Doubts raised about accuracy of controversial book on JTF2 commandos

MONTREAL — Doubts are being raised about the accuracy of an incendiary first-hand account of Canada's secretive Joint Task Force 2 commando unit, a book whose author was arrested on the eve of its launch last week.

Several presumably top-secret missions are detailed in "Nous etions invincibles" ("We Were Invincible"), which is billed as a memoir of Denis Morisset's time with the unit from 1993 to 2001.

The book's more explosive claims include that JTF2 members took part in the assassination of a suspected war criminal and conducted an unauthorized intelligence operation in Afghanistan years before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Such claims have raised eyebrows among military insiders, observers and at least one of the book's subjects.

Morisset says he was among four JTF2 members who served as bodyguards for Romeo Dallaire during the Rwandan genocide.

"Mr. Denis Morisset never served as a bodyguard to retired lieutenant-general Dallaire while (he was) commanding his mission in Rwanda," said Rafael Guzman, a spokesperson for Dallaire who consulted with the senator on the issue.

According to the book, JTF2 also conducted a series of reconnaissance missions while in Rwanda and witnessed part of the massacre of 10 Belgian soldiers in April 1994.

Dallaire's office questioned the timeline Morisset gives for JTF2's presence in Rwanda, saying there would have been little overlap with Dallaire's assignment.

Morisset's description of a late-1990s JTF2 mission in Afghanistan that was ordered by CSIS but hidden from the federal government is also being met with incredulity.

"It just doesn't make sense that we would have been involved in operations at that stage," said Scott Taylor, editor-in-chief of military affairs magazine Esprit de Corps and co-author of "Tested Mettle: Canada's Peacekeepers at War," which deals partly with JTF2.

"Under what national interest would they have been serving (in Afghanistan) in 1998 when it was a civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance?"

The debate over the accuracy of "Nous etions invincibles" has carried over into several military Internet forums.

Like Taylor, many question the logic behind events described in the book.

Morisset's claim that JTF2 was called to end a hostage-taking at an Ottawa bank in 1994 is met with skepticism on several fronts.

Some point out there seems to be no public record of the event, which Morisset says took place at a bank near Parliament Hill and ended in gunfire.

Ultimately separating fact from fiction, both within the book and among critics, could prove futile given the JTF2's near mythic secrecy, the military's cone of silence and the ravages of mental illness.

"Everything we could check out, we did," said the book's publisher Jean-Claude Larouche. "But there are many details that only he can say, 'This is what happened."'

Complicating matters is Morisset's personal life.

He was arrested last week and charged with contacting two minors with the intent of committing sexual crimes. His co-author has speculated it was an attempt to discredit his book.

Morisset served a 14-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to similar charges in 2003. He says he was ordered to admit the crimes and maintains he did nothing wrong.

His friends also point out that he suffers from a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder, as does Dallaire.

Despite the uncertainty that hangs over much of the book's content, Taylor believes it will bring some much-needed accountability to JTF2's actions.

"Every little look at this unit... will probably have a good result in that we probably shouldn't have a unit that is able to operate behind a complete cloak of secrecy and silence," he said.

Without a Canadian foreign intelligence service, Taylor says Canadian commandos may operate at the mercy of allies who provide vital information.

"For us to deploy highly trained skilled commandos, either we're doing someone else's dirty work or it 's going to be limited to operations at home, because we really don't have the capacity to understand the tribal nuances of Afghanistan," Taylor said.

The few bits of information that do escape about JTF2's activities sometimes come from south of the border.

It was only during Congressional hearings in 2001 that Canadians learned the elite commandos were part of an international force hunting Taliban and al-Qaida suspects in Afghanistan.

But for all its secrecy, JTF2 hasn't exactly been immune from bad publicity.

One commando blew off two fingers and another was badly burned during a 1994 training exercise in British Columbia.

A JTF2 explosives expert went AWOL in 2003, possibly with sensitive information, only to surface several months later in Thailand.

And in 2006, a unit member ducked assault charges because he couldn't be named for security reasons.

"They've had a few black eyes," Taylor said.