Monday, January 11, 2010

Truth May be the First Casualty of War, But in 2002 There Was Nothing Casual About Afghanistan

Last week Canada revealed itself once again as a truly unique nation. In a world where dead warriors are commonplace and taken for granted, this country stopped, paid attention, lowered the flags and gave full military honours to four soldiers, who died inexplicably and tragically at the hands of our allies. (Lesley Hughes, April 2002)

On October 7, 2001, former Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien announced that 'Canada would contribute forces to the international force being formed to conduct a campaign against terrorism'. In the aftermath of 9/11, an emotionally charged public was in full support of tracking down those responsible for this devastation and bringing them to justice.

The original commitment was for two years, and then we would be bringing our young men and women home. We may have questioned why it would take that long to track down Osama Bin Laden, the man believed to have engineered the attacks, but few questioned it.

However, on April 18, 2002; everything changed. While conducting a night-time training exercise, an American F-16 jet dropped a laser-guided bomb on a group of Canadian soldiers, killing four and injuring eight others. (dubbed the Tarnak Farm incident).

A nation in shock, mourned the loss of four young men: Sgt. Marc Leger, 29; Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 24; Pte. Richard Green, 21 and Pte. Nathan Smith, 26. There was nothing casual about the loss and we rallied in support of their families.

Bill Leger, the father of Sgt. Marc Leger, spoke in reference to Stephen Harper's 2006 decision to ban the media from covering the flag draped coffins of fallen soldiers: "... in 2002 it was a great thing for us to have the media there. It was something that we felt at that time, and still feel the same way, that it was a Canadian thing. It was something that we wanted to show all Canadians what the cost of their liberty is. It's nothing else but that. And it's still heart-warming to see the faces and everything else when people were lined up on the 401, in 2002, all the way from Trenton to Toronto. They wanted to be there. They had to be there. I was told that often, over and over again. And those are the memories that I have, and those are the things that I carry with me all my life."

What a difference almost eight years can make. Yes Harper changed his mind about banning the media, and in fact we now have a 'Highway of Heroes' so that Canadians can grieve and show their respect. That's a good thing, but should never stop our questioning of this war.

In a recent piece: Afghanistan war: Canada's defining event of past decade, By Richard Foot for Canwest; Sgt. Leger's mother is interviewed and her courage to question should be an inspiration to us all.

Ask Claire Leger what the past decade has meant to her, and she'll tell you a story of abiding sorrow.

Her 29-year-old son, Sgt. Marc Leger, was one of the first Canadians to die in Afghanistan. He and three other soldiers were killed in the desert near Kandahar in April, 2002, when a wayward American fighter pilot dropped a bomb on them in the dark.

After the tragedy, Leger and her husband Richard planted four small Canadian flags in the garden of their home near Ottawa, in memory of Marc and his comrades, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 24; Pte. Richard Green, 21 and Pte. Nathan Smith, 26.

Seven years later, the Legers haven't sought ''closure'' from their grief. As the war years have ticked by they've maintained a steady vigil, dutifully marking the death of every Canadian soldier in Afghanistan. There are now 133 red-and-white flags crowding the soil of their garden - one family's testament to the sombre toll of a faraway war. Curious children sometimes stop and ask Claire what the flags are for; she gives them honest answers about the sadness of Afghanistan and Canada's sacrifices there.

''Every time I have to go put a little flag in our garden, it feels like I'm burying our son all over again,'' she says. ''I send a card to every family that loses a soldier and I often get a card back, with a picture of their son or daughter.''

''There's less and less attention paid to those who are killed and it's heartbreaking to me,'' says Leger. ''I wish I could share with other families the support we had when Marc died. We were embraced by Canadians. That's what kept me going - I felt people actually cared.''
Leger is a fierce critic of what she considers an unwinnable war, and says Canada's participation has made us ''puppets'' of the Americans.

But what else has changed in this country is our freedom to discuss this war. Any criticism is immediately denounced as supporting terror. People like David Frum, Jason Kenney, Stephen Harper and others, are trying to quiet dissent, not only of the war, but of Israeli aggression in the middle east. We should be kicking and screaming about this.

Ironically, they claim that the terrorists are after us because they hate our freedoms, so whose freedoms will we hate, if we allow them to strip our freedom to speak our minds?

My opening quote from journalist Lesley Hughes, is an excellent example of how far we've fallen.

Hughes was a popular CBC radio host and respected journalist, who decided to run for the Liberal Party in the 2008 election. But then someone dredged up the 2002 article that the above quote came from, where she discussed the events leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Centre. In the piece, Get the Truth, she simply shared information she had obtained from respected members of the media, which raised questions about the complicity of the Bush Administration in the attacks. It was published right after those four Canadian soldiers had been killed in 'friendly fire', so she challenged her readers to look for the truth behind the War in Afghanistan.

Enter Peter Kent, a former journalist himself, who should have understood 'freedom of the press'. Not our Peter. He used this old story to paint Lesly Hughes as anti-Semitic because of a comment that the Israeli government removed their people from the buildings after a tip. She didn't suggest it was a 'Jewish conspiracy', but just another angle to consider.

Of course the Reformers were careful to plant this story after the candidate replacement deadline had passed, and the negative media reaction left the Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, with little choice but to remove her as a candidate.

Was this a warning to other journalists, to tow the line? Any negative reporting about the war and they could be next? Who knows. They are certainly pretty compliant.

Lesley Hughes is now suing Peter Kent and I hope she nails him to the wall. Because as Edward R. Murrow once stated: "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

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