Murder and service in the armed forces - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Saturday, August 25, 2018
Malaysiakini : "They complained of exhaustion while carrying out the training and
were given rest in the detention room. They were experiencing vomiting,
exhaustion and shortness of breath," – statement on the deaths of Mohd
Baihaqi Nik Mat, 28, and Muhammad Lailatulman Mohd Sukri, 26.
That quote was the statement that followed the deaths of two seamen
last year. All of this should sound familiar, especially if you have
been keeping up with the work of human rights lawyers Latheefa Koya and
N Surendran. Two political operatives who actually seem to be serving
the country, instead of making grand statements to galvanise the base. In this case, three uniformed personnel were remanded to help in the
investigations into the deaths of these two servicemen. Post-mortems on
these young seamen revealed signs of abuse and injuries, which
necessitated a reclassification from the original findings to murder.
Navy chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin (photo) said he would cooperate with the police. Then defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein
said on Twitter no less, "I have instructed the RMN (Navy) to provide
its full cooperation to the police in their investigations. Nothing will
be hidden. That is my promise".
If you think that this points to a happy ending in this case, you
would be wrong. There is always a familiar pattern. A service person
dies. This is followed by statements that it was part of a training
exercise. Then the family points to suspicious circumstances and then
(maybe) there is an investigation. The usual assurance from the
political establishment that there would be no cover-ups.
I keep rereading Latheefa’s piece on the death of J Soosaimanickam
and cannot help but feel frustrated at how the Royal Malaysian Navy has
morphed into something unrecognisable. Many former service people feel
this way. Everything about Soosai’s death – like those before him –
reeks of the uncaring attitude of the establishment and points to the
systemic dysfunction of the armed services.
When people die in this country especially when it is linked to the
state security apparatus most times, the cause is "sudden death". If you
want to know why people distrust the security service in this country,
you do not have to look far. The familiarity of Soosai's death – like
those who were murdered while in service to this country – is an
indictment on the way how the Ministry of Defence operates.
Just last month, Surendran said it was unacceptable
for Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman to say to the family that the probe was
completed and the family should wait for the results. This after Defence
Minister Mohamad Sabu had ordered that a probe conducted into the death
'These are not rich, privileged kids'
This would mean a new probe because, as Surendren correctly pointed
out, the admiral was relying on the old probe which did not even call
the family of Soosai, who had evidence that the young man had been
murdered. "In the so-called 'investigation' carried out by the Navy earlier,
which Kamarulzaman now relies upon, the family members of Soosaimanickam
(photo) were not even called to give evidence or have their statements recorded.
"Yet, the Navy was fully aware that the family members were in
possession of crucial evidence regarding Soosaimanickam's death, as this
had been conveyed by the family to Navy officials," Surendran had
Someone asked me if this was a race or class issue when it comes to
these types of murder in the military. I honestly do not know. Maybe
just more of the latter. These are not rich, privileged kids who are
murdered. They are (mostly) from the working class who want to make a
better life for themselves and their families and, are no doubt,
motivated to serve their country.
When people belong to a certain economic bracket and they die, the
people who do the covering up understand that their families have
extremely limited avenues to turn to get some form of justice and
redress. They know that there are “bigger issues” that the public
hankers after than poor kids who die during physical training.
This kind of thinking is the foundation on which corrupt systems
thrive. These deaths and the corruption endemic in these types of
systems carry on because the public is more interested in the scandals
and corruption of the political elite. The death of Altantuya holds more
public interest than the murder of servicemen.
The irony, of course, is that the public would be mortified at how
deep the corruption is in the security apparatus and how dangerous such
corruption is because it literally jeopardises the security of this
I know physical training. Over the years, I have put my men through
the ringer. I know many officers who have done the same. Even if these
men died during physical training, the responsibility for their deaths
falls to the officers in charge.
Why? Because obviously, these officers did not care about the men
under their charge. I cared for the men I had authority over. And that’s
really the issue here, isn’t it? The military establishment does not
care for the people under its authority.
I know that there are many people within the military establishment
who are worried at the state of the armed services. The lack of
discipline, the lack of basic amenities, the lack of basic equipment,
the decline of standards which we used to be proud of, and of course,
the systemic corruption.
There are many officers who attempt to maintain some sort of standard
and honour in their own units but the reality is that like all systems
connected with the former regime – and this is not solely Najib’s fault –
there is a rot in the system and these deaths are, in effect, a
physical manifestation of how wretched the system has become.
Latheefa is right (again) when she talks about the hypocrisy of the
pomp and pageantry of Merdeka celebrations. When young people are
murdered while attempting service to this country, there is nothing to
be proud of when it comes to Merdeka or regime change.
If Mat Sabu is really interested in reforming the ministry he is in
charge of, then he should have the interest of the young people who live
and die in service to this country and not be seduced by the military
establishment which has other priorities.