When the flurry of reactions to the Suhakam findings on the cases of enforced disappearances emerged, I don’t know why I kept thinking about this classic fiery exchange from A Few Good Men.
There are always some people who think we can’t handle the truth, whether it is the Council of Eminent Persons’ report, the Altantuya case, or whatever….
They think we can’t handle the truth. They think what they are doing behind the scenes is in the best interests of the people, for national security, for economic prosperity, whatever. And the rest of us … well the less we know, the better. Wrong.
In the case of enforced disappearances, yes, we want the truth. And we can handle the truth.
So best to heed the Suhakam report and get down to forming that taskforce quickly.
Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to highlight the concept of plausible deniability, not that it definitely applies in this case – we don’t know. But we should at least be aware of the concept.
Basically, it is when a senior officer or leader doesn’t want to know what his subordinates are doing, so that later on, he or she can deny all knowledge of or responsibility for any wrongdoing.
The subordinates for their part act somewhat independently. They think they know what their boss wants them to do or would like them to do, without actually being given a specific order. It reminds me of the case of Henry’s II’s knights killing that “turbulent priest” Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 because they thought that was what Henry wanted though he hadn’t actually give them such an order.
The boss himself or herself is not informed ahead of the act – or doesn’t want to know – so that he or she can later issue a denial of responsibility that sounds plausible – hence the term plausible deniability.