Monday, June 23, 2014

SOMALIA, THE AIRBORNE, AND A SCAPEGOAT



While Tarnished Brass deals with the Somalia affair incidentally and incompletely, Scapegoat deals with it primarily and thoroughly. Kyle Brown might have been a minor character in the story if not for the fact that circumstances came together so perfectly to mark him out as the opportune fall guy for a mission that misfired. When the man mostly responsible for the death of a detainee put himself out of legal reach by disabling his mind in a failed attempt at suicide, Trooper Brown became the natural choice for shouldering the blame. This, for two reasons: he confessed to punching the prisoner, and he was the lowest ranked soldier who had been involved in the united abuse.

Canadian airborne soldiers deployed to Somalia in 1992-1993 in order, not to keep peace (the usual Canadian task), but to impose it (p. 82.) A mandate to impose peace falls outside of what the Prime Minister of Canada, without sanction from Parliament, is allowed to issue to our troops (p. 295.) If this book has that detail right, then the man who should have been held responsible for misdeeds in Somalia is then Prime Minister Mulroney. The object from the top seems to have been to commit Canadian troops as ‘U.S. auxiliaries’ (p. 296) but to make it appear as if they were being sent as peacekeepers (p. 66.) Bypassing Parliament must have been crucial to bypassing opposition to the plan (p. 303.) The mission seems to have been named Operation Deliverance only after the troops were in Somalia (p. 68.) In keeping with the rename and actual mission, blue berets and UN flashes had to be stowed (p. 297.) It seems that the paratroopers did not find out what they were getting into or what they were going to Somalia to specifically do until they were en route (p. 73.) They had not even received maps of the area they were to occupy (p. 81), nor any adequate intelligence to speak of (p. 299.) Once on the ground the regiment was situated, not according to the usual formation it had been trained to adopt for defensive reasons, but in such a way that left its constituent parts vulnerable (pp. 88, 89.) As for rules of engagement, they ‘changed all the time’ (p. 91.) At best, they were written in such a way as to be incomprehensible (p. 101.) Hard to believe, but this is normative. I recall the confusion we were in before going to Cyprus on that very issue, notwithstanding the fact that that rotating tour had been in force for twenty-seven years by then. Rules for engaging the enemy or hostile persons are typically vague and imprecise in order for bureaucrats to have a hatch through which to escape responsibility for what troops do based on their orders (pp. 101, 301.) Due to lack of courage, commitment, and clarity in Ottawa, then, our soldiers had to improvise their own rules of engagement. So the Airborne commander thought best, under the circumstances, to okay ‘disabling shots’ in cases of necessity (p. 298.) In addition, and at some point during the mission, the ‘unwritten policy’ that trickled down was to ‘rough up’ infiltrators to discourage thieving from compounds in which supplies were kept (p. 98.) And Major Seward issued an order to ‘abuse’ Somalis of that sort in order to prevent them from being shot, “as the colonel had said was permissible” (p. 113.) So Major Seward’s authorization “showed individual initiative when there were no adequate orders…Colonel Mathieu’s orders to shoot infiltrators again reflect absence of policy” (p. 303.) Unsurprisingly, in the absence of clearly defined guidelines, a free-for-all spirit may be expressed as well. Captain Rainville: “If we should happen to shoot a Somali tonight, I’ll buy a case of beer” (p. 273.)

Bear in mind, now, the summary: a mission without approval from Parliament; no intelligence gathering for the troops; vulnerable formation of companies on the ground in a war zone; and rules of engagement that are so cryptic that the soldiers might hesitate to shoot when they should, or shoot when they should not. Yes, bear that in mind in light of the following: the possibility of uniting 100,000 militia against you because of your mandate to disarm a people whose society is rooted in the love of arms (pp. 297, 298); Pakistani troops had suffered twenty-four casualties and thirty-four injuries by them; and even the America’s Rangers had lost eighteen of their best by the same (p. 72.) Only one Canadian was shot and killed during the Somalia mission, and that was ‘accidentally…by a comrade’ (p. 299.) Illicit politics and bureaucratic negligence might have been the cause of death to hundreds of elite Canadian troops. That, certainly, is the story that almost was.
                                                
A few other Somalis were killed by the Canadians besides the one for whose death Kyle Brown went to prison. Shidane Arone died as a detainee after he was tortured, and the evidence for it could not be contained. This is the difference. On the one hand, Trooper Brown was being told by a corporal to shut up and get rid of the incriminating pictures (p. 140.) On the other hand, even the NCO’s were told by his platoon commander to divulge all they knew if the affair ever led to an inquiry (p. 138.)

The torture and death of a sixteen-year-old detainee was the central event that prompted officials to launch the Somalia inquiry. It would not be going too far to say that this one event was tantamount to the airborne jumping blind into oblivion. Persons who see no need for a country to have commandos at the ready will agree that a regiment with a clean reputation should be abolished at the first sign of dirt. More thoughtful persons, however, will acknowledge that a country has a need for commandos to call upon, in spite of a potential for imperfection.

The Somali who was to die while in detention was caught on March 16th, the nite before the ‘smoker,’ or regimental birthday bash (p. 117.) It is interesting that this day was even celebrated by 2 Commando, given the loyalty shift from PPCLI to Airborne at the moment of posting to the latter (p. 118.) Celebrations began on the nite before the party. The beer flowed among off-duty soldiers, while those on duty began to guard in shifts of one instead of two. “Temporarily, no one was in charge” (p. 160.) Details such as these are what made the situation precarious for the repeat infiltrator. Impromptu visits were made to the bunker out of curiosity. The periodic abuse by this solider and that soldier was not computed, with the direst result for the detainee. Drugs contributed to this outcome as well as booze. The principal abuser, Master Corporal Matchee, might have been high on marijuana at the time (p. 126.) The more consequential drug was the one the soldiers were prescribed: mefloquine. This anti-malaria drug gave rise to side effects like ‘hallucinations, depression, and paranoia’ (p. 79.) Even the normally sensitive Brown, who did not enjoy ‘kicking in people’s doors’ (p. 91) had a ‘hair-trigger temper’ under the influence of it (p. 220.) The lead doctor from the surgical team confessed to having ‘unreasonable anger’ and ‘weird ideas’ while on mefloquine (Ibid.) The drug was responsible for one case of ‘psychiatric repatriation’ (p. 221.) Mefloquine may help to explain why the warrant officer, contrary to his nature, flipped out and delivered ‘soccer kicks’ to the prisoner’s head (pp. 124, 125, 127, 269, 270.) Some guys in another platoon did stuff like “walking naked with their bloody gun after taking the stupid pills” (p. 227.) Corporal Kafka: “In my professional opinion, guys who take mefloquine should not have a gun because it’s mood altering” (Ibid.) Picture the scene in the film Young Guns when the gunslingers dabbled in mescaline, and you have an apt illustration by which to understand more perfectly. Is it reasonable to suppose that soldiers on mind-altering mefloquine will behave soberly and control their alcohol intake? especially given the heat and stress they are under? and with nothing, maybe, but their field rations to eat? The aircrew was advised against taking the drug. But mefloquine was deemed alright for “soldiers in combat zones carrying loaded weapons” (p. 221.) Yes, a lot of dereliction contributed to ending this young Somali’s life. The dereliction originated in Ottawa.   

How much the drug contributed to other moments of incompetence and irresponsibility is hard to say. There was the embarrassing ambush during which no bandits were apprehended and the men almost ended up shooting each other (p. 108, 109.) There was the time when the CO and the RSM were spotted staggering around drunk while their soldiers were engaged in a firefight in exactly the same area (pp. 83-85.) Incidents like that one pretty much killed the policy of off-duty sobriety in the platoons, which became another factor leading to trouble in the ranks. 

Master Corporal Matchee was the chief abuser of Arone. Trooper Brown was the man who released the photos of the abuse (to Captain Sox, p. 146.) Brown: “My own well-being was no longer a factor—what would happen to me didn’t matter any more. I had to tell the truth as I saw it” (p. 145.) Again, “I won’t always have to answer to the army, but I’ll always have to answer to the man in the mirror” (p. 143.) Ten times more honorable than your average politician, this man! It may be true that the Vandoos were unfairly favored over the RCR and PPCLI when a Vandoo CO was chosen to lead the three commando companies, as Brown says (p. 65.) But Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu, in spite of his later faults (like the drunken incident with his RSM), did a wise move before deploying the men under his command. He asked his senior NCO’s which men, NCO’s, and even officers they thought unfit for the upcoming mission. Some of the soldiers who were singled out in this way were sent back to their original regiments, while some others, in spite of being singled out for the same reason, were allowed to go on to Somalia. Whether it was the CO who allowed this, or whether his recommendation to disallow was overruled, is unclear. Two soldiers who were flagged but who deployed anyway were Matchee and Brown, one because he was too mean, the other because he was too passive. This questionnaire by the CO to his senior NCO’S is called ‘misguided democracy’ and an ‘abdication of responsibility’ by the authors (p. 68.) The fact is, though, a senior NCO knows the soldiers and has seen them work and interact, while the CO, especially one newly nominated to command a battalion, has no idea what character traits embody the men under his charge. A senior NCO, more than any other rank, is in touch with the rest of the platoon. His input is wisely sought. Brown loved the thrill of being in a combat zone (pp. 75, 91.) Patrols there were akin to a ‘mystical experience’ for him (p. 77.) And his winsome ways with the Somalis enabled him to be particularly successful in seizing weapons from them (p. 89.) Conversely, as for rummaging through huts in search of weapons, Brown says, “I was doing this and suddenly I couldn’t do it any more” (p. 90.) No one, based on the reading of a book about the mission, should want to pass judgment on whether or not Brown ought to have stayed behind. But Warrant Murphy’s recommendation to pass Brown by is intriguing, maybe telling. That Matchee, the crazy Cree, should have been sent somewhere else is beyond question. Whether or not Brown should have been overlooked for the mission, it is still true that he might have been the one to save the day if only he had been listened to. The ins and outs of this mission are like rolls of concertina wire tangled. My large review is to the purpose of unraveling as much as I can. 

It says on page 119 that Brown was the only one who tried to get a senior rank to stop the abuse before death would ensue. It is obvious why this was done “by way of conveying his own uneasiness than of asking for help or intervention” (p. 129) since the abuse of detainees was a de facto order and some NCO’s had participated in the abuse. At one point, Brown did have a serious talk with a sergeant about the prisoner potentially being killed by Matchee. That sergeant seems to have been aware that such an outcome would mean ‘big-time’ trouble for them, and he promised Brown that he’d deal with it (pp. 134, 135.) He failed to follow through on that. To Brown’s credit, not only did he ask for help, but he diverted Matchee for a while by agreeing to take pictures of him posing with the prisoner, and he relieved the prisoner insofar as the circumstances would permit. 

Given all that these troops had to deal with and put up with, it is commendable that they showed such restraint toward the ungrateful Somalis who robbed them, tried to kill them, and destroyed the infrastructure that was put in for the benefit of their town (p. 106.) Canadian soldiers did a lot of good works for the Somalis who lashed out in return (p. 92, 177.) The Canadians could have given in to the Somali custom of cutting off the hands of robbers. In fact, the Somali ‘police commissioner’ urged them to kill some thieves as a lesson to the rest (p. 107.) The Canadians could have gotten away with that. But they resisted, and showed mercy instead. When did we hear that side of the story on the news? Never. Four commandos from the company connected to Arone’s death (2 Commando) received medals for bravery during Operation Deliverance (p. 178.) Did we hear about that on the news? Not likely.

The pictures that Brown took of the tortured body of Arone made up part one of the excuse used to disband the airborne. Part two was the video that was made by a member of 2 Commando which Brown had made copies of to distribute to ‘individual soldiers’ (p. 241.) Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps magazine, obtained a copy from Trooper Brown or from Sergeant Bolan (it is disputed from whom, p. 243.) Taylor released the video to the CBC. The CBC ignored all the content that showed soldiers being good fellows and hard workers (p. 241), and chose to broadcast only the few colorful remarks that some soldiers had made for fun. Liberal pundits exaggerated how much the public was offended by what they heard. It was probably clear to many that the remarks had been ripped out of context to make the soldiers look like racists and fiends. The Liberals (or Ezra Levant’s ‘Libranos’) were in power by then, and, hating everything that smacked of machismo and testosterone, jumped at the chance to use the Somalia affair to cut from Canada one more expression of manliness (pp. 246, 247.)

If a few jests or remarks (‘ain’t shot enough nig-gahs yet,’ p. 242) are going to be the standard for disbanding institutions, there is no institution anywhere that will be able to stand. Nearly every single adult Canadian has spoken as disparagingly as that about some person, group, or race. Natives call whites ‘whiteys’ on a regular basis. We put up with that. Blacks call us ‘crackers.’ We put up with that. But when white soldiers who are trying to serve their country (without proper supports and to benefit ungrateful blacks) engage in a little verbal banter to release some bit of stress, they get their regiment disbanded! There are racist elements in this country, alright! There are many among us who are racist against the white race! Master Corporal Matchee was an Indian who was racist toward whites and blacks (pp. 88, 140, 142.) The white soldiers, rather than ‘accidentally’ kill him or swarm him, which could easily have been done, chose to put up with him. Why? Because they were more tolerant than racist. We who are white Canadians are so brainwashed into disregarding racism against us by visible minorities that we miss mentioning such instances even in our quest to defend ourselves against the charge of racism. Case in point: the index in this book contains the heading, ‘Racism in the army.’ Each page that is cited there is about instances by which white soldiers might be construed as racist. But the pages containing information on Matchee’s racism are not listed. That was not an intentional omission, for the omission works against one of the purposes of this book: to show that, when it comes to racism, it’s prejudicial to accuse white people alone of being guilty of it (p. 279.) The omission happened automatically without notice because of this principal that everyone has had planted in his mind by our culture that instances of racism by minorities ought to be overlooked. We have been lobotomized to regard racism only when white people are guilty of it. Indeed, you can’t even judge a visible minority when he deserves to be judged. If you do, you’re called a racist. Liberal-minded media and leftist politicians practice racism more than anyone else does. They look the other way when whites are being defamed. That’s racist. They allow and even encourage the belittling of whites. That’s racist. And they use every innocuous gibe made by whites (except by liberal whites) against persons of other races to further ‘progressive’ policy. While on exercise, and in my own platoon in 1989, some Nazi symbols got painted on one of our armored carriers just for fun. No one in the platoon was a Nazi. No one in the platoon was a Nazi sympathizer. This is the kind of thing that real men do to cope in the field and to keep the morale up. The comments on the video were no more done in seriousness than was the painting of that Nazi symbol on our carrier. These comments were for nothing but the lifting of morale. The CBC did a racist faux pas one time when it broadcast, and later laughed at, certain uneducated American southerners who kept saying the word ‘bloody’ in their attempted description of an event. The southerners lacked the vocabulary or articulation to use any other adjective than ‘bloody’ and the CBC hosts made fun of that. Was the CBC shut down because of the impropriety? No, because making fun of white persons is okay. Can you imagine how racist these hosts must have sounded ‘behind the scenes’ of this broadcast? If we could have heard their laughter and what they said with mikes turned off, it should have been deemed as racist as the phrase, ‘Operation Snatch a Nig-Nog’ (p. 242.) Physicians participate in black humor while performing surgery when their patients’ lives are on the line. We put up with that. Paramedics do likewise while doing their duties. We put up with that. But soldiers, even when their own lives are on the line, are not allowed to do it without losing their regiment?! Double standards are the norm with run-of-the-mill jerks in the Liberal camp and their taxpayer-funded supporters at the CBC. We should tolerate infantry soldiers engaging in black humor and doing the kind of pranks told about on page 110. The pictures and the video, or the man or men who released them, might be taken for the cause of the Canadian Airborne being disbanded. In truth, the cause is the united evil of a political agenda and a deviant media (p. 319.)

Much space in this paperback is given to inform us on the legal fallout of Arone’s torture and subsequent death. Unfortunately, these facts are sprinkled from beginning to end, and never given to us concisely in one paragraph. Fortunately, there is this loose summary: “With one exception, every superior convicted in a series of courts martial got a lighter sentence than the rank below him” (p. 3.) Brown got five years and was ‘dismissed with disgrace’ (Ibid.) “Obeying an unlawful order was a greater crime than giving an unlawful order” (p. 214.) Brown got convicted of manslaughter for ‘a glancing punch’ and a couple of ‘shuffle kicks’ (p. 123) while the racist Indian mostly to blame got nothing but his own attempted suicide. This is racism again. And those at the top of the chain where the negligence and poor decisions about the mission originated from were never held to account. Evidence intended for presentation at the Somalia Inquiry, including documents, computer disks, and audio and video tapes, were removed from his office, says one major. The evidence was to show ‘the intent of senior command to cover up’ (p. 218.) The inquiry was prematurely shut down in order to stop the truth from emerging (pp. 3, 4, 274, 322-326.)

The existence of the Airborne should never have been in jeopardy by a torture, a death, pictures, or a video. It should never have been in danger of being abolished by the united efforts of deceptive, whining media and an anti-militaristic administration. But the soldiers of 2 Commando who let their swagger degrade into bullying and torture did wrong. The incentive in theatre for troops of any nation to protect their prisoners rather than torture them is the hope that a reputation for being decent might redound to their good in the event of being the ones capture the next time (p. 255.) Rules of engagement now come appended with a clause forbidding the abuse, torture, and killing of detainees (p. 216.) Psychology assessments that inmates are subjected to, says Brown from experience in federal prison, would help to identify future Matchees right at the recruiting office (p. 257.)

Some misjudgments are made in this book. (1) Undamaged knuckles do not prove that your punches to someone’s head were not hard (p. 123.) I know a man who cracked a man’s jaw with his bare knuckles (in self-defense) without marking them up in the least. (2) Worthington believes that the torture of animals deserves the same amount of justice as the torture of persons does (p. 2.) Not to speak up for torture of any kind, obviously, but persons are more to be avenged than animals on the sole ground that they have a moral nature that brute beasts do not possess. (3) When Worthington and Brown put in the opinion that the ‘appearance of justice’ is more important than the ‘reality of justice’ (p. 309) they unwittingly argue for what Brown’s sentence and the abolition of the Airborne amounted to: the ‘appearance’ of, rather than the ‘reality’ of, justice.

The writing style in Scapegoat fits its content well. “He set to with enthusiasm and resolve” (p. 307.) This style has the right feel. ‘Chairbound superiors in Ottawa’ (p. 155) is pretty good too. The foul language and cursing should have been left for readers to intuit, however. A style that alludes to crudity is nobler. It is more apt, moreover, to immortalize content than a style that informs by repeating filth verbatim. The authors have it in them to do better than that, for a time or two they allude rather gracefully, like when “the feathers, so to speak, were in danger of hitting the fan” (Ibid.) More writing like this, and Scapegoat might not be as widely forgotten as it is. Grammatical disharmony occurs rarely (pp. 2, 47.) The book contains about two dozen pictures and two top-notch sketches by Brown.

Some of the content and views contained in Tarnished Brass come up again in Scapegoat: the duty sergeant’s car that got burned by righteously indignant soldiers (pp. 58, 59) and the evils of a bloated boss-load in the Defense Department with its ‘careerism’ ethic (pp. 307, 308, 319.) But there is not as much overlap as I anticipated.

PPCLI soldiers from the era that Brown served in will come across some familiar names in this book. My favorite mention is that of Eric Miles, the jumpmaster who sorted out Brown’s tangled equipment just before Brown leaped out of a Chinook (pp. 52, 53.) He was the most competent, dignified NCO I ever had. Feeding him cigarettes was always a privilege. I never denied him. He was one of the few NCO’s that every private looked up to and admired.    

About half of this book is about Kyle Brown’s youth leading up to the Somalia mission and the prison life and beyond that he faced upon dismissal from the military. Mixed in with the goods on the Somalia incident, then, is the story of a man who witnessed the tragic death of his best friend as a boy (p. 13) and who lost both his father and mother to suicide as a teenager (p. 6.) We do not realize the traumatic childhood that some of our fellow soldiers have had to endure on their road to adulthood. He got into some mischief in his youth, but managed to stay clear of crimes writ large thanks to Sea Cadets and the like. And judging from the vocabulary he chose to include in this book, he never got his questions about religion adequately answered by the time he co-wrote it (pp. 15, 16.) Brown’s view at sixteen that ‘violence was ugly and war insane’ (p. 26) must not have changed upon signing up or going airborne if it is true that “he had a pacifist bent that made some NCOs and officers uneasy” (p. 86.) Whatever members of the Airborne think of Brown after his involvement in what was used as a pretext to bring their regiment down, they must have been glad, nevertheless, to hear that by virtue of Brown’s time spent as a Canadian paratrooper, he was respected in prison (pp. 251, 252.)

For those of us on the outside who would like to know, life in prison is plush and the food is plentiful and ‘excellent’ (pp. 236, 261.) Quite different from the military’s Detention Barracks, according to Brown, a man familiar with the quarters and routines of both. Prison focuses on ‘rehabilitation and reform’; in DB it’s about ‘punishment and privileges’ (p. 229.) Though Brown would disagree, it would do our criminals good to receive more of the DB treatment than the ‘university campus, no bars’ atmosphere of prison life (p. 261.)


With respect to the biographical portions of Scapegoat, the moral theme may be reduced to whether a soldier, if it comes down to having to do it, should choose to be loyal to his conscience or to his unit (p. 142.) Whether Brown’s choice had anything to do, or much to do, with the Airborne being disbanded, which disbanding his tattoo is emblematic of, will remain a subject of dispute to many a former paratrooper. “One of the first things Brown did when he was released from prison was to have a ring of concertina wire tattooed on his left chest” (p. 275.) Considering how standards in the Forces have spoiled in recent decades, and supposing the Airborne is never resurrected, former paratroopers can be cheered by the fact that their regiment, being now petrified, is preserved from the rot.

3 comments:

Hervey Blois said...

This is an undying subject in the opinion of some. A true disgrace at the hands of a higher command that cared little about their subordinates.
Further to this end, I have a question: Does anyone remember hearing of 12 members of the R22R (1CDO) committing suicide after Somalia and prior to the disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment?
I have comments to that effect from unreliable sources, without substantiation.
Hervey Blois
SVC CDO Somalia 1992-1993.

thebibleandthenews said...

No, I have never heard of that. I will inquire with friends on facebook who were in the Airborne.

thebibleandthenews said...

The suicides you speak of may have some connection to a drug called mefloquine that the soldiers had to take.