Torture charges dropped against ex-Sask. soldier
Brain damage cited as reason: Experts
The Canadian Forces have dismissed charges against a former Saskatchewan soldier who was accused of brutally torturing and killing a Somali teenager 15 years ago during a deployment of Canadian peacekeepers in Somalia, the Department of National Defence said Monday.
Master Cpl. Clayton Darrell Matchee was charged with one count of torture and one count of murder after a photo surfaced showing him posing over the young teen’s bloodied body. A videotape showing Canadian soldiers giving a Nazi salute and making racial slurs also shocked the nation.
Sixteen-year-old Shidane Abukar Arone died in 1993, after being caught on the compound of Canada’s military installation in Somalia, allegedly while trying to steal supplies.
“It’s over. It’s been 15 years and it’s finally over,” Matchee’s mother, Celine, told Canwest News Service on Monday. “I’ve spent so long, standing beside my son and fighting for him. It’s been a battle.”
The charges against Matchee have been outstanding for the last 15 years.
In 1994, the former corporal attempted suicide by hanging himself. He suffered exten- sive brain damage as a result and is said to have no memory of his life after 1978.
Experts say he will never recover from his injuries and now has the mental capacity of a three-year-old.
“The decision to withdraw the charges in this case was based on public interest considerations. These included the fact that Mr. Matchee has a permanent brain injury and will never be fit to stand trial, in addition to a recent determination that Mr. Matchee does not pose a significant threat to the community,” Lt.-Col. Bruce MacGregor, deputy director of military prosecutions, said in a news release.
For Jessie Lens, Matchee’s 22-year-old daughter, the story has been a hardship she’s carried her whole life. Now, she said, a weight has been removed; she will no longer have to tell her father’s story over and over again.
“I’ll tell people who I am … and they would be like, ‘Matchee’ and you could see a light go off,” Lens said. “I’d have to tell the whole story again and again, so they got the story straight. …
“We’ve wanted this for a long time. It should have been done a long time ago.”
Matchee was serving with the Canadian Airborne regiment 15 years ago in Somalia. On March 16, 1993, members of the regiment arrested Shidane Arone, a teenager they found hiding in a portable toilet in an abandoned American naval engineers’ compound.
Within an hour of the arrest, a soldier in the guard tower of the Canadian compound heard screams of pain coming from the bunker where Arone was being held.
Inside, the teenager was shackled and his hands were cuffed behind his back, a wooden baton placed under his arms. He was blindfolded and then beaten with fists and a riot baton and kicked about the head, body and feet. A lit cigar was used to burn the soles of his feet. His final words were “Canada, Canada.” A fellow soldier took now-infamous photographs of Matchee pointing at Arone’s head, his face bloody and the blindfold still in place.
The photographs and details of the incident were broadcast around the world, doing lasting damage to the Canadian military’s reputation abroad and underscoring accusations of ingrained violence and racism among Canadian soldiers.
Matchee’s family has argued that he was adversely affected by mefloquine, a medication he was taking to prevent malaria.
Every year since he was charged, the Saskatchewan Review Board held a hearing to reassess whether Matchee is fit to stand a criminal trial.
The military also has held its own hearing every two years to determine if there is sufficient evidence to continue with a trial against Matchee.