Who was guilty of the death of Shidane Arone, the Somali who was beaten to death by Canadian soldiers for trying to steal from them? What does this case reveal about power and control in the Canadian military at this time? What points disturb you about this case? Should the Airborne Regiment have been disbanded?
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The Killings in Somalia
late 1992, the 900 soldiers of the Canadian Airborne Regiment were sent to
Somalia on a difficult peacekeeping mission. The Airborne was an elite commando
unit, most ready to fight a war. It was known to model itself after the U.S.
military's toughest fighting unit, the Green Berets.
The Airborne arrived in
Somalia at a desperate time. The country had been through a famine and a civil
war. It had no government. Roving gangs terrorized the country with weapons and
interfered with food deliveries. Even humanitarian workers in the country wanted
the army to break up the gangs.
At first, the Canadian
arrival in the town of Belet Huen went smoothly. A town of about 80,000 people,
well outside the famine zone, the people welcomed the U.S. and Canadian
military. The criminal gangs, at first, made themselves scarce.
"We want to make sure
that we are clearly seen to be there, to be looking after the humanitarian
interests of the people of Belet Huen and that whole area," Col. Serge
Labbe, the Canadian commander, told CBC in a satellite interview from Somalia.
The first sign of trouble
came a few months later. The Airborne Regiment had been standing guard during
days of 52 degree C temperatures. At night soldiers kept watch for intruders who
had been breaking into the Canadian compound and stealing supplies.
March 4 two Somalis were shot by soldiers on patrol at the compound. One was
wounded, the other was shot dead with two or three bullets. An Army surgeon, Dr.
Barry Armstrong, revealed that the man had lived for a few minutes, then was
shot "execution-style in the head."
Then, 12 days later, there
was another awful incident. A 16-year-old, Shidane Arone, was tortured and
murdered on the base. One of the soldiers involved took "trophy"
pictures of the torture.
Of the two most directly
involved in the torture, Clayton Matchee tried to hang himself in his cell. He
suffered brain damage and was eventually found unfit for trial. Pvt. Kyle Brown
was later found guilty and sentenced to five years in military prison.
[Matchee was in a photo with the Confederate flag behind him.
He had links to hate groups]
there were many other careers to fall in the months and years to come, as a
result of this incident. It became apparent that this case involved more than
just a few bad apples in the Airborne.
The announcement of
Arone's death was delayed more than two weeks, and the earlier shootings didn't
come to light until Armstrong went public with his suspicions. Defence Minister
Kim Campbell complained that she had not been informed of what was going on in
Over the next few months
there were further revelations of a breakdown of discipline and leadership among
Canadian soldiers in Somalia. [Orders were not consistent.
At one time the order was to shoot between the legs between the
flip-flops and the hem of the garment. At
other times the order was not to shoot. At
still other times the orders were to fire on the looters to kill, and to abuse
them once caught.] Photos of the
torture of Shidane Arone came to light, [They were taken on Kyle Brown’s
camera. They were also backed up by the testimony of Sean Glass who
after seeing the victim, went behind the bunker to get sick.] as well as a
videotape of hazing activities involving members of the Canadian Airborne
The new Liberal
government's reaction was to disband the Canadian Airborne Regiment and call a
commission of inquiry into the whole affair.
[Canadian officers said that they followed the
“tough-guy” approach because the Somali police suggested that this was the
best way to send the message to thieves.]
the outset the inquiry made it clear the focus would be on the military brass
and allegations that they had shown poor leadership and conducted a coverup.
The brass did not
appreciate this turn of events, and many of the exchanges at the inquiry were
testy. Senior officers contended the events in Somalia were the result of a few
bad soldiers and incompetent junior officers. The commission became even more
determined to follow the sequence of events right to the top of the chain of
command in Ottawa.
Some of the people who
appeared before the commission:
Jean Boyle. Head of the
Canadian military. He was forced to resign shortly after giving his testimony to
the commission. He was criticized for blaming subordinates for
document-tampering and not taking responsibility. "They lacked
integrity, they lacked moral fibre," he said of his staff.
Larry Murray. Then
vice-admiral of the Canadian military, it was up to him to explain to the
commission why it took five weeks to authorize an investigation into the March 4
Col. Serge Labbe. The
commander of Canadian Forces in Somalia. He insisted the killing of Shidane
Arone was the only significant problem in the entire mission.
Carol Mathieu. The commanding officer of the Canadian Airborne Regiment at the
time of Somalia. He was court-martialed twice, and both times acquitted,
for allegedly altering the "Rules of Engagement" to allow for the use
of deadly force in Somalia.
Dr. Barry Armstrong. Now
retired, the Canadian Forces doctor who was considered one of the initial
whistle blowers. He told of a campaign within the military to smear him.
Major Vince Buonamici. A
military police officer who claimed top leaders interfered with an
investigation into Armstrong's charges.
The final report
commission had wanted more time to investigate not only the March 4 shootings
and the torture death of Shidane Arone, but two other shootings in February and
March of 1993. It also wanted six more months to interview top military and
defence department officials and the military police. The government forced it
to wrap up quickly, saying the inquiry had gone on long enough.
The final Report of the
Somalia Commission of Inquiry was delivered to the government at the end of
June, 1997. It concluded that there was indeed a cover-up in the shooting death
of a Somali citizen in March 1993.
The commission also said
it found serious flaws in the Canadian military justice system. It says a
cover-up began with officers in Somalia and that the death was clearly a
criminal matter from the outset.
The commissioners of the
federal inquiry say the cover-up continued, perhaps willfully, at headquarters
in Ottawa. During hearings, the commissioners said, military officers lied to
The report was extremely
critical of military officers, saying poor leadership and buck-passing are
common traits of career officers.
Among other conclusions:
Airborne Regiment was unfit for duty in Somalia.
decision to cut the inquiry short left many questions unanswered.
A decision by
officers in Somalia to make only a minimal investigation of a shooting incident
on March 4, 1993 may have produced an attitude that led to the murder of Shidane
Arone two weeks later.
rumours and suspicions of the cover-up to protect senior officers led to a
serious morale problem in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Defence Minister Art Eggleton, the third Liberal to serve
in the portfolio in the past year, had a swift and angry reaction to the report.
Eggleton said the report went too far with its blanket
condemnation of the military. "It presents an excessively negative view of
the Canadian forces," he said.
[The military lied to the government.
This sets a dangerous precedent suggesting that the military is not
answerable to anyone for what it does.]
The Future of the Military
Canadians have always been proud of the nation's role as a
world peacekeeper. Almost every time the United Nations has called a
peacekeeping mission, Canada has contributed soldiers to the cause. At the same
time the Airborne was in Somalia, Canada had a number of other peacekeeping
missions on the go, including one in Bosnia, led with great success by
Major-General Lewis Mackenzie.
revelations of the Somalia inquiry were not just a public relations disaster for
the Canadian military. They set in motion changes to military training,
investigations and the chain of command. Many critics say the changes weren't
The next year, when revelations were made about the
treatment of women in the military, there were calls for yet another inquiry
into Canada's military. Defence Minister Art Eggleton insisted the military
justice system and a newly-appointed ombudsman could deal with the allegations.
Canada Can't Shake Somali Scandal; New Military Chief Quizzed on Troops' 1993 Torture-Killing
by Charles Trueheart, Washington Post Foreign Service
TORONTO, Dec. 29
The murders early this month of a black couple in Fayetteville, N.C., allegedly by two U.S. Army airborne soldiers holding white supremacist views, have painfully familiar overtones for the Canadian military.
Canada's ugly antecedent is known as the Somalia affair: the 1993 torture and murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian airborne soldiers, and the culture of racism and brutality in the ranks that it exposed.
The Somalia revelations during 1994 and 1995 anguished the nation and traumatized the Canadian military. The perpetrators were court-martialed. But a military inquiry continues into the events surrounding the murder as well as the chain of command -- and what looks like a cover-up -- all the way to the Department of National Defense in Ottawa.
The government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, which was not in office at the time of the murder, has had to preside over the unpleasant aftermath. It was buffeted last week when its nominee to become Canada's top military officer, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jean Boyle, was described in press reports as being under investigation for his handling of documents related to the Somalia inquiry.
Defense Minister David Collenette, shepherding Boyle through a grueling introductory news conference, said "Gen. Boyle is not under investigation" but is cooperating with the inquiry. Boyle said the documents in question were "in no way connected to Somalia. "
But he was pressed by reporters to explain his earlier insistence that the same documents did not exist. After whispered counsel from Collenette, Boyle said the issue was "a matter for the investigators."
The Canadian airborne was disbanded in January after the murder of Shidane Arone, a teenage Somali thief, was followed by embarrassing videotaped footage of racism and brutal hazing in the regiment formerly known for its wartime heroics. One segment depicted Canada's U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia referring to local citizens as "nig-nogs" and joking about hunting Somalis as trophies.
Another tape showed a black airborne recruit crawling through a gantlet of blows and a shower of human waste with the words "I love KKK" scrawled on his back. That soldier later said he hadn't minded the treatment, in the context of the hazing ritual, and didn't consider his buddies racists.
As long as it existed, the Canadian airborne considered itself a kindred spirit of the fabled 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C. -- the division to which the three soldiers charged in the Fayetteville case belong.
In the view of Desmond Morton, a leading military historian here, "the [Canadian] airborne was spending too much time down in Fort Bragg, picking up the ethos, the gung-ho fighting spirit of the 82nd."
Morton offered a sociological explanation for incidents such as the Somalia affair and the Fayetteville killings.
"The more you get into the killing trades," he said, "the more likely you are to get people from small towns and other back-of-beyond places who don't have a great education or career prospects otherwise. They're keen on adventure. They're not there to learn a trade."
As members of an airborne unit, Morton said, "they're taught that they're superior beings. They jump out of airplanes and they're given silver wings for it. And then they're licensed to do things criminals do."
Nicholas Stethem, a former Canadian airborne officer and now a private military analyst here, said:
"Airborne operations force more responsibility on the individual soldier. You want an individual who will push himself, prove himself. But you also get an individual who wants to prove he's a tough guy and who adopts that badge of identity -- someone who for the same reason might join a motorcycle gang."
But Stethem cautioned against too sweeping a comparison between the two events. Published photographs of Confederate flags in the quarters of Canadian airborne personnel suggest some common interests. But the two most serious offenders in Arone's murder happened to be Canadian Indians -- "so they wouldn't be white supremacists," he said.
In the view of several analysts, the stain of racism that the Somalia affair has left on the airborne has been motivated by military critics and fueled by the media. They said it shouldn't obscure the real problems of selection, support and leadership that were responsible for the regiment's troubles -- or the vastly more critical issues facing the Canadian military establishment in the throes of radical, budget-driven downsizing.
All those issues will crowd the plate of Gen. Boyle, who was sworn in Thursday. He succeeds Gen. John de Chastelain, whose five years as chief of the Canadian Defense Staff were interrupted by a year in Washington as Canadian ambassador.
The appointment of the relatively junior Boyle, a 48-year-old former fighter pilot, to Canada's only four-leaf military job surprised some analysts here. They noted that more senior candidates had been passed over -- or declined the offer.
Alex Morrison, president of the Lester B. Pearson Canadian International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Clementsport, Nova Scotia, praised the combination of military and political skills Boyle would bring to the job.
Col. Michel Drapeau, a defense
commentator for the maverick military magazine Esprit de Corps, lamented the
appointment. In the Toronto Sun, he described Boyle as "the spin doctor of
the Somalia affair."