Probe investigates claims Canadian soldiers told by superiors to ignore incidents in which Afghan boys were assaulted by allied soldiers
By: Rick Westhead Staff Reporter, Published on Thu Jul 04 2013
After five years, the Canadian military is still investigating claims that Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were told by their superiors to ignore incidents where Afghan soldiers and interpreters sexually assaulted young boys.
The probe continues, with no specified end date, a Canadian Forces spokesperson said, long after most Canadian soldiers have left Afghanistan and nearly five years after a board of inquiry was convened on Nov. 21, 2008, by Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie.
A preliminary investigation into the claims concluded in 2010 and since then the case has been under review by the office of the Canadian army's deputy commander, currently Maj. Gen. P.F. Wynnyk.
Eight board investigators, as well as board president Brig.-Gen. Glenn Nordick, have interviewed 87 witnesses and collected more than 30,000 pages of documents, said a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence.
Jessie Chauhan, a DND spokesperson, said the investigation has taken so long because of its "complex" nature.
Chauhan said in an email that the deputy commander's office is now ensuring that the report "clearly and completely addresses all of the findings required by the convening order."
"The Convening Authority may reconvene the Board as required to address deficiencies. At this time, no firm timeline is available for when this BOI (Board of Inquiry) will be final."
Once the report is finally approved, Chief of Defence Staff Thomas Lawson could decide to keep some or all of the report secret, Chauhan said.
During the summer of 2008, the Star reported that some Canadian soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan had sought counseling to cope with feelings of guilt because they had not stopped incidents of child abuse.
The sexual-abuse allegations put Canada in a difficult position with the local Afghan government and rekindled memories of past deployments that had led to Canadian soldiers developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The Star interviewed three Canadian soldiers, three Canadian Forces chaplains, and a lieutenant colonel who all said they had either first- or second-hand information about the alleged sexual attacks in Afghanistan.
Tyrel Braaten, for instance, a Canadian army bombardier, said during a December 2008 interview that he had witnessed an Afghan interpreter taking a boy who was about 12 years old into a building on Forward Operating Base Wilson, about 30 kilometres outside Kandahar.
The boy was wearing a wig, lipstick and perfume, and was dressed in a flowing robe. The interpreter, who worked for the Canadian army, told Braaten that the boy was one of "the bitches."
"I said, 'What do you mean?' and he made the motion with his hips, like you know," Braaten, then 24, told The Star in 2008. "I remember saying, 'Are we on Mars? Does this s--- go on all the time?'"
As opposition MPs and activists called for an independent inquiry, the federal government was swift to promise an exhaustive probe.
A board of inquiry was struck and the Canadian Forces' National Investigation Service, an arm's-length military investigatory body with the power to lay criminal charges, started a probe.
The NIS wrapped up its investigation in 11 weeks, without a single investigator being sent to Afghanistan, The Ottawa Citizen reported in September 2009.
"An initial NIS investigation did not find anything substantive," Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie wrote in an Oct. 2, 2008, email to Josée Touchette, the defence department's assistant deputy minister for public affairs.
Lt. Col. Stéphane Grenier told The Star that he talked to at least two Canadian soldiers who claimed to witness sexual assaults on Afghan boys. Grenier also counseled a British soldier who said he watched a young boy being raped by an Afghan soldier while his senior officer concluded a meeting nearby with Afghan army officers.
Now retired, Grenier said he has mixed feelings about the military's commitment to finding answers about the scandal.
"When I testified before the board I had coffee with one of the board's lawyers . . . and he said, 'Steph, we are interviewing all these soldiers and nobody has ever seen this,'" Grenier said.
But Grenier said the reality was different.
"Everybody in Kandahar was talking about this," Grenier said. "You can't tell me you can't find another soldier who would talk about it. You had soldiers saying they had seen these boys dressed up and taken into a room, and then they had heard yelling and screaming. And the army lawyer at the board asks, 'How do you know they were in pain? Were they having fun? But did you see anything directly?' This is where the legalities get so stupid."
Grenier said he doesn't believe there was a deliberate attempt to cover up the scandal.
"I can tell you there was a school of thought that on the Forward Operating Base, inside, there was an Afghan encampment next to the Canadian base, and on the Afghan base they do their own stuff," Grenier said. "It's like people with diplomatic plates they speed and do silly things.
"There was a belief that we have to keep those relationships with the Afghan army. You go attacking their cultural ways and the next day, when you're both fighting the Taliban, you're going to get a bullet in the back of the head."
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