and a correspondent for Australia’s The Global Mail, where he continues his investigative reporting on Sri Lanka.”

Well, I’m not so enamored by the descriptions provided by Gordon Weiss, because he has relied too much on SL military sources and anti-LTTE scribes (Tamils such as Rajan Hoole and D.B.S. Jeyaraj). While scanning his book, I’m reminded of a Douglas Catley limerick on a London prostitute. It is as follows:

A prostitute living in London
went pantless, with zippers all undone;
she’d explain: ‘Well, you see
I can do two or three,
While Ruby next door’s getting one done.’

Like this London prostitute, Weiss has done a job, covering three bases in one book; (1) covering the derriere of emaciated, inept UN officials (his employer Ban Ki-Moon, Vijay Nambiar and himself), (2) placing the blame for the tragedy on LTTE’s leadership, and (3) offering knuckle-tap punishment to the SL government.

The role of two LTTE defectors

The role of the two prominent LTTE defectors in 2009 (Daya Master and Selvarasa Pathmanathan) also deserves scrutiny. It appears to me that Selvarasa [aka Kumaran] Pathmanathan, who promoted himself as the LTTE leader after Prabhakaran’s death did not defect after his capture in Malaysia in August 2009. For whatever reasons known to him, he had defected before Prabhakaran’s death and prostituted his services to the LTTE’s adversaries. This I had suspected earlier (and had pointed out in my previous commentary published in this website on June 2, 2010), because the announcement of Prabhakaran’s death released simultaneously in Tamil and English, under the signature of Selvarasa Pathmanathan, differed noticeably in specific details. The final two sentences in the Tamil announcement mention, “We salute the all military leaders, maaveerars and the public who attained heroic death with our national leader. The details of the maaveerars who died in the war will be released so soon.” But no such closing sentences appear in the English announcement. In his media interviews after capture, Pathmananthan had been strangely silent on the specific date of his defection and the details of the maaveerars who attained heroic death. If he had defected earlier (i.e., before May 2009), Pathmanathan’s role in identifying Prabhakaran’s specific location in Mullaitivu to LTTE’s adversaries deserves condemnation.

Akin to Pathmanathan’s role, even the role of Velauytham Dayanithi (aka Daya Master) elicits suspicion. He was one of the prominent LTTE cadres (as media spokesman) who received medical attention for a heart ailment in Colombo, when the ceasefire agreement prevailed in 2006. It is an inevitable inference that he had been roped in by LTTE’s adversaries during this medical treatment period and returned to LTTE’s area with a work-order to provide vital details then needed by LTTE’s adversaries.  Daya Master did his job ‘perfectly’ and surrendered to the SL army in late April 2009, less than three weeks before LTTE’s military defeat.

One should also note the health complications dished out by the media folks for these two defectors. Daya Master suffered from heart ailment in 2006. Pathmanathan was a victim of diabetes around 2009. Now, we hardly hear about these health complications of these defectors. One syndrome they seems to be suffering from (then and now) is ‘Save-your-own-neck syndrome’.

My Inferences on the Available Evidence (as of now)

I list five strikes against the propagated version that a SL army sniper killed Prabhkaran. Probability of this version should increase if the following five strikes can be answered convincingly.

(1)  Repetitively ‘shifting’ stories released to the media by the SL army on the cause of death during May 17 (Sunday) to 19 (Tuesday), 2009.

(2)  Immediate destruction of forensic evidences by the SL army that can lead to a positive result on the cause of death. In case of Che Guevara and Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the corpses were preserved for external verification.

(3)  As of now, no ‘bragging’ evidence (such as ‘I’m the one who shot Prabhakaran’) has surfaced.

(4)  Lack of un-touched photographic evidence to prove that Prabhakaran was caught alive. If he had been caught alive like Che Guevara and Col. Muammar Gaddafi, his upper body would have been bared to the camera as a trophy item.

(5)  Even after 3 years, the ‘official’ government version (as presented in Gota’s War book) is bland and lacks specific details.

That Prabhakaran committed suicide cannot be provable, but is certainly believable, considering the above-listed five strikes against the probability that he was killed by an army sniper. If the SL army offers sustainable evidences to negate the five strikes that I list above, then I will buy their version of Prabhakaran’s death.

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 2, 2012

******’s body found – Army Chief