FAMILY FIGHTS TO FIND OUT HOW SON DIED IN AFGHANISTAN

 What the military gives you when they don’t give your son back

 

The Ottawa Citizen

 

Sunday, December 14, 2008

 

By David Pugliese

 

A family trying to find out how their son died in Afghanistan is fighting to get a copy of the military police investigation into his death, as well as other documents that might shed light on whether he was shot by insurgents or by gunmen working for a private security firm.

 

The family of Master Cpl. Josh Roberts, killed near Kandahar City in August, had been promised both the autopsy report and a copy of the military police report into the incident.

 

But after several requests for those documents, Canadian Forces representatives told the family they would have to apply for the records under the federal Access to Information law if they wanted to obtain the records.

 

And in a new twist in the Roberts case, the Citizen has learned that the Defence Department had already released a copy of the military police investigation to a member of the public who requested it under the access law. Under that law any Canadian who pays a $5 fee can request and receive federal government records.

 

The federal privacy law does not allow the Defence Department to reveal to the family, or anyone else, the identity of who has a copy of the NIS report.

 

The 29-year-old soldier was killed Aug. 9 in a firefight and first reports indicated he had been shot by Afghan members of a private security company. But the military police’s National Investigation Service later concluded that insurgents killed Master Cpl. Roberts and it exonerated the security firm’s Afghan gunmen.

 

But Master Cpl. Roberts’ mother, Beth Figley, says the NIS has provided few details to support its conclusion that the Taliban killed her son. The family is also questioning the validity of the NIS investigation, which was quickly conducted over the course of a month.

 

“We’ve been promised those documents from Day 1 and nothing has ever been released,” said Mrs. Figley of Dalmeny, Sask.

 

Even with the investigation finished, the NIS official who provided some details about Master Cpl. Roberts’ death to the family declined to provide them with the documents. “He had everything there,” Mrs. Figley said. “He had it all in his bloody hands, but he wouldn’t even let us see it.”

 

Mrs. Figley’s ex-husband, Bob Roberts, the master corporal’s father, was also promised the report as well as the autopsy documents, but he says he has not received any records from the Defence Department.

 

“When I was talking to those NIS guys, I was promised the report by the end of September and the autopsy report,” said Mr. Roberts of Calgary.

 

When he asked again about the records, the military told him to go through the access law.

 

After questions from the Citizen about why the Figleys and Mr. Roberts were promised copies of the investigation report but later denied them, the Canadian Forces reversed its position. The military said it will now release a censored version of the NIS report.

 

Members of the National Investigation Service and the Canadian Forces declined to be interviewed on the issue.

 

But an e-mail from the military police states that the family will now be provided with a copy of the NIS report “after appropriate severances are made in accordance with Access to Information and Privacy Acts.”

 

The family, however, won’t receive the autopsy report until sometime in early 2009, according to the e-mail. At that time the military will provide a medical representative to explain the technical details of the document, the e-mail states.

 

Another e-mail received Wednesday from army commander Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie noted that he was not aware of the family’s interest in receiving a copy of the NIS report. “With respect to grieving families’ access to NIS reports, we will be making a severed copy available to the family over the next few days,” the general noted.

 

He thanked the Citizen for bringing the issue to his attention.

 

But Mrs. Figley said she has been asking for the NIS report from the time she met Lt.-Gen. Leslie at Canadian Forces Base Trenton when her son’s body was returned from Afghanistan. As of yesterday, neither the Figleys nor Mr. Roberts had received the NIS report or had been contacted by the military about when the documents might be released.

 

Mrs. Figley is angry the Defence Department allowed someone other than a family member to see the report first. “I’m the next of kin and I can’t believe they have given this report to a stranger,” Mrs. Figley said when told about the development by the Citizen. “No one consulted our family about this.”

 

Mrs. Figley has checked with family members and none have received the NIS report.

 

The Figleys are questioning the NIS investigation because they say they were told by Lt.-Gen. Leslie and other soldiers that Master Cpl. Roberts had been killed by a private security contractor. The general has denied stating that to the family, noting that he provided them with a number of possible, but at the time, unproven scenarios.

 

Soldiers who the Figley and Roberts families have talked to have also offered conflicting versions about how Master Cpl. Roberts died.

 

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

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