What Did He Know?
Charges of coverup over Somalia rock the military
Gen. Jean Boyle looked uncomtortable and sounded tense-and that was perfectly understandable. After all, the 48-year-old Boyle, the most senior officer in the Canadian Forces, was taking an unprecedented gamble to save his reputation, and perhaps his career. In a four-
minute videotaped message delivered last week to the 70,000 military employees of the department of national defence, Boyle proclaimed himself innocent of any wrongdoing in the Somalia affair, which some defence experts are calling Canada’s most serious military scandal since the Second World War. Boyle said he had done everything possible to assist a federal inquiry into the department’s handling of the March, 1993, killing of a 16-yearold Somali by a handful of Canadian peacekeepers. “I never participated in any effort to interfere with the work of the Somalia commission,” he declared flatly, his face sombre, his left hand nervously playing with a pen. But Boyle’s statement raised as many questions as it answered, and left many observers wondering: what did he know?
Ultimately, the three-member commission of inquiry, under the chairmanship of Federal Court Judge Gilles Létourneau, will decide how much Boyle knew—but it will be many months before they reach any conclusions. In the meantime, the commission raised fresh doubts about the conduct of the military by revealing early last week that documents crucial to the inquiry had either disappeared or been altered. Létourneau set aside four days of hearings in mid-April so that military officials can explain what happened to the files.
In response, Boyle took an extraordinary step: he ordered his entire department to drop all but the most essential duties on Tuesday, April 9, in order to search for the missing papers. But that is unlikely to stop the scandal from spreading. Many outside experts suggest that the disappearing documents point to a widespread and high-level attempt to contain, even cover up, the Somalia affair. ‘To orchestrate erasures and disappearances all over the place suggests that more than one person was involved, and that someone pretty high up the chain of command had to be giving instructions,” says Brian MacDonald, a Toronto-based military consultant and former colonel in the army reserve.
And amid a week of disturbing revelations, the department announced that Col. Geoffrey Haswell, a public affairs officer and
30-year veteran of the armed services, will be court-martialled on seven charges related to the falsification of documents. At least two other senior officers may also be charged. Other, more junior, officers refused to participate in altering documents, according to the federal information commissioner, John Grace. Maclean’s has learned they included three public affairs officers: naval lieutenants Chris Henderson and Joel Brayman, and Capt. Stéphane Grenier. Finally last week, Létourneau himself came under attack when a lawyer representing Brig.-Gen. Ernest Beno, who has already testified about his role in the Somalia mission, accused the judge of being biased against his client. The lawyer, Bruce Carr-Harris, asked Létourneau to step down after learning the judge had allegedly said that Beno had perhaps been “less than open and truthful in his testimony.” As the fallout from the Somalia affair spread, questions were also raised about the judgment of Defence Minister David Collenette—who only four months ago appointed Boyle chief of the defence staff, in large part because the onetime fighter pilot was supposedly untainted by Somalia. Reform party Defence critic Jim Hart, who says the minister “seems to have believed almost everything Boyle told him,” called for Collenette’s resignation. Despite last week’s events, Collenette publicly continued to stand behind 1 Boyle. “He’s a man of honor and a i man of his word, and I took him at I his word,” Collenette told Maclean’s. E “People can criticize my decisions and my judgment, but they can’t acis cuse me of doing anything wrong.” The preoccupation with individual careers and reputations overshadowed other significant casualties of the Somalia affair—morale within the ranks and the public image of the armed forces. “I think every last man and woman in uniform is feeling under assault,” says Gordon Reay, who retired last September as a lieutenant-general. “We’ve had 50,000 people serve in active operations this decade and 99.9 per cent have served with distinction. That’s all being lost.” And in an era of shrinking budgets, some defence experts fear that sagging public confidence could translate into even fewer dollars for the armed forces—whose budget of $10.5 billion has already been sharply cut in the past few years. “We’re going to see a long-term loss of faith in the military,” noted Martin Shadwick, a defence analyst with Toronto’s York University. “And the constituency was already weak compared with, say, the people you can mobilize over a hospital closure. This could affect the bottom-line dollars available to the department.” Ironically, the incident that triggered the Somalia affair, the brutal beating, torture and killing of Shidane Arone, has been pushed into the background by the revelations of potential misconduct at high levels. Nine soldiers were eventually charged, all of them members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont., in connection with Arone’s death. Four were convicted, including Re. Elvin Kyle Brown, who was released on parole last fall after serving one-third of a five-year sentence for
‘This is similar to the way Watergate started’
manslaughter. Four were acquitted, and one soldier,
Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee, was declared unfit to stand trial after suffering brain damage in a suicide attempt. As for the Airborne, Collenette disbanded the regiment in January, 1995, following the release of amateur videos depicting shocking hazing rituals.
Most of the officers now implicated in the widening scandal had no direct connection with the Airborne, nor were they part of the six-month peacekeeping mission to Somalia. “The heart of the matter is no longer the killing of Arone, or that a few soldiers went out of control,” says Nicholas Stethem, a former captain who is now a Toronto-based military affairs consultant. “The core of the issue is that it wasn’t dealt with properly by the defence establishment.”
Most observers agree that the top officials in the department at the time, Admiral John Anderson, who was chief of defence staff, and S Robert Fowler, the deputy defence minister, learned of the death less than 48 hours after it occurred on March 16.
According to Reay, who was commander of the army and therefore responsible for the Airborne, a decision was made to follow the standard procedure of sending in military police to investigate. “We said we’d better get some of the best military police, from the national level, over there and get to the bottom of this,” Reay said in an interview last week.
But others contend that senior military officials may have considered two other options: they could pursue a policy of full disclosure or they could attempt to contain the problem. Stethem and MacDonald argue that the recent revelations about altered and missing documents raise concerns that the top officers involved chose containment rather than disclosure—partly to protect the image of the armed forces and at least partly to shield the defence minister of
the day, Kim Campbell, who had launched her successful bid for the Progressive Conservative leadership. “The initial reaction was to cover it up,” says MacDonald. “This is similar to the way Watergate started. As people started to cover up, lie was piled upon lie until the problem became the pack of lies rather than the original problem.”
In fact, at least one military officer assigned to investigate some of the offences committed by Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia has complained of intimidation and harassment by senior members of the defence department. In an affidavit submitted to the Létourneau inquiry on Jan. 18, Maj. Vincent Buonomici alleged that Maj.-Gen. Clive Addy and Maj.-Gen. Brian Vernon, who have both
What began as a humanitarian mission quickly unravelled into one
of the darkest chapters in Canadian military history. Key events:
The Canadian Airborne Regiment arrives in Somalia.
Two Somalis infiltrating a Canadian base camp are shot by sentries. One dies.
Somali Shidane Arone, 16, is beaten and tortured to death by Canadian soldiers. Two days later, Master Cpl. Clayton Matchee, one of those arrested in Arone’s death, is found hanging in
his cell in Somalia. Matchee suffers brain damage and is declared unfit to stand trial.
MAY 19,1993: The first charges are laid against Airborne soldiers related to Arone’s death. Eight soldiers eventually face court martial, four of whom are convicted.
In the most serious conviction to date, Pte. Elvin Kyle Brown is sentenced to five years in jail for manslaughter and torture in Arone’s death.
Defence Minister David Collenette announces he is disbanding the Airborne regiment after the broadcast of several videotapes showing soldiers making racist comments and taking part in brutal hazing rituals.
Collenette appoints a civilian inquiry into the Somalia mission.
MARCH 27,1996: Federal Information Commissioner
John Grace says senior military officers deliberately altered documents related to the Somalia affair before releasing them to a CBC radio reporter.
APRIL 1,1996: The
Somalia inquiry reveals that computer logs and documents supplied by the defence department had been tampered with to delete crucial information about what happened in Somalia.
announced their retirement from the Forces, obstructed his investigation of Lt.-Col. Carol Mathieu, who was in charge of the Airborne in Somalia. Among other things, Buonomici alleges that someone rifled his files and changed the locks on the door to his office. Addy and Vernon have both refused to comment.
At this point, no one has forwarded a plausible explanation of how the defence documents concerning events in Somalia went missing or were altered. But defence experts agree that the files—known as unit operational logs and headquarters operational logs—are I crucial to understanding the 1 events in Somalia, and how I military officials responded " to them. “Those logs are the backbone of the system,” says Stethem. “They’re the standard record of what happened. It’s from them that you draw all your other reports.” According to Simon Noel, a senior lawyer with the Létourneau commission, an entire set of unit operational logs for the Airborne regiment, covering a critical two-month period in early 1993, have gone missing. Under standard procedure, these logs would contain records of all incoming and outgoing radio messages, and should provide the commission with vital information about how the regimental chain of command dealt with the death of Arone and other incidents. Furthermore, there are supposed to be four copies of the documents, three of which are then sent to their superiors. “If logs go missing, it’s not just one set of documents, it’s all the copies simultaneously,” says MacDonald.
The headquarters logs, which are kept on computer, are equally important to the commission. But investigators working for the inquiry have discovered that some key segments dealing with communications between national defence headquarters and field commanders in Somalia have been deleted. For anyone familiar with military practices and procedures, tampering with operational logs is almost inconceivable. “It is highly unusual because they are critical records,” notes Stethem. “They are not easily mislaid.”
The dramatic revelations about the operational logs coincided with equally serious allegations of potential misconduct within the defence department’s public affairs directorate. Information Commissioner Grace released a report on March 26 charging that senior officers altered documents pertaining to Somalia before releasing them to the media. The officers, who were not named in his report, then ordered the originals destroyed. “The complete destruction of the original [documents] was thwarted by a number of vigilant, courageous and honorable employees who delayed in obeying certain orders,” Grace said. It is now known that Henderson, Brayman and Grenier were involved in saving the documents, contrary to orders from their superiors.
The department reacted to Grace’s report within days by announcing that Haswell will be court-martialled on charges arising out of the falsification and destruction of documents. Two other senior officers, Lt.Cmdr. Michael Considine and Cmdr. Doug Caie, who are no longer with the public affairs directorate, are also being investigated in connection with the same incidents. Before he was charged, Haswell publicly accused Boyle, his predecessor John de Chastelain, and former deputy minister Fowler of knowing about and approving a plan to obstruct media requests for information about the Somalia affair. “I can’t take the rap
for something I was not responsible for,” he said. “My reputation has already been damaged. But I will no longer remain passive and risk it being totally destroyed.” Several outside analysts with close connections to the department agree that it is difficult to believe that Haswell could have acted without the approval of his superiors. Under the military’s strictly controlled management procedures, they say, he would almost certainly have carried out policies set by officers further up the chain of command. In fact, they note that Boyle was in charge of a working group responsible for setting policy on the release of information about Somalia. They also contend that Boyle excluded Haswell from the group. “Boyle was associate deputy minister for policy and communications,” said one former Defence official who asked to remain anonymous. “Haswell is only a colonel. He cannot decide on policy. He can’t change a standing order without the concurrence of general officers, in this case Jean Boyle.”
Others maintain that the situation is less clear-cut. Desmond Morton, head of McGill University’s Institute for the Study of Canada and a former officer himself, warned against jumping to conclusions about Boyle. “He had the misfortune to be the officer in overall command of public affairs at the time,” said Morton. “But that does not necessarily mean he actually knew all of the details of what was going on in public affairs.”
In his videotaped message, Boyle referred briefly to his role as
The Somalia affair is damaging morale
associate deputy minister in charge of communications. He said that he established a process that “separated the day-to-day work of the department and the Canadian Forces from the Somalia inquiry.” He also said that only certain members of the public affairs team were authorized to deal with inquiries about Somalia. But he avoided any reference to the policies he set to guide those spokesmen, and he suggested that any misconduct might have been the responsibility of those working under him. “It may be that individuals have taken
it upon themselves to act in a manner that is less than militarily professional,” he said. “If some have broken the law, they will have to answer for their actions.” The general declined requests last week to elaborate on his position, and to answer his critics.
Boyle will be called upon to provide some answers of his own when he appears before the commission of inquiry. He will undoubtedly be grilled about the policies he set for his subordinates. But one question will be uppermost in the minds of many observers: what, if anything, did Boyle know about the destruction, disappearance or alteration of documents related to the Somalia affair? His answers may well determine whether the Canadian Forces can finally put Somalia behind them—or are saddled with a scandal that continues to damage them for years to come.
E. KAYE FULTON