NATO Smears a Truth-Teller in Afghanistan

March 25 2010

Q: Why would U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan go out of their way to smear a journalist?

A: Because he told the truth about a night raid that killed Afghan civilians, including pregnant women.

We spoke with Afghanistan-based journalist Jerome Starkey about his reporting on special forces raids that killed civilians and NATOs surprising–and disappointing–response. This video contains disturbing images, and an even more disturbing story of violence, and an attempt to silence a truth-teller. It shows why its absolutely essential that we keep pushing back against the Pentagons message machine.

http://rethinkafghanistan.com

U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan are committing atrocities, lying, and getting away with it
March 22, 2010

Jerome Starkey recently reported for The Times of London about a night raid on Feb. 12 in which U.S. and Afghan gunmen opened fire on two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local officials — an atrocity which NATO’s Afghanistan headquarters then tried to cover up. Now, in a blistering indictment of both NATO and his own profession, Starkey writes for Nieman Watchdog that the international forces led by U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal are rarely called to account because most reporters are too dependent on access, security and the ’embed culture’ to venture out and see what’s happening for themselves.

By Jerome Starkey

In Kabul
“Tied up, gagged and killed” was how NATO described the “gruesome discovery” of three women’s bodies during a night raid in eastern Afghanistan in which several alleged militants were shot dead on Feb. 12.
Hours later they revised the number of women “bound and gagged” to two and announced an enquiry. For more than a month they said nothing more on the matter.
The implication was clear: The dead militants were probably also guilty of the cold-blooded slaughter of helpless women prisoners. NATO said their intelligence had “confirmed militant activity”. As if to reinforce the point, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, a Canadian, talked in that second press release of “criminals and terrorists who do not care about the life of civilians”.
Only that’s not what happened, at all.
The militants weren’t militants, they were loyal government officials.  The women, according to dozens of interviews with witnesses at the scene, were killed by the raiders. Two of them were pregnant, one was engaged to be married.
The only way I found out NATO had lied — deliberately or otherwise — was because I went to the scene of the raid, in Paktia province, and spent three days interviewing the survivors. In Afghanistan that is quite unusual.
NATO is rarely called to account. Their version of events, usually originating from the soldiers involved, is rarely seriously challenged.
This particular raid, in the early hours of Feb 12, piqued my interest. I contacted some of the relatives by phone, established it was probably safe enough to visit, and I finally made it to the scene almost a month after unidentified gunmen stormed the remnants of an all-night family party.
It’s not the first time I’ve found NATO lying, but this is perhaps the most harrowing instance, and every time I go through the same gamut of emotions. I am shocked and appalled that brave men in uniform misrepresent events. Then I feel naïve.
There are a handful of truly fearless reporters in Afghanistan constantly trying to break the military’s monopoly on access to the front. But far too many of our colleagues accept the spin-laden press releases churned out of the Kabul headquarters. Suicide bombers are “cowards,” NATO attacks on civilians are “tragic accidents,” intelligence is foolproof and only militants get arrested.
Some journalists in Kabul are hamstrung by security rules set in Europe or America, which often reflect the least permissive times in Baghdad rather than any realistic threats in Afghanistan. These reporters can’t leave their compounds without convoys of armed guards. They couldn’t dream of driving around rural Paktia, dressed up in local clothes and squashed into the back of an old Toyota Corolla, to interview the survivors of a night raid.
Ultra risk-averse organizations go even further and rely almost entirely on video footage and still images gifted by the entirely partial combat-camera teams or the coalition’s dedicated NATO TV unit, staffed by civilian ex-journalists who churn out good news b-roll. Others lap up this material because it’s cheaper and easier than having their own correspondents in a war zone.
This self-censorship is compounded by the “embed culture,” which encourages journalists to visit the frontlines with NATO soldiers, who provide them food, shelter, security and ultimately with stories. British troops will only accept journalists who let military censors approve their stories before they are filed. Ostensibly, this is to stop sensitive information reaching the insurgents. In my three and a half years in Afghanistan, the British invariably use it as an opportunity to editorialize.
In Helmand, in August 2008, a British censor attached to the Parachute Regiment threatened to ban me from ever embedding again if I filed footage of a paratrooper firing his heavy machine gun without wearing body armor. This had nothing to do with operational security and everything to do with health and safety, domestic UK politics (reference kit shortages and soldiers’ well-being), and ultimately “arse-covering” within the military.
To my eternal shame, I backed down. Embeds were my livelihood. I swapped the clip for something a combat camera team provided. But I was blacklisted for more than a year all the same — for arguing.
The Americans are just as subtle.  I was thrown off a trip with the Marines Special Operations Command troops (MarSOC) last year when they realized I had written a story many months earlier linking their colleagues to three of Afghanistan’s worst civilian casualty incidents.
The platoon commander boasted that his Special Forces were “a fusion of weapons and intelligence”. Two hours later he asked me what my name was. Then he booked me on the next flight out. At least we know the weapons work.
As a freelance reporter, as I was then, the NATO blacklist was a daunting prospect. Many journalists I know here still prefer access to truth. Looking back, for me, it was the best thing that could have happened.
I have traveled from the north east corner of Afghanistan to the capital of Helmand province, and every major city in between, independently. I plan hard and take local security advice, and I am lucky that my newspaper supports me.
NATO however, is continuing to fight back. Challenge them and they will challenge you. They have admitted that the dead women were not bound and gagged, but rather had been wrapped in ritual preparation for burial. But NATO still insists the women were killed before, not during, the firefight. They have also admitted the two dead men were not the intended target of the raid. But they have also tried hard to discredit me, personally, for bringing this to the world’s attention. In an unprecedented response to my original story about the Gardez night raid they named me individually, twice, in their denial of the cover up.
They claimed to have a recording of my conversation which contradicted my shorthand record. When I asked to hear it, they ignored me. When I pressed them, they said there had been a misunderstanding. When they said recording, they meant someone had taken notes. The tapes, they said, do not exist.
Since then the United Nations and the New York Times have both corroborated my findings. The New York Times repeated the accusation of a cover-up. I take solace from the more experienced and intrepid of my colleagues who have been through all this before. NATO lies and unless we check them, they get away with it. If we check them, they attack us. It’s unpleasant but important. There’s no doubt in my mind that we must continue to question what the soldiers want us to know.
jeromestarkey.com
Source
One has to wonder how many times NATO has lied?
This isn’t the first time they were caught lieing and it won’t be the last. They lie a lot.

Afghan Official Says U.S. Raiders Hid Killings

April 7 2010

The head of the Afghan Ministry of Interior investigation said publicly for the first time his investigators had accepted the testimony of family members of the victims of the Feb. 12 raid by U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) that the U.S. troops had dug bullets out of the bodies of their victims in an apparent effort to cover up the killings and that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal had agreed with the team’s conclusions. For the rest go HERE

Update April 9 2010

For what it’s worth and that isn’t much the US says sorry.

Nato paid the family compensation, which relatives said came to $30,000.

So their lives were worth a mere $30,000 dollars.  A Pittance.

//

US Special Forces apologise for botched night raid

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White Phosphorus Victims in Gaza

Gaza phosphorus casualties relive Israel’s three-week war
Special Report: By Tim Butcher in Gaza City argues why the true story about Israel’s use of phosphorus shells may never emerge.

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Sabbah Abu Halima, 45, suffered burns in the shelling of the village of Atatra on the northern edge of Gaza. She saw her husband and baby daughter killed. Photo: REUTERS

January 23 2009

John Stuart Mill described war as an ugly thing and it does not come much uglier than the digital photograph Mahmoud Abu Halima has on his mobile phone. It was taken this week and shows the body of his 15-month-old sister, Shahed, burned by white phosphorus, bloated through decomposition and without any feet or legs.

Mr Halima explained what happened to the lower limbs.

“There were about 12 bodies from the village that had to be left out in the open when the Israeli soldiers came. By the time we got back she had been partially eaten by wild dogs,” he said.

After Israel ended its ban on foreign journalists in Gaza it was a week of piecing together such stories, trying to clarify exactly what happened during the three-week military assault by Israel’s armed forces.

The Israeli government has accused people like the Halima family of being coached by Hamas to spout fiction.

Investigation of the Halima family began in the burns unit at Shifa, the largest hospital in Gaza. During its military operations Israel had denied using white phosphorus shells improperly, meaning it was not used against civilians or in civilian areas. But the case of Sabbah Abu Halima, 45, suggested otherwise.

She had been brought into the hospital with what appeared to be mild burns to her right forearm, left lower leg and feet. Without experience of white phosphorus, the staff, led by the unit’s director, Nafiz Abu Shabaan, wiped the wounds, bound them and sent her on her way. “But two days later she came back, complaining of pain and when we opened the bandages we found her wounds still smoking and much, much bigger. Her arm was down to the bone and tendons, that is all that is left,” he said.

Sitting on her hospital bed and wincing with pain when her bandages pinched, Mrs Halima gave an initial account of what happened. She described how her family had gathered to eat in a first-storey room at the family home in the village of Atatra. It lies on the northern edge of Gaza and while it was never likely to be a target during the air assault phase of Israel’s operation Cast Lead, its proximity to the fence with Israel meant it was in the front line for the ground offensive.

“The first shells landed outside and we all stood up and went into the hall and a bedroom because we thought it was safe. That was when a shell came through the roof and exploded. My husband, Saadallah, was holding some of the children but his head was cut off. There was fire and smoke everywhere and the baby Shahed fell to the ground. I heard her cry ‘mama, mama, mama’, and then she stopped,” Mrs Halima said. The house should be a 20-minute drive from Shifa but the conflict has turned roads into slow obstacle courses with cars having to slalom round craters, heaps of rubble and bloated carcasses of livestock. The Halima house lies just off a main road in Atatra up a muddy alley leading to fields of hothouses.

Outside the house lay evidence of the shelling Mrs Halima described. Two white phosphorus shell cases, originally painted light green but burnt by detonations with the metal bent back like tulip petals, were on the ground.

One still had the four tell-tale angle-irons inside to indicate a 155mm white phosphorus shell and was packed with unburned chemical. A poke with a stick to expose the chemical to oxygen was enough to set it burning again, sending out white smoke.

Mr Halima, 20, was next door in the house of his uncle, Hikmat, 42, when the barrage struck and he remembered the smell of the smoke as he rushed up the open stairwell at his home.

“It was a bad smell, a smell that made you choke,” he said. “I came upstairs but there was smoke everywhere. I ran to get water from the bathroom but when I put the water on them the water did not stop the fire.”

White phosphorus fires are resistant to water.

As well as his infant sister and father, Mr Halima lost two brothers – Zaid, 10, and Hamza, eight – in the blast and subsequent fire.

Mr Halima explained how the killing did not end there. As the wounded, including his mother, were dragged down the stairwell, his cousin, Mohammed, 16, the son of Hikmat, ran to the fields to fetch a tractor and trailer to take the injured to safety. According to witnesses, Mohammed was shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

The Atatra case is one of many in Gaza for which human rights activists have demanded an investigation. Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has suggested that there is at least one case with “the appearance of war crimes”. But Israel does not have a good record of co-operating with those investigating atrocities in Gaza. In 2006 after Israeli artillery killed 18 members of the Athamneh family in Gaza, Israel cleared itself of wrongdoing in an internal inquiry and blocked Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel peace prize laureate, from reaching Gaza to investigate the incident for the UN.

This time round, after denying any improper use of white phosphorus, Israel has launched an internal inquiry. In some ways full-scale investigations of alleged atrocities by the Israeli army are academic.

With the two sides in the conflict so far apart, Israeli hard-liners will not shift from their faith in the probity of its armed forces, nor will Palestinians budge from the view that their people were innocent victims. But unless they are dealt with, the cycle of enmity that has fueled this conflict for decades will continue and the loss of life – 13 Israelis and over 1,300 Palestinians – will have been for nothing.

When Israel launched its attack its stated aim was to reduce Hamas rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. At one level the mission has been successful: the militants’ rockets have all but stopped. But before the Israeli government unfurls a Mission Accomplished banner there remains one important point of business: the smuggling tunnels are open again.

Much of the tunneling under the Egyptian border is surprisingly visible, taking place out in the open in the south Gazan town of Rafah clearly within sight of nearby Egyptian watchtowers. The area was pitted with craters from Israeli air strikes but during a visit I saw several of the tunnels open or being repaired.

Further north in the town of Beit Hanoun was the house of Angham al Masri, a 10-year-old girl who was killed in an Israeli air strike after it began its ceasefire in the early hours last Sunday. Her father, Rafat, 44, explained how his daughter thought the ceasefire made it safe to venture out of the house for the first time in days to check on the family farm that had been evacuated during the fighting. “She had only gone a few hundred metres when the missile struck,” he said. “I ran to her and picked her up but she died in an hour.” Israel said it attacked a rocket firing position.

Amid claim and counter-claim about Israel’s war aims and achievements, Mr Masri then indicated how operation Cast Lead has done nothing but harden Palestinian resolve against Israel.

“Israel said this was a war on Hamas but when they kill people like my daughter it becomes clear it is a war on the Palestinian people,” he said. “Until they change this war will never end.”

Source

Israeli’s have committed many crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity, they have also broken International Laws.

Those responsible, should be prosecuted. They should be charged with all crimes they have committed past and present.

Israel warns soldiers of prosecution abroad for Gaza ‘war crimes’

Father: ‘I watched an Israeli soldier shoot dead my two little girls’

Indexed List of all Stories in Archives

Published in: on January 25, 2009 at 5:42 am  Comments Off on White Phosphorus Victims in Gaza  
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Bombs rain down in Gaza as peace deal accepted ‘in principle’

January 8 2009

The first tentative hope of an end to the war in Gaza came yesterday when Israel said it accepted “the principles” of a French-backed Egyptian peace plan providing for international action to stop Hamas militants smuggling arms.

Israel, nevertheless, resumed its 12-day-old offensive against Hamas last night, which Palestinian medics say has killed 688 Palestinians, after halting it for three hours to allow humanitarian and medical aid into Gaza. The military said it may halt ground operations for three hours a day.

As witnesses reported tanks on the move close to the border parallel to the southern town of Khan Yunis, Israel began new air strikes against smuggling tunnels in Rafah after warning local residents to leave their homes. It was claimed that an Israeli airstrike destroyed a mosque in Gaza City, injuring at least 15 worshippers.

Amos Gilad, the top official in the Israeli Defence Ministry, flies to Cairo today for negotiations. It is clear Israel is seeking tough assurances on the strength and practicalities of any future international force on the Egypt/Gaza border before agreeing to end the war.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to jump ahead of events by announcing his “delight” that Israel and the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, had accepted a new peace plan.

Israel’s security cabinet opted to continue pursuing its offensive, which yesterday resulted in the deaths of an estimated 29 Palestinians.

The UN said civilians continued to “bear the brunt” of the ground operation which started on Saturday night. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza said 130 children aged under 16 had been killed. Seven Israeli soldiers have died during the offensive. (4 were from Friendly Fire)

With Cabinet ministers reportedly deferring a decision on whether to deepen the offensive by moving further into inner-city areas to engage with the Hamas militants, Maj-Gen Gilad told Israel’s Army Radio the Gaza operation was “at a crossroads”.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit , attending a deadlocked UN Security Council New said that the plan in Cairo was to forge a “temporary ceasefire that would lead to a consolidated, permanent ceasefire”. He said he was unable to confirm whether Hamas intended to send a team to Cairo today.

Amid reports a Turkish force was being considered to bolster border security as part of the peace plan, Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said the plan’s success depended on the international community as well as Israel.

With 800,000 Gazans now without running water, the World Bank called on Israel to allow emergency fuel distribution to 170 halted water and sewage pumps and warned that 10,000 residents could be at risk of drowning if a combination of explosions and heavy rain resulted in the failure of Beit Lahiya sewage lake.

The exact details of what appears to have been one of the worst attacks of the war – the shelling on Monday of a compound in the Zeitoun district of northern Gaza City in which about 100 members of the Al Samoun family had taken shelter – are yet to emerge.

The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said a paramedic who had reached the compound during the ceasefire reported the removal of three bodies and 14 injured people but that about 16 bodies remained inside.

About 12 bodies were removed on the day of the day of the attack, making the paramedic’s report broadly consistent with reports that more than 30 people were killed. However B’Tselem said some family members were now saying the death toll was lower. Others have suggested that it is even higher.

From a hilltop half a mile from the northern Gaza border, near Sderot, the resumption of the bombardment could be seen and heard about 15 minutes after the designated 4pm end to the ceasefire. Helicopters hovered in the air above the Strip, plumes of heavy smoke rose from some of the areas under attack and the trails left by two rockets fired by militants could be seen against the sky as the sun sank.

At the UN, diplomats manoeuvred to avoid the tabling of a Libyan-drafted ceasefire resolution that would be almost certain to provoke a veto by the United States for failing to mention the Hamas arms smuggling.

British officials suggested the the 15 Security Council members may agree a compromise text just short of a resolution to avert a public split. They said this would not preclude negotiations on a full-blown resolution, with the ceasefire initiative put forward by Egypt as its likely basis.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, delayed her return to Washington to stay in New York and meet with counterparts from the Middle East and Europe, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband.

Mr Miliband said: “I’ve seen the first glimmerings of the possibilities of a ceasefire… we’ve got to try and make sure the action on the ground led by President Mubarak and the diplomatic work here in New York come together.”

Army admits there was no firing from school

The Israeli army has admitted privately to the UN that no firing came from a Gaza school where 42 people died on Tuesday after being hit by Israeli mortars, officials of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) disclosed last night.

Publicly, the Israeli army claims that the school, which was providing shelter for around 350 people, was being used by Hamas fighters to carry out attacks. Unrwa officials said they were fully confident this was not the case.

More than 20,000 mourners attended the funerals of the victims yesterday. The attack was the single biggest loss of civilian life since the Israeli onslaught began. Mourners chanted slogans against “aggressors” and “murderers” and called for Israeli government leaders to be tried for war crimes. The procession went from the Kamal Adwan Hospital, where the casualties were taken, to the Al-Fakhora school.

Source

20000-morners-jan-7-gaza

More than 20,000 mourners attended the funerals of the victims yesterday Photo:  AFP/Getty

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Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 6:54 am  Comments Off on Bombs rain down in Gaza as peace deal accepted ‘in principle’  
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Fallen Canadian and British Soldiers Come Home

December 18 2008
By Matthew Hickley

UK

The  trees were strung with festive lights and the streets thronged with shoppers.

But Christmas was put on hold in Wootton Bassett today as five young men came home from war.

One thousand people stood silently on the streets to honour the soldiers killed in Afghanistan as their coffins, draped in Union Flags, were driven through the town after arriving at nearby RAF Lyneham.

Funeral

Thousands stood silently in honour of the five dead marines’ funeral took place in Wootton Bassett

Graphic

As those in the crowd clutched parcels and shopping bags, their thoughts were with the men’s families who will endure this Christmas in a haze of grief.

And for ever more, the season of goodwill will be just another reminder of the loved ones lost.

Today’s  tribute honoured five commandos killed in Helmand province in the past week.

Repatriation

The body of Lt Aaron Lewis of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery being repatriated at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire


Repatriation

The body of Lt Marine Damian Davies of Commando Logistics Regiment, Chivenor, North Devon, being repatriated

Royal Marines Damian Davies, 27, Sgt John Manuel, 38, and Corporal Marc Birch, 26, were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack by a 13-year-old Afghan boy last Friday, close to the town of Sangin.

An hour earlier Marine Lance Corporal Steven Fellows, 28, was killed in a roadside bomb attack a few miles away.

And on Monday, Lt Aaron Lewis, 26, a soldier from 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, died near the town of Gereshk when the gun battery he was commanding came under enemy fire.

Repatriation

Coffin

A coffin draped with regimental tie and scarf

Earlier, the men’s families watched as the coffins were unloaded at RAF Lyneham, with full military honours. They were driven through Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire en route to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

The town came to a standstill, with shops closing and members of the public, including many veterans, standing in solemn silence.

Crowds paying respects

Crowds gather to pay their respects as the funeral cortege pass through Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire

Many were in tears as the procession moved through, pausing for a minute’s silence at the town’s war memorial.

Jo Carpenter, 63, a retired civil servant, said: ‘My heart goes out to the families of those young men, especially at this time of year.’

Onlookers

Many onlookers were overcome with emotion

Onlookers

The town centre came to a standstill

A British soldier was killed in Afghanistan after being hit by enemy gunfire. His is the fifth death in three days

This comes as a British officer has warned that it will be ‘business as usual’ over the Christmas period for troops in Afghanistan, where 13 UK personnel have been killed in Helmand Province since the beginning of October .

Lieutenant Colonel Alan Richmond, commander officer of the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, currently operating around the town of Garmsir in southern Helmand, said: ‘We are all prepared for there to be no let up.

‘It doesn’t take that many people to mount the asymmetric threat, such as suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices.

‘We are all prepared for this continuing and it will be business as usual for us over the Christmas period.’

Source

UK casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq Names and Pictures

As of today 133 casualties  in Afghanistan

Three fallen soldiers return to a hero’s welcome

December 16 2008

Canada

Military pallbearers carry the casket of Corporal Thomas James Hamilton at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont.

Military pallbearers carry the casket of Private John Michael Roy Curwin at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont.

Military pallbearers carry the casket of Private Justin Peter Jones at CFB Trenton in Trenton, Ont.

Supporters stand on a bridge in Whitby, Ont., as the hearses carrying fallen soldiers pass along the Highway of Heroes

The bodies of three more Canadian soldiers slain in Afghanistan have been returned to Canadian soil.

A military aircraft carrying Cpl. Thomas Hamilton, Pte. John Curwin and Pte. Justin Jones touched down at CFB Trenton at about noon on Tuesday. All three served with Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, RCR based in Gagetown, New Brunswick.

A motorcade transported their caskets along the Highway of Heroes into Toronto for a standard post-mortem event.

They arrived on the eastern outreaches of Scarborough around 3 p.m. ET. People greeted the motorcade with Canadian flags and yellow ribbons. Some stood silently, and other applauded as the motorcade passed.

The OPP put out a news release Tuesday morning urging people not to pull over to the side of the 401 when they see the motorcade pass.

“Cars parked on the shoulder and people standing on the side of the road are a hazard to traffic on the road and to those who have stopped,” it said.

Instead, they want motorists to pull right off the highway.

Having Canadians gather on the overpasses to show respect for returning fallen soldiers is a growing tradition — one last exercised about a week ago when three other soldiers died.

Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, Warrant Officer Robert John Wilson and Pte. Demetrios Diplaros, were from the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based out of Petawawa, Ont. They died on Dec. 5. Their deaths brought Canada’s military death toll in Afghanistan to 100 since 2002. The toll is now 103.

In both incidents, the soldiers died as a result of roadside bombs.

On Tuesday morning in Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier told reporters that two insurgents had been killed while trying to plant roadside bombs on the same stretch of highway that claimed the six Canadian lives.

Source

To Date Canada has 103 Casualties names and Pictures of Fallen

Memorial to fallen Canadians an ‘oasis of peace’