Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Mystique of the Somalia Affair

The Mystique of the Somalia Affair

By Lane Pellenor
The Daily Magi
November 30, 2044


The Somalia Affair was a 1993 military scandal later dubbed "Canada's national shame". It peaked with the brutal beating death of a Somali teenager at the hands of two Canadian soldiers participating in humanitarian efforts in Somalia. The crime, documented by grisly photos, shocked the Canadian public and brought to light internal problems in the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Military leadership came into sharp rebuke after a CBC reporter received altered documents, leading to allegations of a cover-up.

Eventually a public inquiry was called. Despite being controversially cut short by the government, the Somalia Inquiry cited problems in the leadership of the Canadian Forces. The affair led to the disbanding of Canada's elite Canadian Airborne Regiment, greatly damaging the morale of the Canadian Forces, and marring the domestic and international reputation of Canadian soldiers. It also led to the immediate reduction of Canadian military spending by nearly 25% from the time of the killing to the inquiry.

Only recently deemed a light infantry battalion, some leaders expressed concern that the Somalia mission did not fit the Regiment's mandate or abilities. The Airborne consisted of multiple sub-units drawn from each of Canada's regular infantry regiments. Later, Lt. Col. Kenward suggested that the line regiments had offloaded some of their "bad apples" into the CAR. Lt. Col. Morneault, the commanding officer of the CAR, declared the "rogue commando" unit unfit for service abroad and sought to have it remain in Canada. Instead, he was relieved of his command and replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Carol Mathieu.

There had been recurring discipline problems, and an ongoing investigation into their base of CFB Petawawa as a hotbed of white supremacist activity in 2 Commando. This included the adoption of the Rebel flag as the commando's barracks-room decoration. The flag had initially been presented as a gift from American soldiers, and gradually became an unofficial symbol, although successive commanding officers had tried to ban its usage.

Footage depicting racist actions of Cpl. McKay and Pte. Brocklebank was later brought forward by Scott Taylor, who hoped to expose systematic problems in the military and exonerate his friend Kyle Brown. In the video, McKay can be heard uttering racial slurs, and pre-deployment photographs showed him wearing a Hitler shirt in front of a Swastika. Brocklebank was seen "uttering racist and violent epithets on a video taken by soldiers".

Video of brutal hazing rituals also came to light, including a video from the summer of 1992 which showed 1 Commando engaging in "hijinks" ranging from smearing faeces on each other, to bestiality; the black soldier Christopher Robin was shown on all fours with a leash, led around like a dog, with the phrase "I Love KKK" written on his back, while surrounding soldiers screamed about White Power and jeered, one demonstrating his objection to Black soldiers in the Airborne through racist language.

Mike Abel, the only Canadian to die in the Somali operation, was alleged a member of the KKK; although colleagues disputed the evidence that racist literature had been found in his belongings, pointing out that it just floated around the camp and everybody read it.

Jim Day, a reporter with the Pembroke Observer local newspaper from the regiment's hometown, was on the base at the time and was the first to report that Canadian soldiers were being held pending an investigation into the death of a Somali citizen.

The debate over what led to the events came at a politically sensitive time in Canada, as the Minister of National Defence Kim Campbell was in the midst of a Progressive Conservative Party of Canada leadership campaign to become Prime Minister. Matters were made worse when Campbell tried to dismiss the allegations of racism in the Canadian military by referring to it as "youthful folly" and suggesting that it was commonplace. Criticism also focused on the fact that it took five weeks to order a high-level investigation into the events in Somalia.

Some, including Member of Parliament John Cummins, quickly pointed out that three of the four men facing the most serious charges had been given experimental injections of Lariam, a brand-name of Mefloquine, to test its effects on combatting malaria in a controlled study group. The drug was known to cause paranoia, lack of judgment, neurosis and other mental side effects, and some have suggested it bore some responsibility for the soldiers' actions. Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards had actually resigned in protest from Health Canada over her belief that the drug could produce "dangerous psychiatric reactions" in the soldiers.

The affair had a number of long lasting effects. While it is difficult to separate the effects of the affair on Canadian Forces morale from those of the concurrent defence spending cut, it did exacerbate feelings of distrust towards the media and politicians among many CF members. At the same time, public trust in the Canadian Forces suffered and recruitment became more difficult. Public revulsion provided support for the sharp cuts to military spending introduced by the Liberal government. Many of the report's comments, along with the sustained media criticism of the military, led to the hasty imposition of policies designed to ensure nothing similar to the Somalia Affair could happen again. It has been argued that many of these practices, such as the micro-management of training, operations and disciplinary processes from NDHQ and the resultant restrictions on commanding officers, hamper the flexibility of operational units. Since the events in Somalia, Canada has become far less ready to participate in United Nations Peacekeeping efforts. Once playing an important role in the majority of UN efforts, in subsequent years Canada simply provided indirect support. Post 2001 though, spending on the Canadian Forces gradually increased and accelerated as Canada played a major role in Afghanistan. Concurrently public perception of the Canadian Forces improved dramatically as well.

In 1999, judge J. Douglas Cunningham dismissed an appeal for financial compensation by Arone's parents Abubakar Arone Rage and Dahabo Omar Samow, ruling that their use of a litigation guardian, Abdullahi Godah Barre, was inconsistent with the legal requirement, and they should have traveled to Canada to launch the suit themselves. Brown later co-operated on a book in which it was suggested he had been made the scapegoat for the incident and the officers who had not intervened were not brought to justice.

Soldiers of other countries also faced charges of misconduct; American soldiers were involved in the deaths of three young boys in separate incidents, Pakistani troops were accused of a number of civilian deaths, and Belgian soldiers took photographs of themselves allegedly torturing a Somali to death. Other long term effects on the Forces included the adoption of sensitivity training, including SHARP (Standard for Harassment and Racism Prevention) training, which became mandatory for every single member of the Forces, and was accompanied by a declaration of "zero tolerance" on racism and harassment of any kind, including hazing. Some have suggested that Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Joseph Philip Robert Murray was slated to be replaced, until Boyle was removed - making it difficult for the Prime Minister to simultaneously replace the head of the armed forces and the head of the federal police.

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