The term band of brothers is associated with the military, where soldiers have to trust each other to come out alive from some battle or operation. In literature, the phrase was first used by the Bard in his play Henry V.
Those who were forced to read Henry V for English Literature in Form 5 or Form 6, in the days when literature was considered an important subject, may remember Shakespeare’s words:
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;…
It is crucial for uniformed agencies such as the military and the police to inculcate the attitude of a band of brothers to ensure their individual and collective safety. That is a beautiful band of brothers.
There is also an ugly band of brothers, and I’m afraid we have been seeing more of it in recent years. I see a pattern where some government agencies, either encouraged or supported by politicians, are forming a circle around themselves to protect their brothers in the service from being blamed for some incident or other.
Of course, politics has always had its own band of brothers but these are skewed towards gaining power and pelf.
While the situation of the uniformed agencies could be encapsulated in the phrase “I watch your back, you watch mine”, that involving politicians would fit into “I scratch your back, you scratch mine”.
We saw it when the 1MDB scandal broke and how some politicians either kept silent or protected the then prime minister by saying nothing was amiss and that it was all a plot to topple the government. No money was missing from 1MDB, we were told, despite the US filing civil forfeiture suits against properties it said had been acquired with 1MDB money, and despite Singapore acting against several bankers and banks.
Consider the case of the famous missing persons of Malaysia: Pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia or Suhakam found, after an inquiry, that they were the victims of forced disappearances and that the Special Branch had a hand in it.
Koh, 63, was abducted in broad daylight on Feb 13, 2017, while Amri, 44, disappeared on Nov 24, 2016.
Prior to the Suhakam inquiry, the anguished families of the duo, and several others who had disappeared without trace had accused the police leadership of dragging their feet. If not for the determination of the families concerned, several NGOs and Suhakam, the public would have known the barest minimum about these disappearances. The issue would not still be in the public eye.
Then, when the government finally relented under public pressure to form a task force to investigate if the Special Branch did indeed have a hand in it, the composition of the members came into question. The families of Koh and Amri, as well as numerous civil society groups, questioned the credibility of the task force as three of its six members were attached to the police force.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, in reply, said the police officers were impartial, and was heavily criticised for saying so. However, one of the police officers has offered to stand down and a replacement is expected to be announced soon.
The composition of the members and the way it was done has resulted in people becoming suspicious, with many seeing it as an effort to protect the police. The best thing to do would be, as some have suggested, to reconstitute the task force so that it gains credibility.
Will that happen? And can you see a band of brothers at work here?
Consider the case of Teoh Beng Hock, 30, who was found dead on the fifth floor of Plaza Masalam in Shah Alam hours after being questioned by the Selangor Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission at its office on the 14th floor of the same building.
In September 2014, the Court of Appeal, in an unanimous decision, found that the death of the former DAP political aide was caused by the act of “person or persons unknown”, including the MACC officers who had questioned him overnight before he was found dead.
A subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry concluded that Teoh was driven to suicide by the aggressive interrogation methods of MACC officers. The family of Teoh is still waiting for some resolution from the authorities, especially the attorney-general and the police.
The MP for Bukit Gelugor, Ramkarpal Singh is on record as saying: “It is disgraceful that the police have not resolved such a straightforward case, which makes one wonder if this is a question of incompetence on its part or a cover up instead.”
Just like the families of Koh and Amri and others who are missing, Teoh’s family wants justice and closure.
Would we be wrong in assuming that the band of brothers is at work here?
This attitude seems to be appearing in the case involving fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim too.
If you have been following the inquest and what has been said so far by the firemen and the action of Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin, you may see a pattern. The proceedings were muddied when she “hired” the same lawyer who was representing Adib’s family to represent her ministry and the Fire and Rescue Department, without consulting the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), and when the AGC acted so late in the day to rectify the problem.
We’ll have to wait to see the reaction of several groups which have already become a band of brothers, and which have arrived at their own conclusions as to what had happened to Adib, when the coroner’s verdict is announced.
I remember Umno vice-president Ismail Sabri saying at a press conference with PAS leaders not long ago that “Malaysians” would likely take things into their own hands if they were unhappy about the way Adib’s case is handled.
It is good for people, especially those in the uniformed services, to cooperate, to trust each other and work as a team to fulfil their duties and responsibilities. In fact, they must support, even protect, each other.
But it should not be at the expense of justice or the truth.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.