CANADA

Brutal allegations

A Canadian peacekeeper stands trial for murder

LUKE FISHER March 7 1994
CANADA

Brutal allegations

A Canadian peacekeeper stands trial for murder

LUKE FISHER March 7 1994

Brutal allegations

CANADA

A Canadian peacekeeper stands trial for murder

LUKE FISHER

The streets of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, 150 km northwest of Ottawa, recall Canada’s military tradition, commemorating battles like Ypres and Falaise, where Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves earlier this century. But now, the roadside signs directing the media to the first of nine courts martial related to last year’s United Nations famine-relief mis-

sion in Somalia are a constant reminder to soldiers and their families that the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment remains under a dark cloud. Further evidence of that came last week at the trial of Pte. Elvin Kyle Brown, who is charged with second-degree murder and torture of Somali teenager Shidane Abukar Arone. Several witnesses gave shocking accounts of the brutal killing of the 16-year-old Arone while in the custody of Canadian soldiers at the Canadian base near Belet Huen on March 16, 1993. One of the most searing allegations: that on at least two occasions, Arone, who had been detained after sneaking around near the Airborne’s

compound, was heard pleading “Canada, Canada, Canada” as he was beaten and tortured by two Canadian soldiers.

The court martial of Brown is expected to continue until the middle of March. The 25year-old from Edmonton is one of six Canadian soldiers, including a senior officer, who face charges related to Arone’s death. In addition, Capt. Michael Rainville is charged with assault causing bodily harm and negligent performance of duty in connection with the March 4 shooting death of another Somali. And Master Cpl. A. D. Smith faces a charge of criminal negligence causing death over the accidental shooting of a fellow soldier. The unit’s commanding officer at the time, Lt.-Col. Carol Mathieu, has also been charged with negligent performance of his duties. The various courts martial will continue throughout the summer, with Mathieu’s to be the last scheduled to get under way. But the full story of the Airborne’s ill-fated mission may not be known until a defence department board of inquiry examines the unit’s training and performance. The board, which will report to Defence Minister David Collenette, will not begin those proceedings until the courts martial I conclude.

g Evidence that Arone was g tortured between the time of I his capture around 9 p.m. § and his death shortly after % midnight in the bunker ° where Canadian soldiers were holding him mounted last week. At least 11 people visited the bunker, where Brown has admitted he was, during those crucial hours. They testified to seeing Arone abused in various ways, including riot-baton blows to the head and shins, kicks to the head and body and cigarette bums to the soles of the feet. One member of the Canadian detachment, Sgt. Joseph Hillier, testified earlier that Brown’s platoon commander, Capt. Michael Sox, had referred to any Somalis caught in the compound by saying: “If you have to, you can beat the shit out of them.” Another Canadian soldier, Cpl. David Pusch, when asked in crossexamination by Brown’s lawyer, Patrick McCann, why he did nothing to stop the beat-

ing, said: “I still ask myself that question.”

Brown’s lawyer argued last week that his client had only punched and kicked Arone “five or six” times, and that could not have killed the teenager. As well, a parade of witnesses wearing the maroon beret of the Airborne appeared to confirm that while Brown was present during much of the beating, he seemed little interested in participating. Pusch, for one, testified that another soldier who was present and took part in the beating, but who under court order cannot be named because he is yet to stand trial, was “always aggressive” and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, while Brown looked as though he did not want to be there. But as the prosecutor, Lt.Col. Peter Tinsley, observed, Brown kicked Arone many times and posed for two of what Tinsley referred to as “hero pictures” with the dying prisoner. Other photos showed the second soldier clearly relishing grinding the barrel of a 9-mm pistol into Arone’s head.

The court has also learned that the Airborne is not alone in the case. Two airmen from 427 Helicopter Squadron, also based in Petawawa but not part of the Airborne Regiment, were among those who stopped by the bunker where Arone was being held. One member of that squadron, Master Cpl. Jacques Alarie, testified that while on guard duty he wandered over to the bunker and was shown Arone, with his legs bound together and his arms tied behind his back in what he called “Vietnamese style.” Alarie said the second soldier kicked the prisoner in the head, while Brown looked on. But he insisted that he thought the body was some sort of a dummy and that the beating was a joke until the soldier used a lit cigarello to bum the soles of the prisoner’s feet.

Alarie acknowledged to the court that he told Brown and another Airborne soldier: “You’ve got a good trophy there.” But he said he cracked the joke because he was “overwhelmed” and does not speak English well. And in a videotaped interrogation of Brown shown to the court last week, Brown claims the second soldier threatened to beat Arone with a metal bar, then snickered and said: “I’m going to kill this fucker.” But Brown claims on the tape that he did not take the man at his word. The Airborne medical officer who examined Arone’s body a short time afterward placed the time of death between midnight and 12:15 a.m.

Another trooper in the Airborne Regiment, Pte. John Dowe, who said he briefly saw the bloodied and beaten Arone an hour before his death but did not realize the seriousness of the situation, told the court he was at a loss to explain the cruel treatment meted out to one of the people that the Airborne had been sent to help—even if the young man had been part of the frustrating problem of looting and theft. Said Dowe: “They should treat him professionally like they were taught.” But as the court martial unfolded last week, it became painfully clear that some members of Canada’s elite unit in Somalia behaved in a manner that was brutally unprofessional.

LUKE FISHER at CFB Petawawa