Friday, July 25, 2008

Looters and scumbags

Defence reporter David Pugliese reports in the Ottawa Citizen:

Canadian colonel tainted by Somalia scandal promoted

OTTAWA, July 25 - Canada's military leadership has quietly promoted to general the soldier who led the ill-fated Somalia mission, and who was subsequently found to have failed as a commander.

The military has not publicized the July 2 promotion of Col. Serge Labbé to the rank of brigadier-general. But sources contacted by the Ottawa Citizen about the promotion on Thursday confirmed that the new rank for the officer will be retroactive to the year 2000.Dan Dugas, the communications director for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said the minister signed off on the promotion based on the recommendation of Gen. Rick Hillier, who recently retired as chief of the defence staff. "Mr. MacKay takes the advice of the chief of the defence staff on staffing issues," Dugas said.

Hillier and Labbé worked together in Kabul in 2004, and the colonel has been a key player at NATO and in the Afghanistan mission.

Labbé was considered a rising star in the Canadian Forces when he was selected to lead the 1992-1993 mission to Somalia. During that deployment Canadian paratroopers tortured to death 16-year-old Shidane Arone, documenting the brutal beating of the Somali with a series of photographs.

Also during the mission, two Somalis were shot in the back after they entered a Canadian camp. It was later revealed that paratroopers put out food and water as "bait" and it was alleged by a military doctor that one of the Somalis was killed "execution-style" by a soldier.

The Somalia inquiry, set up to investigate problems with the mission, also heard allegations that Labbé offered a case of champagne to the first soldier who killed a Somali. Another officer testified the colonel said he was "looking forward to my first dead Somali."

Labbé, who was never charged in connection with any incidents in Somalia, has vehemently denied making the champagne statement and has said other comments attributed to him were misinterpreted.

In 1997, the Somalia inquiry concluded Labbé exercised poor and inappropriate leadership by failing to ensure Canadian troops were adequately trained and tested on the Geneva Conventions, and that he failed in his duty as a commander...

A colleague of Labbé said the officer is currently in Kabul as head of the Strategic Advisory Team, which provides support to Afghan government ministries...

In 2005, then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson awarded both Hillier and Labbé the meritorious service cross for their work in Afghanistan...

But the colonel's appointment as a key NATO negotiator in the Kosovo region drew criticism at the time. Then-Canadian Alliance MP Art Hanger said Labbé should not be representing Canada overseas because of the findings of the Somalia inquiry...

[C]ontrary to those who have claimed the Somalia mission was a failure, Labbé said the operation was "highly satisfactory" and said the actual deployment to the African country was a textbook operation... (link)
In his book on the Canadian military, Esprit de Corps editor Scott Taylor wrote how Labbé allowed Canadian Airborne Regiment Commanding Officer Lt-Col Mathieu to change the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for soldiers in Somalia. Overriding the expressed desire of the deputy minister of defence, Mathieu and Labbé empowered their troops to shoot at looters frequently caught stealing from the forces' base. The new rules allowed looting suspects to be shot "between the skirt and the flip-flops". This "dramatic change," notes Taylor, was not officially reported by Labbé to National Defence Headquarters (Taylor, Tarnished Brass, 1996, p. 203).

Paul Desbarats, in his published diary of participation in the Somalia Inquiry, notes Labbé's "overweening self-confidence." As noted above, Labbé said the Somalia operation was a success, to which Desbarats reacts:
"Testimony that we've heard and the military's own after-action analyses have demonstrated that this position is so indefensible as to be almost ridiculous." (Desbarats, Somalia cover-up, 1997, p. 257).
Finally, as the Globe and Mail notes, Labbé the tombstone general will receive more than just a fancy title:
Not only will he receive eight years' worth of pay difference between the ranks of colonel and brigadier-general, but his five best years of pay for the purpose of his pension calculation will also be affected.

“The only reason to [make the promotion retroactive] would be monetary,” [Scott] Taylor said... (link)
Thus, the last word goes to Bob Dylan:
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
('Masters of war' 1963)

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