The case of Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman is one where the questions are more important than the answers.

Just over five years ago, Boyle and Coleman were backpacking in Afghanistan when they were taken captive by the Haqqani, one of many Islamic extremist groups in the region. They were held for five years, during which Coleman was raped and forced to miscarry, Boyle was beaten, and one of their three children – all of whom were born in captivity – was beaten with sticks.

When they got back to Canada, Boyle and his wife were hailed as heroes. Their picture appeared in all the major news sources as the couple that survived being prisoners of Islamic militants. They got to visit with Prime Minister Trudeau and even now the photo of our leader bouncing Boyle’s youngest on his knee circulates online.

Unfortunately, the Boyle case is a perfect demonstration of how quick society is to make heroes of people without knowing all the facts. On January 3, 2018 Joshua Boyle, the same guy we all saw as a heroic survivor of militants was arrested on fifteen charges including assault, sexual assault, illegal confinement, uttering death threats, misleading police, and forcing someone to take a noxious substance. Boyle will be facing serious jail time if convicted of any one of these crimes.

Court orders prevent details like the identity and gender of his accusers for their own safety, which means it is difficult to form a hypothesis of what happened. However, with speculation based on what we do know about Boyle’s story, it is possible to construct an alternate narrative to the one the public has been fed entirely through Boyle’s own account of events in Afganistan and when the family returned home.

It’s one that posits that maybe Boyle wasn’t such a hero after all.

For your consideration…

What do we know about Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman?

Joshua Boyle is thirty-four years old and he is Canadian from New Brunswick. Caitlan Coleman is American from Pennsylvania. The rest of what we know is mostly what Boyle has been telling the press on the couple’s behalf. That said, there are a lot of questions Boyle and Coleman need to answer.

Why were they backpacking in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan so soon after the war?

Boyle claims that their goal was purely humanitarian. They wanted to help those villagers in areas of Afghanistan where no aid worker would dare to go.

However, the circumstances under which they attempted to help people make their alleged goal questionable at best. Though they were aware that the area they were traveling in was dangerous, they made no secret of their destination, making them easy pickings for anyone with malicious intent.

This is not to suggest that they intended to be taken captive by militants, but they certainly did nothing to prevent it.

Why did Coleman agree to accompany her husband on this trip?

Caitlin Coleman was five months pregnant when captured and the area of Afghanistan they were traveling in is not known for its enlightened attitudes towards women. Though one would think her safety and that of her unborn child would be top priorities, she put herself and her baby at risk by accompanying her husband into hell.

Why has no one spoken directly to Caitlin Coleman about what happened to her and her husband in Afghanistan?

Most of what we have heard about their family’s ordeal has come from the lips of Joshua Boyle. Though Caitlin Coleman endured the worst torments during their captivity – forced miscarriage, sexual assault, and being forced to witness the abuse of her child – her husband is still speaking for her.

Coleman’s story is just as important as that of Boyle’s and her experience is unique as the only adult woman in this saga. When she was speaking to Maclean’s a few weeks before her husband’s arrest, Joshua Boyle refused to leave the room, as though he were controlling Coleman with his presence.

Why no one has speculated if she has been victimized by her husband is odd given how little she has been allowed to say publicly. Her behavior goes beyond that of a demure religious woman and is more indicative of someone living in fear and possibly suffering from mental health issues.

Why did Joshua Boyle provoke his captors?

According to Boyle, he was regularly pressured to join his captors in their cause. Instead, he, a practicing Muslim, woke up early and prayed loudly, waking his captors up and effectively accusing them of being bad Muslims. He regularly called them “munafiq” or hypocrites and annoyed his captors so much they raped his wife to punish him.

Anyone with a lick of sense knows you do not provoke your kidnappers, and that Islamic militants are notorious for mistreating female captives. Boyle’s actions indicate either extreme stupidity, insanity, or a selfish disregard for the safety of himself and his wife.

Though Joshua Boyle’s behavior did not merit the brutality with which he and his family were treated, anyone held captive by people known for their brutality would tread VERY carefully in their presence.

The case of Joshua Boyle and Caitlin Coleman is an ongoing one. As more facts come to light, public sympathy for Boyle wanes. He seems increasingly like a manipulative attention-seeker who would do society good in an environment where he could no longer hurt people.

As his star falls, we begin to see the real victims: Caitlin Coleman and her children.

* Featured image: CTV video screengrab

In a week that saw US warships sent to North Korea, increased tensions in Syria following a US missile strike and the American military drop, for the first time, the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan, the most ominous story came to light yesterday. President Donald Trump really wants to ride in the Queen Elizabeth’s gold-plated, horse-drawn carriage when he visits England.

While foreign leaders hitching a ride to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty is occasionally a thing that happens, American Presidents generally take a different vehicle because of security concerns. A police source told the Times of London:

“The vehicle which carries the president of the United States is a spectacular vehicle. It is designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade. If he’s in that vehicle he is incredibly well protected and on top of that it can travel at enormous speed. If he is in a golden coach being dragged up the Mall by a couple of horses, the risk factor is dramatically increased.”

I’m not sure of this source’s name or rank, so let’s just use Captain Obvious. Security concerns are heightened when it comes to this President in  particular. There are supposed to be massive protests and even the British Parliament is refusing to let him address them.

Instead of taking the safer route, the Trump team is doing their best to insist on the gold-plated carriage ride. It’s a pretty safe bet that this approach goes right to the top. And that is why this otherwise trivial piece of nonsense is downright scary.

Trump wants to ride in something gold sitting next to royalty. Putin got to do it. That peasant Obama slummed it when he visited the Queen. Slummed it in a super-fast grenade-repellent limousine driven by a chauffeur with more real-world military training than most fictional action heroes.

Maybe if the hyper-secure car was also gold on the outside Trump would ride in it. But then he would be in a competition with the Queen for opulence. Come to think of it, the main reason he probably wants to ride in the carriage is to be on equal footing with the Queen.

Why is that something he cares about? Being on equal footing, or even a dominant footing, when meeting with Xi Jinping, Justin Trudeau, Vladamir Putin or Theresa May makes sense. You don’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But what on Earth could President Trump possibly hope to negotiate with the Queen?

She is technically a Head of State, sure, but that is purely symbolic. Symbolism matters to this President. Celebrity, though, matters even more. The Queen is a celebrity, way more than Prime Minister May is, you might say she is THE celebrity.

Riding in the Royal Carriage means, to Trump, that some people may see his celebrity on par with hers and that he is one step ahead of Obama in looking important. It’s all about proving that he is important. The fact that he achieved, perhaps by fluke, something that only forty-four other people have done in a country of millions doesn’t seem to be a factor.

If Obama took a secure limo, Trump wants to ride in the same carriage as the Queen. If other Presidents dropped bombs, Trump wants to drop the Mother of All Bombs. His bomb is bigger.

Some have suggested, and I tend to agree with them, that launching sixty missiles at an airfield in Syria was a PR stunt:

A distraction, most likely from the persistent allegations that he is a Russian puppet. But he didn’t just give us one distraction, no, that’s something a standard politician would do. Trump has the most distractions, the best distractions. Bigly.

Three distractions so far. If this is a case of the tail wagging the dog (as in the 1997 film Wag the Dog which many have referenced in the past few days), well, this dog now has three tails and might grow more.

The Trump team can’t even do deflection right, because their boss is only focused on looking bigger and badder than anyone else. Meanwhile, the biggest, baddest dog in the yard, the US military (along with its defense contractor allies) has been unleashed, or at the very least, is now connected to a real long bendy leash that no one is pulling on to reign it in.

These distractions could turn into full-blown wars. When it comes to North Korea, it’s now up to Kim Jong Un to be the restrained, responsible one if the world is to avoid the start of World War III.

If Donald Trump was taking the actions of the military he now commands with the gravity the situation warrants, then he wouldn’t be telling reporters about the chocolate cake he was eating when ordering a strike on Iraq, only to be corrected that it was, in fact, Syria he had sent missiles into. He also wouldn’t be ordering military actions from a golf course.

He also wouldn’t care if he got to ride in the carriage with the Queen, or, for that matter, whether or not he got to meet with the Queen at all. This focus on image and who looks more famous, bigger and more important, may be laughable, but it also may be what dooms us all.



The US-led operation that killed 33 civilians and wounded 27 in Boz Village (Northern Afghanistan) last November was an act of self-defense, says a report published by US Forces-Afghanistan on Thursday.

The report describes the events like this: On November 2nd and 3rd, US and Afghan forces were conducting a joint operation in Boz to capture Taliban leaders when they found themselves under fire coming from civilian houses. US Forces came to their assistance with aerial strikes on those Taliban-occupied houses, killing 33 civilians and “approximately 26 Taliban, including three leaders.” Two American soldiers and three Afghan soldiers also died in the operation.

“The investigation concluded that US forces acted in self-defense, in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict, and in accordance with all applicable regulations and policy,” states the report. “It has been determined that no further action will be taken.”

“Regardless of the circumstances, I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives,” assured the Commander of US Forces-Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, in a press release.

Charles H Cleveland, a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, while also deploring civilian casualties, said this to Al-Jazeera: “[Boz] is not a normal village. There are a lot of Taliban fighters there. However, the only real solution to prevent civilian casualties is for the Taliban to not hide behind civilians.”

According to the same Al-Jazeera article, residents of Boz have expressed doubts about the number of Taliban fighters present. “We don’t even know if the Taliban were actually killed in this attack. All we saw were dead bodies of the innocent people,” said one.

The operation in Boz happened a little over a year after American airstrikes destroyed a Doctors Without Borders Hospital in the nearby city of Kunduz, killing 42 patients and staff members. The Kunduz bombing was one of the only instances where US military forces publicly admitted they had made a mistake. President Obama issued a rare formal apology for it on October 7th 2015.

The bombing of a hospital, if established as deliberate, is considered a war crime by international laws. The results of the UN investigation on the matter are awaited in the next month.

* Featured image via Sputnik News

Remember Canada’s mission in Afghanistan? It wasn’t long ago that Canada mothballed its forward operating base (complete with Tim Horton’s) outside the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar City in order to enable the Karzai government to assume responsibility for the security of the one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Afghanistan.

How’s that transition going, you ask? Rather badly, it turns out. The other day a suicide attack outside a bank killed six and wounded at least 20 people, in Kandahar.

If this were an isolated incident, you might be willing to give the Afghan government, supposedly ready to take control of the country in 2014 (the date given by ISAF for the departure of NATO troops), the benefit of the doubt. But it’s just the latest in a series of bloody terrorists attacks carried out by the increasingly emboldened Taliban. According to UN statistics, in the month of July of this year alone, the body count rose to over a 1000 civilians, staggeringly!

Even more worrying is the way that the violence seems to be trending. Much of it is aimed at women and even little girls, more active in Afghan society since the fall of the ultra-medieval rule of the Taliban in 2001, one of the few positives to emerge from one of the longest and costliest wars in Canadian history.

But now even this progress is under threat of being reversed by a wave of attacks deliberately designed to intimidate Afghan women. Arguably, the most notorious example of this is the case of Farabi Ahmadi Kakar, a female member of Aghanistan’s national parliament that was kidnapped along with her three children.

Ms. Kakar’s whereabouts remain unknown, though her children have since been rescued. But her Taliban kidnappers are demanding the release of four Taliban prisoners in exchange for her life.

This would be a troubling enough case, even if it were the only one. However, it is the symptom of a much wider epidemic that has seen many prominent female leaders in the country subjected to daily attempts on their lives. The growing list of victims include a police chief from Helmand province and the daughter of a female Senator who had the misfortune of being blown up by a car bomb intended for her mother.

I can recall many a neo-con in this country boasting about the success of their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan to bring justice and equality for women in that country (though you would have to be born yesterday to believe that that was ever part of the original motivation for the invasion). And, to be fair, they have managed to enshrine gender equality in the 2004 Constitution, no small feat in a country as deeply chauvinist as Afghanistan (see the case of Mohamed Shafia for just one example of this.

Yet the onus is now on the Canadian government and its allies who invaded Afghanistan and helped put in place the current state structure, to see that the country doesn’t backslide into the brutal oppression of women which was the hallmark of the Taliban era. Otherwise, all of the rhetoric from NATO countries about turning Afghanistan into a respectable member of the international community, even as they prepare to abandon the country by the end of next year, will ring hollow.