Wednesday, May 5, 2010

U.S. Spokesperson Duguid says, "sometimes the struggle against violent extremism is violence"

The Diplomatic Reception Room of the U.S. Department of State in Washington D.C. was a cozy little place. Over 30 of us – on a reporting tour on Social Media were chattering away on various topics and we had much to discuss. We just met Alec Ross, the Senior Adviser for Innovation in the Office of the Secretary of State. Now we are about to meet face to face with the Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. State Department – Gordon Duguid. We were told that Duguid had a broad knowledge on all the countries that were represented by our group and we were pretty much anticipating the meeting, to ask many “country specific” questions, this time around. He was also the man behind our “Social Media Tour” - the one who was supposed to have made it all happen, well, according to our tour guides or the Media Relations Officers from the Foreign Press Centre. He’s also the one who does the press briefings for the U.S. State Department and if you watch foreign news regularly, chances are, you may have seen him on TV quite often.

I was representing Sri Lanka and was sent from the Independent Television Network. I was awaiting my turn to ask a couple of questions regarding my country. As we were all seated at our different tables casually helping ourselves to the entrée at the distinguished Diplomatic Reception Room, Duguid arrived and sat at our table, prompting some of us to seize the opportunity and ask him a few questions just before the meal and before the actual conference took place. In Sri Lanka, we had just ended a 30-year long war against terrorism. The current president who came into power, ended the war in just 4 years as the head of state and was re-elected in January for a second term. And there is a sort of a debate or a controversial idea among some, that the United States secretly supported the LTTE terrorists. So when it was my turn, I questioned Gordon Duguid on this, so that we have a clear answer to this long debated question.

I asked Duguid, how does the United States looked at the manner in which we eradicated terrorism from our country. Do they think our government’s efforts to accomplish this, violated human rights?

In response to this question, Duguid said that the United States have already released a document on human rights, which is a very public document, that gives the official position of the Department of State on this matter. But he also said that the United States certainly supported the government’s efforts to end the terrorist reign of the LTTE and they certainly had a number of discussions about terrorism in general and fighting terrorism with our government.

He further said “However, our struggles against terrorism do not release any of us from our responsibilities to conduct that struggle responsibly. And I would point to our own debates here in the United State over renditions and detentions in Guantanamo and how the trials go as evidence that we are looking at ourselves and not just at other countries. And therefore I would say that universal standards of human rights exist, they are very well understood by everyone.” Duguid also pointed out that “Everyone also understand that terrorism must be fought and that sometimes the struggle against violent extremism is violence. However, that doesn’t release any of our governments from a responsible approach, particularly when it comes to respecting civilians and non combatants.”

As soon as that question was over with, we were served one of the most scrumptious meals and a mouth watering dessert. Following lunch, was the actual conference where Duguid was to answer specific questions from the group. After a great deal of questions that were shot at him by journalists from 30 different countries, I asked mine. What is the U.S. government’s stance on the Presidential election in Sri Lanka and our efforts in development and resettlement process following the end of the war and the current situation in our country?

Duguid said that their position in general on the elections is that, the election should be as free and fair as possible and should reflect the will of the people. And if you accurately reflect the will of the people, that is then very often known, quite quickly. He further said “As far as our opinion on the general situation goes, actually there is a lot of work to be done. Sri Lanka has come through a very long and very bloody struggle against the most vicious terrorists group in the world. However, that battle has been won. And it is now in the interest of all, that the rights of the civilians be respected that the people who do need to have shelter, who do need access to clean water and food are allowed to try and receive those services as quickly as practical.”

Thinking through the words of Duguid, I was contemplating... So does the American government endorse upon violence against violence – at least sometimes? And how do they see other nations acting upon in a similar fashion? Are they being hypocritical, giving excuses for past behavior or are they coming into terms with the idea? Does that also mean, that the manner in which the terrorist leader in Sri Lanka was killed in the end was fair? Hmmm...

Duguid answered just two more very interesting questions from a Chinese journalist (there were 3 of them from China – such a massive country and they probably deserve it) and the Vietnamese journalist. Then we thanked him, took some interesting photographs right in front of the State Department building in very chilly weather, got into our tour-bus and were on our way to see the Foreign Press Centre, where it all began. That, my friends, is another story altogether!


  1. Wow, that was a great and really insightful article. Please do keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to reading more of your pieces.

  2. I have been watching what happens in Sri Lanka now since the war (and now peace) broke out. I always wanted to go to Ceylon ever since I learnt in Primary school about the Columbo Plan. For some reason, it's always been one of the places I have wanted to visit but it has been unsafe ever since I was free enough to be able to go. one day I will visit so please make it a safe place again soon.

    Thank you for your very interesting article. I look forward to reading more. Hypocrisy I'm afraid is everywhere, especially here in Australia over the refugees. If both sides stopped lying we would all be better off. Politicians equal "porky pies" which makes them very hard to believe no matter which country they are from!

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  4. @Jan

    Thank you for the comment. Sri Lanka is indeed very safe to visit now. So you can pack your bags and head on over here for a nice little adventure ;) I would be more than happy to suggest a few places for you to visit and probably a couple of nice places for lodging - depending on your taste. However, I suggest that you wait until the current spell of bad weather blows over.

    I myself am hoping to visit Jaffna for the first time in my life, next weekend! It was on the cards for a long time so I'm going there despite the threats from the weather gods so wish me luck! I'll write all about it - probably in a different perspective with hopefully a load of photos and videos :))