By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
The Defence Department has quietly removed from the Internet a report into the killing of a Canadian military officer by Israeli forces, a move the soldier’s widow says is linked to the Conservative government’s reluctance to criticize Israel for any wrongdoing.
Maj. Paeta Hess-von Kruedener and three other United Nations observers were killed in 2006 when the Israeli military targeted their small outpost with repeated artillery barrages as well as an attack by a fighter aircraft.
IN early 2008, the Defence Department posted on its website a 67-page report from the Canadian Forces board of inquiry into the killing. The board found Hess-von Kruedener’s death was preventable and caused by the Israeli military.
But less than a year later, the report was quietly removed from the DND website and has since remained off-limits to the public through official channels.
Hess-von Kruedener’s widow, Cynthia, told the Citizen that the decision to remove the document from the public domain was made by DND and the government in an effort to protect Israel’s reputation.
“They don’t want people reading about it,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to the Israelis and, as we know, Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper has given his unconditional support to the Israelis.”
The circumstances surrounding Hess-von Kruedener’s death and the attempts by DND and the Canadian Forces to limit access to the board of inquiry report are outlined in an article in the new edition of Legion magazine, an Ottawa-based publication sent to members of the Royal Canadian Legion.
DND originally refused to provide the magazine with the previously public board of inquiry report, claiming the publication needed to use the access-to-information law to obtain a copy.
Legion magazine obtained a copy of the report by other means. It has now posted the report on its website.
In an email sent to the Citizen, DND confirmed it had removed the board of inquiry report from its website in early 2009 for security reasons “after it was discovered that some of its content is considered protected information.”
That explanation, however, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as Legion magazine compared both the 2008 version and the 2012 copy issued under the access law, discovering that the latest version actually contains more information than the original.
The Legion article also raises questions about the disappearance from DND of a United Nations report into the killing. The document was used by the Canadian Forces for its board of inquiry and the UN report is cited in the Canadian report. But DND’s access to information branch claims it has done a thorough search of records and no such report could be found.
DND could not comment on claims by defence sources that hard copies of the board of inquiry report were also removed from military libraries.
The death of Hess-von Kruedener, a UN observer assigned to the Israeli-Lebanon border, has largely been forgotten.
The Israeli attack on the UN outpost began shortly after noon on July 25, 2006, prompting the UN deputy secretary general to almost immediately call the Israeli ambassador to the UN and complain.
Several hours later another artillery barrage hit the outpost. That was followed by another 16 artillery rounds hitting the base, destroying most of the buildings above ground and blowing the door off the underground bunker where Hess-von Kruedener and his fellow peacekeepers had taken refuge.
At one point, a general in charge of UN operations in Lebanon called the Israeli liaison officer and told him, “You’re killing my people.” Previously, the Israelis halted such attacks when protests were received.
Later that day, an Israeli fighter pilot directed a precision-guided bomb through the door of the UN bunker. The blast from the massive bomb killed the four men.
Gen. Rick Hillier, then the chief of the defence staff, later described the major’s death as a “tragic accident.”
Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener told the Citizen that the Canadian Forces didn’t inform her of her husband’s death. Instead, she learned he had been killed from a television news report.
The Legion article notes the Israelis had deliberately targeted the base. The base had been included in the Israeli military’s “targeting list” which they acknowledged was an error on their part.
Cynthia Hess-von Kruedener also takes issue with some of the remarks made by Harper about her husband. At the time of the killing, Harper questioned what Hess-von Kruedener was doing at the UN outpost.
She said the answer is simple: He was doing his job as ordered by the Canadian Forces and government of Canada. “Instead of asking why this happened, (Harper) turned it onto an innocent UN peacekeeper,” she said.
On Sept. 19, 2006, then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert wrote Harper, expressing his deep regret. Harper wrote back on Nov. 20, 2006, thanking Olmert for his “expression of condolences, for the Israeli government’s rapid investigation of the incident and for information provided to Canadian officials.”
However, the Legion magazine article noted that the Israelis refused to answer questions from Canada about the attack.