Volume 91, Issue 52

Friday, November 28, 1997

location, location


Somalia affair uncovered

James Pugsley/Gazette

By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Gazette Staff

Peter Desbarats, a Somalia Inquiry commissioner and former dean of Western's Graduate School of Journalism spoke eloquently yesterday about events surrounding the inquiry and its implications.

As Desbarats read through passages of his new book Somalia Cover-Up, the audience was led through the authors' past beliefs and present realities which acted as a record of both the inquiry and the times.

The first section Desbarats read highlighted his view of the army as seen through his eyes as a nine-year-old boy. He remarked on memories of himself marching down a hallway behind a father dressed as a soldier of the regiment, which instilled a sense of pride in peacekeeping efforts – a feeling which stayed with him until the inquiry.

The soldiers, who were sent as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to help starving Somalia children, were involved in hazing initiations such as when a black soldier was covered in white powder with KKK (Klu Klux Klan) written on his chest. This soldier was then lead around on a leash by fellow soldiers while members urinated on him and each other, Desbarats explained.

Yet, for the most part, the inquiry investigated the actions of the leaders in terms of their inappropriate behaviour. "We were launching an attack on senior leaders, not on soldiers," he said. "The soldiers served remarkably well despite lousy leadership."

The inquiry, which began in October 1995, was disbanded by the government approximately two years later for what Desbarats cited as an attempt at short-term political gain. "When you actually see the government unleashing raw political power in the belief people will accept anything, it is still unbelievable."

The problem now remains that many inquiries will either not be formed for fear of disbandment, or will actually be stopped, Desbarats said. Either way, public inquiries in general have now been jeopardized, he said.

"Unfortunately, this is one of the inquiries which will be considered historic, not because of what came out of the inquiry but because it was terminated before its mandate."

Desbarats retired from the school of journalism in 1995 after 15 years as dean which he noted was his longest stay in any one place.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997