29 years ago, Canadian soldiers sent to Somalia as part of the global humanitarian effort captured a 16 year-old child named Shidane Abukar Arone and viciously tortured him to death in their camp. This incident would set the stage for a chain of events that would reveal the horrific side of militarized humanitarian aid in general and the reprehensible behavior of the Canadian forces and government specifically.
On March 16, 1993, Shidane Arone was captured while looking for a lost child in proximity of the Canadian base in Beledweyne. He was taken to the base, in a bunker, and was savagely beaten and raped for several hours. The torture started right after he was taken to the bunker where the ammunition was stored. Here is the gruesome ordeal of the young man.
At 21:00, Sgt. Mark Boland replaced Master Corporal Clayton Matchee as guard of the prisoner, and ordered his foot bindings be removed and replaced with fetters, as the ropes were too tight. Warrant Officer Murphy took the opportunity to kick Arone “savagely”, which was later taken to be implicit permission to abuse the prisoner. At this time, Matchee began his abuse of Arone by removing the captive’s clothing and using it to crudely waterboard the youth until Boland objected, and Matchee left the bunker.
At 22:00, Trooper Kyle Brown took over guard duty, and brought Matchee back with him. Brown punched Arone in the jaw, and was told by Boland, “I don’t care what you do, just don’t kill the guy”, to which Brown replied that he wanted to “kill this fucker”. Boland then joined Matchee and Matt McKay for beers in the mess hall, where Matchee spoke about what he wanted to do to Arone, and suggested he might put out cigarette butts on his feet. McKay suggested that Matchee might use a ration pack or phone book to beat the youth, as it would not leave any traces.
Matchee and Brown, both members of 2 Commando, then proceeded to beat Arone. Matchee used a ration pack to beat the youth, as well as a broomstick, and sodomised the teenager with it. Brown participated in the abuse, but was primarily an observer and took sixteen “trophy photos” of the beating, including one of Matchee forcing Arone’s mouth open with a baton, and one of himself holding Pte. David Brocklebank’s loaded pistol to Arone’s head. At about 23:20, Master Cpl. Giasson entered the bunker. Matchee showed him the semi-conscious and bleeding Arone, and boasted that “in Canada we cannot do that, and here they let us do it”.
Estimates have ranged that 15–80 other soldiers could hear or observe the beating, but did not intervene. Corporal MacDonald, acting as duty signaller that night, was asked by Sgt. Major Mills about “a long dragged out howl” heard from the vicinity of the bunker, but MacDonald refused to stop playing with his Game Boy to investigate. Later, Matchee came by to borrow a cigarette from MacDonald and mentioned that “now the black man would fear the Indian as he did the white man”, and MacDonald went outside to check on Arone’s status. (Matchee was a Saskatchewan Cree.) He saw Matchee hitting him in the face with the baton, and reported that the prisoner was “getting a good shit-kicking” to Sgt. Perry Gresty, before retiring to bed for the night.
Arone fell unconscious after several hours of beatings, after shouting “Canada! Canada! Canada!” as his last words. When Brown mentioned the event to Sergeant J. K. Hillier, the non-commissioned member noted there “would be trouble” if the prisoner died, and went to check on the youth who he found had no pulse, and base medics confirmed that the boy was dead. It was later discovered that Arone had burn marks on his penis.
Excerpt from: Somalia affair – Wikipedia
Exonerating the culprits
At least 10 people were involved in the torture to death of Shidane: Captain Michael Sox, Sgt. Mark Boland, Master Corporal Clayton Matchee, Warrant Officer Murphy, Trooper Kyle Brown, Pte. David Brocklebank, Master Cpl. Giasson, Corporal MacDonald, Sgt. Perry Gresty, Sergeant J. K. Hillier.
Unfortunately, the only two native “Indians” were indicted. Kyle Brown was briefly imprisoned and then released 40 months after an appeal of his sentence. He later said that he was a scapegoat and was sentenced to spare the top brass.
Clayton Matchee attempted suicide and suffered brain damage just before his trial. In 2008, Matchee was found unfit to stand trial and charges against him were dropped. In 2017, his wife tried to reopen his case to blame his “unusual” cruelty on the anti-malaria drug he was given in Somalia.
This horrible act was not isolated but was distinguished by the fact that torturers took photos as a trophies. These photos were only made public in November 1994.
Shidane Arone’s parents however have never been able to bring the murderers or the Canadian government to justice. In 1999, former Somali education minister Abdullahi Godah Barre, a Canadian resident, tried to represent Shidane’s parents but a Canadian judge rejected his representation saying the parents should appear before him if they wanted justice.
Shidane’s story is the most atrocious documented human rights abuse committed by members of the Canadian Armed Forces deployed on peacekeeping missions. Most abuses are usually covered up because perpetrators avoid paper trails and other incriminating evidence. In Somalia, it did not start with the torture to death of the teenager.
A six-pack for a wound, 24 for a kill
In 1992, the civil war in Somalia was at its height and news of a famine threatening civilians due to fighting prompted the UN to request the intervention of NATO forces. The Canadian army was sent to Somalia as part of “Operation Deliverance” which was to assist the US led “Operation Restore Hope”.
Canada Defense department selected the elite Canada Airborne Regiment (CAR) despite its discipline issue only known by senior officers. When the CAR commanding officer, Paul Morneault, described the unit as a “rogue commando” and a “unit unfit for service abroad”, he was relieved of his command.
At their CFB Petawawa base, the regiment was described as breeding ground for white supremacists, Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members, and racist insignia like the Confederate flag and swastika were worn conspicuously.
Senior military officers knew in advance the kind of individuals who were to be deployed to an African country in December 1992. When the scandal broke generals tampered with evidence and took early retirement right after.
It goes without saying that upon their arrival in Beledweyne, the Canadian soldiers showed hostility towards the local population. They were known for their cruelty and easily triggered nature and shot civilians for no apparent reason.
What the Somalis did not know was that these soldiers who seemed to be there to help them were making macabre bets by giving themselves the right to kill them for fun.
Soldiers called Somalis “nig-nogs” or other racial slurs and had fun shooting them between their “skirts and flip-flops”, referring to their traditional clothing. Capitain Michel Rainville even offered to buy a six pack of beer for the first Canadian soldier to shoot a Somali and 24 pack for a kill.
Long before the murder of Shidane Arone, Canadian army officers enjoyed ambushing Somalis in search of food and then torturing them. Cpt. Rainville, for example, ordered the soldiers under his command to lay traps by placing water and food in plain view and then to shoot anyone who would be attracted by this bait.
This officer was already known for his thuggish leadership style at his base in Quebec, Canada, and his abuse of new army recruits. He was, however, sent on a humanitarian operation and even after the revelations of his abuses, he was never convicted.
Sabrie and Arush murders
Among the unlucky victims were Ahmed Arush and Abdi Hunde Bei Sabrie. These two young people fell on March 4 under the bullets of these openly vicious men who came from afar to shoot them like rodents.
Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on Sabrie and Arush murders:
Rainville enlisted Cpl. Ben Klick of the PPCLI to lie in a truckbed at night, awaiting potential “saboteurs” with a C3A1 rifle. From his position, he watched two Somalis, Ahmed Arush and Abdi Hunde Bei Sabrie, approach the food and water. Fifteen minutes after first noticing the pair, the thieves began to run from the base in fear they had been noticed; Rainville yelled at them to “stop”, and called to Sgt. Plante, Cpl. King and Cpl. Favasoli to “get them”. Plante fired with his shotgun, while King fired with his C7; Plante’s shot wounded Sabrie, who fell to the ground, while Arush kept running back towards the roadway. Cpl Leclerc and MCpl Countway both shot at him as he ran, while Cpl. Klick refrained, noting that the man presented no risk to Canadian forces. Arush fell to the ground, hit by one of the two men’s shots. He struggled to stand up, but both men fired again, killing him.
It was noted that Sabrie had been carrying a ceremonial dagger in his clothing. When the unit was ordered to bring the body of Arush to the same position as Sabrie, the soldiers radioed back that they could not move the body without it falling apart. So the body of Arush was loaded into a body bag and placed inside a Bison personnel carrier. There, medical technician MCpl Petersen re-opened the bag and took Polaroid photographs for an unknown reason, some suggest to document the shooting, others suggest as a “trophy”. The photos showed gaping wounds in Arush’s neck and the side of his face, with his skull twisted out of shape by the force of the gunblast. His intestines protruded from his stomach, and his right eye was missing.
An Air Force flight surgeon, Major Barry Armstrong, examined the body and judged the death “suspicious”, suggesting that Arush had been lying prone on the ground when he was killed. He also noted that the amount of omentum which had passed through the first wounds suggested the 29-year-old Arush had been breathing for at least 2 or 3 minutes before the final gunshots to his head were fired.
After the examination, Arush’s body was then used for medical practice for soldiers, demonstrating how to stab a tracheotomy into a wounded man’s throat to allow him to breathe, and then used to demonstrate the proper preparation of a body for transportation. The body was then returned to the body bag, and sent into the local hospital, where Dr. Xelen released it to Arush’s family the same evening.”
Excerpt from Somalia affair – Wikipedia
Major Armstrong shared his finding with other officers that CAR’s actions were against their rules of engagement and constituted war crimes. This was not appreciated by Rainville and others who feared court-martial. Word spread through the camp that Armstrong’s life was in danger as a result of his finding. For his own safety, he was then flown back to Ottawa.
A “Youthful folly”
The abuses of the Canadian military were well known up to the highest levels of government. The Minister of Defense and future Prime Minister of Canada, Kim Campbell, has been made aware of the crimes of her soldiers. Yet she dismissed accusations of indiscipline and wanton violence leveled against her soldiers which she called mere “youthful folly”.
The case of these documented killings, however, made its way until Prime minister Jean Chrétien gave in to opposition calls for a commission of inquiry and dismantled in 1995 the CAR after additional revelations were made public.
The commission unpacked the dark underbelly of the army. It finally called for a full-scale criminal investigation into abuses in Somalia. It urged the government to look into possible perjury charges against senior military officials who lied on the witness stand. It also concluded that without a purge of the top brass, a repeat of the Somali fiasco is all but certain.
This will trigger unease among the senior executives of the armed forces who will not hesitate to hide the overwhelming evidence. This would be known as the Somalia Affair Cover-up. The commission was controversially cut short by Prime Minister Chrétien for dubious reasons at the end of 1996, after just 16 months. The Media went along.
However, the government deemed these cases to be isolated and no officers were convicted. But in 1995 other videos appeared where the soldiers boasted of having killed “niggers” and where the same French-speaking units deployed in Somalia took part in despicable and racist rituals.
The Somalia Affair, not just a Canadian crime
Last but not least, other NATO soldiers, such as the Italians and the Belgians, have also been accused of abuses and murders against Somali civilians. The British, Dutch and French also took part in these abuses but their commands concealed from their public any involvement of their soldiers in reprehensible acts.
The US military, meanwhile, killed thousands in Mogadishu in a single night in the “Battle of Mogadishu” on October 3-4, 1993, not to mention other undocumented executions before and after that night.
In summary, the Canadian military which is credited with initiating UN peacekeepers has miserably demonstrated that it is incapable of disciplining its soldiers and should never be deployed to assist civilians. It is not only in Somalia that they committed crimes but also later in Bosnia, such as the rapes of nurses and in Rwanda where Canadian Blue Helmets did not prevent the massacres against the Tutsis.
Sooner or later, Somalia should investigate this dark period in our history. Although the fratricidal war caused thousands of deaths, some argue that NATO forces and Blue Helmets committed as much atrocities and even exacerbated the situation.
Canadian Forces abuses in Somalia happened 29 Years ago, but the memory lives on and the victims demand justice.