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A soldier’s choice

A Canadian soldier’s fateful choice in Afghanistan lands him on trial for murder


 

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

A military courtroom is not much different than the civilian version, except for a few distinct touches. When the judge shows up, everyone salutes. When a jury is chosen, the panel has five members, not 12. And when a witness is summoned to testify, he doesn’t walk to his seat. He marches.

In the courtroom where Capt. Robert Semrau is standing trial for murder, the witness box itself is also unique. Unlike on TV, where people answer questions in a chair directly beside the judge, the witness stand here is located just a few steps in front of the defence table. Intentional or not, the effect is dramatic: as each witness talks about Capt. Semrau, nobody is closer than Capt. Semrau.

Despite the intimate set-up, Cpl. Steven Fournier never locked eyes with his former commanding officer. Not once. Hour after hour, question after question, the prosecution’s star witness kept his gaze focused on the jury—the same jury that will decide whether his words are believable enough to send Semrau to prison. “I was just shocked,” Fournier said, recalling what he saw that day in Afghanistan. “None of it made sense.”

The captain and the corporal were part of a small, specialized unit of Canadian “mentors” working side-by-side with the Afghan National Army (ANA), and as the sun rose over Helmand Province on Oct. 19, 2008, they set out on foot for a sweep and clear. Their mission—Operation Atal 28—was to troll for Taliban, pick a fight, and shoot to kill. If the intelligence reports were accurate, up to 70 insurgents were waiting.

One of them was perched high in a tree, the eyes and ears of his comrades below.

Two hours in, the patrol was taking enough enemy fire to radio for backup. A pair of U.S. Apache helicopters swooped in, spraying the cornfields with the rat-tat-tat of 30-mm cannons. Later that morning, as Semrau and his Afghan colleagues continued marching south along the Helmand River, they stumbled on two of the choppers’ targets. One was dead, his stomach cut open by the rapid-fire bullets. The other—the man who’d hid in the tree—was still breathing.

According to one eyewitness, the Taliban fighter was lying in a pool of blood on a dirt path, and had a hole in his back “the size of a dinner plate.” His left leg was riddled with shrapnel, and his foot, barely attached, was twisted completely around. From what Fournier could see, there was also “a fist-sized laceration to his stomach.”

A grainy cellphone video recorded that morning by an ANA soldier shows the bearded man sprawled on his back, his eyes closed and his torso covered by a light blue blanket. He is young, no older than 35. Not once does he appear to move.

The senior Afghan officer on scene was a company commander named Shafiqullah. According to Fournier, he ordered his men to leave the wounded fighter and resume the patrol. “No treatment needed,” Fournier said, quoting Capt. Shafiqullah. “If Allah wants him, he will die. If not, he will live.” At Fournier’s urging, Semrau did ask his Afghan counterpart for permission to snap a picture of both casualties, in case they turned out to be high-value targets.

Photograph by Steve Hebert / GETTY

Shafiqullah reluctantly agreed, but only on the condition that their faces, and not their injuries, be photographed.

Using his own digital camera, Fournier took two shots of the corpse, and then headed toward the man on the dirt path. Semrau followed, as did an Afghan interpreter nicknamed Max. “As I crouched down, I can hear a moan and a groan,” said Cpl. Fournier, a Thunder Bay native who was still a private at the time. “He wasn’t dead yet.” The 24-year-old snapped two more photos, and with Max at his side, turned to walk away.

Seconds later, two shots rang out. “I thought somebody was firing at us,” Fournier said. He swung around, reached for his weapon, and saw Semrau standing over the insurgent, his C-8 rifle aimed at the man’s chest. “He told me: ‘It’s okay. It was me.’ ”

Capt. Tom Fitzgerald, a military prosecutor, asked Fournier what happened next. “He said he felt it was necessary,” the corporal answered, speaking quickly. “He felt it was the humane thing to do. He couldn’t live with himself if he left a wounded insurgent, a wounded human, to suffer like that. He said it was a mercy kill, sir.”

From the safety of this air-conditioned courtroom in Gatineau, Que.—where everyone’s shoes are polished to a shine, and flak jackets aren’t required—the Crown’s case seems simple enough. Mercy killing is illegal, no matter the circumstances, and Canadian soldiers are bound by both international laws and internal rules to provide first aid to every casualty, friend or foe. As Fitzgerald said in his opening address: “Shooting an unarmed, wounded individual who poses no threat to him or to any of the troops under his command is shockingly unacceptable conduct.”

Yet what makes this case so black and white is precisely what makes it so murky. Semrau, 36, is the first Canadian soldier in the history of combat to be charged with homicide on the battlefield, and his ordeal has triggered a fierce debate—in the ranks and out—about what happens to the law of war when it comes face to face with the reality of war.

According to the Crown, Semrau should have knelt beside that man, done his best to stop the bleeding, and called for a Medevac chopper. But was that truly an option? The captain was not on patrol with a battalion of fellow Canadians trained in Western rules of engagement. He was a mentor attached to a ragtag company of Afghan soldiers. He had no authority to bark orders. And the man who was in command, Capt. Shafiqullah, had just told his troops to keep moving. Stay behind with a dying insurgent—in the heart of enemy territory—and Semrau may have signed his own death sentence.

His only choice, it seems, was an impossible one: leave a wounded man to suffer his fate, or end his agony with a pair of bullets.

Semrau’s fate now rests with a jury of his uniformed peers. The central charge is second-degree murder, and if convicted, the Criminal Code lists only one possible sentence: life behind bars with no chance of parole for 10 years. Life behind bars. A Canadian soldier who was willing to die for his country—and, if the allegations are true, chose mercy over misery—may have to watch his two young daughters grow up from the inside of a federal penitentiary.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

“The consequences, if it went the wrong way, are very difficult to contemplate,” says Bill Semrau, the captain’s brother. “I don’t know what happened that day. There are a lot of allegations and a lot of speculation, and I can’t really speak to the facts. But I do know Rob and I know the kind of man he is. I have only ever known him to do the right thing, and I’m confident he did nothing wrong.”

Eighteen months have passed since Robert Semrau was arrested in Afghanistan and flown back to Canada under the watchful eye of military police officers. During that time, he has said only two words in public: “Not guilty.” He has never actually confessed to killing that man (not to investigators, at least) and his lawyers have yet to present his side of the story to the jury. “I’m not prepared to discuss in any way, shape or form what our defence is going to be,” says Maj. Steve Turner, Semrau’s lead lawyer. “But the prosecution’s version of events may turn out to be wishful thinking at the end of the day.”

Semrau’s family has also avoided the media spotlight, careful not to jeopardize the ongoing court martial. But they agreed to speak, for the first time, to Maclean’s.

“The charge of second-degree murder runs so counter to the guy we know Rob is,” Bill says. “He is caring and compassionate and has a very strong moral compass, and he has always been that way. He wants to help, and that was part of the attraction of going into the army: helping people when they can’t be helped by anybody else.”

The youngest of the two brothers (Bill is three years older), Robert was born and raised in Moose Jaw, where his mom ran a government daycare out of the family home and his dad worked for the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology, Saskatchewan’s largest trades college. Devout Christians, they thanked God for their suppers and went to church Sunday mornings. On long weekends, the Semraus would pack the car and drive to Alberta, where all the grandparents lived. “Rob would always take his grandma through the West Edmonton Mall in her wheelchair,” says his mother, Jean, smiling at the memory. “I think sometimes they went a bit too fast, but that was just Rob.”

At Central Collegiate high school, Semrau was an athletic teen with light blue eyes and a hundred friends. He was the star defensive back on a football squad that captured a provincial championship, and everyone, except maybe opposing quarterbacks, loved him. “He is a natural leader,” says his father, Don. “He never forced his leadership on anybody; he just cared for everyone and they looked up to him.”

After graduation, Semrau pursued a psychology degree at the University of Saskatchewan. Strapped for cash in his first year, he gave his parents a homemade Christmas gift they have never forgotten. “He wrote us each a beautiful letter telling us how much we meant to him, how much he appreciated the home he had grown up in, and the values we had taught him—and our patience,” Jean says. “Of course, we still have those letters.”

Before completing his degree, Rob told his mom and dad he was considering a career that had always been in the back of his mind: the army. But Semrau did not visit a Canadian Forces recruiting office. Instead, he and three close buddies boarded a plane for England to enlist with the Brits (citizens of Commonwealth countries are allowed to join each other’s armed forces). “Growing up, Rob respected the British Armed Forces the same as the Canadian Forces, but more than anything he saw it as an opportunity to travel outside of Canada,” his brother says. Jean admits that she and her husband suggested some other options, but Rob’s heart was set. “He felt so strongly that the military was where he wanted, and needed, to be,” she says. “He had such a desire to make a difference.”

Semrau didn’t leave everything behind in the Prairies. His high school sweetheart, Amélie Lapierre, joined him overseas, and on Christmas Eve 1999 the couple exchanged wedding vows in front of two witnesses at a small, romantic ceremony in Scotland.

His stint in the British army lasted three years and three months, with deployments to Macedonia, Northern Ireland and, in January 2002, Afghanistan. He was among the first wave of British troops sent into Kabul after the attacks of 9/11, and until a battalion of Edmonton soldiers arrived in theatre later that winter, he was one of the only Canadians on the ground in the early weeks of the war. “He told us how the Afghan villagers would come up to him and his fellow soldiers and just give them big hugs,” Don says. “They would thank them over and over and over again—and then hug them some more. Rob told us: no paycheque could give him the same level of satisfaction as all those hugs.”

After Kabul, Semrau was granted an exemplary discharge and returned to Canada, where he and Amélie settled near her family in the Ottawa area. He worked as a personal trainer for Good Life Fitness, volunteered at a local food bank, and completed the final few credits of his psychology degree. But by the summer of 2005, the infantry itch had returned. This time, though, Semrau did two things differently: he joined his home country’s army, and he chose the officer corps.

He was posted to CFB Petawawa, home of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and by early 2008 was among hundreds of troops knee-deep in training for a deployment to Kandahar. That May, Amélie gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl. They named her Caméa. Three months later, her dad was on a plane back to Afghanistan.

“There is no defence, in law, for mercy killing. Why? Because you just can’t make the judgment call that a person is going to die,” says Gary D. Solis, a former U.S. Marine prosecutor and author of The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War. “For any individual to take it upon himself to decide that a guy is too far gone so we’re going put him out of his misery is unacceptable. It is playing God.”

Canadian soldiers deployed to a war zone are bound by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which states that all “wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.” The Canadian Forces’ own code of conduct also compels troops to provide casualties with “the treatment required by their condition, whether friend or foe.” Pumping a bullet into someone’s heart is not an approved treatment.

“The public would certainly denounce it if it happened in the reverse: if a Taliban killed a wounded Canadian,” says Chris Madsen, a military law expert at the Royal Military College. “That’s the big test. Would it be shocking enough if it happened to our side?”

According to military investigators, Semrau spoke of a so-called “soldier’s pact”—an unwritten code that says if one warrior is grievously wounded, it’s up to another to speed up the inevitable. But if that’s true, the captain is certainly not alone—regardless of what the law says. Mercy killing in combat is as old as combat itself, and generations of troops bound for the front lines have asked a comrade to pull the trigger in a worst-case scenario. “It is a murky situation that has existed, literally, since the dawn of warfare,” says Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s foremost military historians. “It would have been done out of sight. It would have been tolerated and accepted—hardly encouraged—but tolerated and accepted. It would certainly not have been prosecuted.”

Officially, the Department of National Defence does not condone any talk of a soldier’s pact. “If someone were to take another soldier’s life, regardless of how seriously injured that soldier might be, they would be the subject of a military investigation,” says Lt.-Col. Jay Janzen, the army’s director of public affairs. “We have some of the best medics in the world, and these guys have literally brought people back from the dead on the battlefield. So it’s foolishness that anyone’s talking about that kind of pact.”

Paul Franklin agrees. A former combat medic, he was stationed in Kandahar in January 2006 when a suicide bomber driving a taxi smashed into his convoy, tearing apart both his legs and killing Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry. Someone may have looked down at his ravaged body and wondered how many more minutes he had left. “Soldiers that speak of a ‘code’ have no clue what they are talking about,” says Franklin, now retired from the service. “God and the decisions made are above our pay grade. We owe it to the next batch of wounded soldiers to recover, rehabilitate and show that life does carry on.”

Almost a year to the day after Franklin was airlifted out of Afghanistan, Master Cpl. Jody Mitic stepped on a landmine and suffered similar injuries. A sniper by trade, he lost both legs just below the knee. Today, Mitic is still serving in the army, and has learned to walk—and run—with the help of prosthetic limbs. Yet unlike his friend, Paul Franklin, Mitic does believe in an unwritten soldier’s pact. And he says he is not alone.

“Bottom line, if you’re a professional warrior and you’re a lifetime soldier, you do believe a certain amount in that kind of stuff,” he says. “If it was reversed, and there was no hope for me—and a bunch of the enemy is standing around—I would hope one of them would have the courage and the same spirit of the warrior code to put me out of my misery.” In fact, when Mitic first heard about Semrau’s arrest, he had one thought: “Who is the a–hole that turned him in?”

As the commanding officer of a four-man Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (OMLT), Semrau was half soldier, half adviser. His job with the “omelette” (as the units are commonly called) was to provide detailed guidance and support—but not direction—to an Afghan rifle company, all part of an unprecedented NATO push to prepare homegrown troops to tackle the Taliban alone. It was a daunting and delicate task.
“They didn’t look at us like equals because this was their war and we are the foreigners,” said Warrant Officer Merlin Longaphie, Semrau’s second-in-command. “They did not take orders from us, and if we tried to issue an order, chances are they would never talk to us again.”

The Oct. 19 mission was typically chaotic. Semrau’s unit was given just 12 hours advance notice, and when they did arrive at the point of departure some of the ANA troops were, as usual, high on opium. Adding to the confusion—and the potential for friendly fire—were members of the Afghan National Police dressed in traditional Afghan garb. “It was somewhat bewildering at times what they were doing,” Longaphie testified. Detailed planning (not to mention basic map reading) was also non-existent. As the warrant officer put it: “When the Afghans prepare a mission, they have some tea and go for it.”

Semrau’s OMLT split into two groups that morning. Longaphie and his Canadian fire-team partner, Cpl. Tony Haraszta, departed first, accompanied by a few dozen Afghans. Semrau and Fournier hovered near the middle of the pack, close to Capt. Shafiqullah.

What happened next is now the subject of conflicting testimony that the jury must sort out. Since the court martial began in late-March, seven witnesses have sworn an oath on the witness stand, including the other three members of Semrau’s OMLT. Two said the captain confessed to a mercy kill, one said he didn’t, and none actually saw the wounded man die—assuming he did die.

When it was his turn in the witness box, Longaphie recalled how the enemy fire was heavy and accurate. At one point, a burst of bullets smacked into a mud wall right behind him, just inches from his face. After the Apaches did their damage, he said he and Haraszta sprinted through a cornfield and flopped onto their stomachs. To his right, about 25 metres away, was the man from the tree. “I assumed the person was dead,” Longaphie said. “I didn’t see any evidence to indicate that he wasn’t, but I didn’t go and check.”
Longaphie, a 25-year veteran of the Forces, said he kept moving with the rest of the Afghan soldiers, and was never close enough to have a conversation with Capt. Semrau.

Fournier offered a drastically different version of events. He said the entire team—Longaphie included—huddled for a brief meeting after Shafiqullah declared that the wounded man was beyond saving. “Capt. Semrau said we would not treat him based on what the ANA commander said,” Fournier testified.
After Fournier snapped his photos—first of the corpse, then of the wounded man—Semrau told him to “turn around.” “He told myself and our interpreter that we can head back because we don’t have to see this.”

“Did he explain what he meant by that statement?” the prosecutor asked.

“I understood it to mean I don’t have to stand here and watch a man die, sir.”

At first, Fournier assumed Semrau meant that he shouldn’t have to stand there and watch while the Taliban fighter took his final few breaths. Only after the rifle shots did he understand what the captain really meant. (Max, the Afghan interpreter, has yet to testify, but prosecutors say he whipped back around just in time to see the second tracer round strike the man’s chest.)

Shafiqullah was furious when he heard the gunshots, Fournier said. He wouldn’t even speak to Semrau. But according to Fournier, the captain did have another huddle with his OMLT. “He said he fired the shots and felt it was necessary. He said he hoped that anyone else would do the same thing, even to himself. No one said anything. There were just slight head movements.”

Haraszta, who is no longer a soldier, was the last of the OMLT members to take the witness stand. He doesn’t remember anything about a battlefield meeting with Semrau, and said the first time he heard about the alleged mercy killing was when an Afghan soldier, known to the Canadians as “Rolling John,” told him about it later that afternoon.

But that night, with the team camped out in an abandoned compound, Haraszta said Semrau did call everyone together to discuss what happened. “He told us that he shot the Taliban, he put him out of his misery and if anything came of it, he would wear it,” Haraszta testified. “Those were his exact words.”
One thing is absolutely clear: if Semrau did confess to his comrades, none of them uttered a word for more than two months. It wasn’t until late December, during another Afghan patrol, that “Rolling John” approached Semrau’s commander, Maj. Steve Nolan, with a cryptic message. “Captain Rob no good,” he said in broken English. “Captain Rob boom boom Taliban.”

Within 24 hours, the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service was grilling Fournier about what he saw. He answered every question, relieved that somebody else told the truth first. “It didn’t force me to be the snitch,” he testified. “People would not see me as the guy who came forward to ‘rat out’ a captain.”
In the weeks to come, Fournier would lead investigators back to that dirt path near the Helmand River. Using a metal detector, military police found two shell casings—but no body. To this day, the identity of Semrau’s alleged “victim” remains a mystery.

Johnny Horne Jr. knows the name of the person he killed. As long as he lives, he will never forget it: Qassim Hassan.

It was Aug. 17, 2004, and Horne’s unit of U.S. soldiers had just annihilated a large dump truck that, from a distance, appeared to be dropping roadside bombs. As Horne approached the blazing vehicle, M-16 in hand, he realized the horrifying truth. The truck wasn’t loaded with Iraqi insurgents; it was full of teenagers picking up trash for a few dollars an hour.

Horne managed to pull one of the wounded passengers to safety, and then climbed back into the fire in search of others. “I hear somebody moaning, and I see a guy lying there completely naked,” he says. “He took a direct hit from one of the high-explosive rounds and it blew his clothes right off. I reached under his armpits, and as he rolled over, his guts spilled out into my lap. I literally had to reach down and take his intestines out of my lap with my bare hands.” Surrounded by flames, there was little Horne could do but save himself.

Later, with the fire under control, some of Horne’s comrades found the same wounded teenager lying near the side of the dump truck. Somehow, he had fallen out. “I could tell he was still breathing, but there was no way we could help this guy,” Horne says. “I’m a combat soldier and I’ve seen people die, and I can say 100 per cent he was not going to survive. You’re not going to survive without your guts and your intestines.”

Horne had a brief but frantic conversation with some of his fellow soldiers, and then made a decision that would end his career: he pointed his M-16 at Hassan’s head and pulled the trigger. “You can have rules and make laws, but there are some things that supersede law,” he tells Maclean’s. “A person’s own morality, in my opinion, supersedes the law. I couldn’t leave him lying there like that, and honestly, I would want somebody to do that for me.”

Semrau may be the first Canadian charged with a mercy kill in the heat of battle, but he is not the first soldier. Two cases from the Iraq war, including the murder of Qassim Hassan, have reached a court martial.

Unlike Semrau, Horne pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and begged the jury to put themselves in his boots. They were sympathetic, to an extent. He was sentenced to three years in prison, released after 10 months, and slapped with a dishonourable discharge. The 36-year-old now lives in Kansas, where he and his wife operate a tanning salon. “I understand it was illegal,” he says. “But in the situation I was faced with I made a call—and I would do it again tomorrow.”

Horne has a message for anyone who thinks they know what Capt. Semrau should have done. “It is real easy for people to sit back and make those determinations after the fact,” he says. “But I can tell you this: nothing you will ever read about his case will put you inside his head. Nothing can put you in his position, nothing can put you in his shoes, and nothing can tell you how he felt.”

Capt. Roger Maynulet is the other U.S. soldier who knows what it feels like to be court-martialed for a mercy kill. In May 2004, the decorated tank commander was part of a team of troops that opened fire on a car believed to be carrying the radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The tip turned out to be wrong, and the attack left the driver with skull wounds so severe that even the medic on scene declared him untreatable.

“He was in a state I didn’t think was dignified,” Maynulet testified at his trial. “I had to put him out of his misery. I think it was the right thing to do. It was the honorable thing to do.” The jury agreed. He was convicted of a lesser offence (assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter) and sentenced to no jail time. Dismissal from the service was his only punishment.

Today, Maynulet flies a news helicopter for a television station in Las Vegas. When contacted by Maclean’s, he declined to be interviewed. “It’s been five years and I’m trying to move on with my life,” he wrote in an email. “If you do speak with CPT Semrau please tell him my thoughts are with him and I hope he beats this.”

At least 7,695 Canadians are hoping for the same outcome. That’s how many people have signed up as members of a Facebook page created in Semrau’s honour. “He should be awarded a medal for undergoing the needless pain and suffering he and his family have endured by the very system that he has so nobly served,” wrote one poster. “This whole affair is nothing more than a travesty.” Says another: “This is a government frame job of the worst kind!”

Semrau’s parents, who now live in Camrose, Alta., have received an endless stream of similar phone calls and emails, each one offering prayers and support. “It has been absolutely overwhelming,” Jean says. “We are just so grateful.”

But as thankful as they are, the Semraus must choose their words carefully. A stranger on Facebook can say that mercy killing is in “the highest tradition” of the military, or that Semrau acted with “courage” when he pulled the trigger. The captain’s family cannot. They understand that Rob’s case will be decided in court—not on the Internet—and there are many more weeks of testimony to come.

“I’m not an ethicist and I’m not a politician,” says Semrau’s brother, when asked about his personal views on mercy killing. “All I can tell you is that we’re behind Rob 100 per cent as a family, and we’re confident he did nothing wrong.”

Last month, just days before Cpl. Fournier took the witness stand, Amélie Semrau gave birth to the couple’s second daughter. They named her Chloé. If her dad is convicted of second-degree murder, she will be 10 years old by the time he is eligible for parole.


 
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A soldier’s choice

  1. one thought: “Who is the a–hole that turned him in?”

    • Whatever Fournier thinks, he is a "rat".

      • Your comments sound like something an inmate in a prison might say but not law abiding people.
        People who break the law go to jail when convicted and then they are released upon serving their sentences and they go on with their lives……that is how it works folks.

        • thank you jade_lee for that mind blowing revelation

          the issue is the law is flawed and this man should open our eyes to a flaw in the system

        • Okay there buddy.

  2. Ugh. This one gives me trouble. I believe Captain Semaru did the right thing, and don't agree with that portion of the Geneva Conventions. Yes, allowing mercy killing allows an individual soldier to play God, but then so does shooting at the enemy in the first place – if we're giving them the authority to do the latter, I can't see how we can deny them the authority for the former, especially when it's done to prevent what appears to be obvious suffering.

    At the same time though, I understand that the Conventions are as they are and we have to live up to them. I can only hope that those in charge of arbitrating these things are of similar mind as myself and don't judge him harshly. The only way, in my eyes, that Capt. Semaru could have conducted himself better would have been to inform his superiors of his actions upon his return.. but I don't hold it against a person if they don't wish to martyr themselves.

    • This soldier was acting as a mentor and as a mentor he failed and communicated the wrong message. As a Canadian I insist that Canadian soldiers follow the laws of war and if not they are punished like any other law breaker.

    • This is a difficult case, and shows the failure of mandatory minimums.

      You're right on both counts. He tried to do the right thing, but the "right thing" is technically against the law.

      The proper course of action is to find him guilty, and sentence him to time served. There is no way this deserves life with no parole for 10 years.

  3. This is ridiculous — in a warzone, some measure of trust has to be given to the soldier.

    The poor insurgent guy sounds like he was twisted and in terrible pain; realistically he would have just laid there in the sand in pain for a few hours before dying.

    A charge of murder is not justified AT ALL in this case, and hopefully the jury will see there is no benefit in putting this man behind bars, as though he was a danger to society.

    • He broke a law. If you don't like the law change it but mercy killing is illegal. How is this mentoring when we don't translate our values to those we mentor?

      • He was hit by 30mm shells in the torso and leg. A 30mm shell to the torso means either you die slowly, or insantly depending on the hit location. If he had left the man there to die, it would be paramount to torture. Think on it.

        And laws are not the be all end all. I bet you've broken the law.

      • So nice to sit behind a computer screen in a comfortable chair and claim a soldiers action on the battlefield to be llegal.

        He was in a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" situation, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he made humane call.

        To quote the movie Apocolypse Now: "Charging a soldier with Murder in a war, is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500"

        • Go read "Heart of Darkness" and think about "the horror! the horror!".

  4. Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan should refuse to go out into the field until the charges are dropped against Semrau. How can a soldier be a soldier, when his/her own country prosecutes them for something like this. It is unbelievable that this is even happening to Semrau, and that we are paying for this trial to take place. We are at WAR! We send soldiers to war to shoot/kill the enemy.

  5. I believe our Canadians soldiers are facing two wars, one at the front (the terrorists), and at their back (Canadian Media). The former wish to kill them, and the later wish them to be perfect at all costs.

    • may i be so bold as to rephrase you statement about the media,"…the later wish them to be perfect at all costs." the media actually wish them either dead or at least wounded enough to return home. it makes for a 'better' story and adds to the ratings that they want. it is all a matter of economics for them. this whole issue is "no news". a soldier in a war zone made a spur-of-the-moment field decision. NO ONE, and i mean, NO ONE – civilians, politicians or brass – who was not there with him at the time has any right to judge him. but the media does not understand that. they want only the ratings, and a Pulitzer or whatever award they can get out of it.

  6. What a joke. Let the man go back to his family and then bring the rest of our boys home. Bush dropped the ball at the outset of this war when he went and branched off to finish Daddy's fight in Iraq. I am saddened that this farce of a trial has been allowed to happen and that this good soldier is facing jail time when criminals like Bush and Harper still roam free.

  7. We, as soldiers do not get a choice on if we get to go, or not. I feel for the Capt, and can not begin to imagine what he, and his family are going through. The sad truth, is that something must be up with the combat team (In house fighting) as I can assure you, that the Capt I had the honour to serve for, could do nothing wrong, and we would of backed him to the bitter end. Despite if the action would of been right, or wrong. As a combat team/section/platoon, we are a family with unbreakable bond/trust for one another, and would do anything for the other. This soldiers code is something I haven't heard of, but I know I always had one round in my pistol, reserved for me to prevent capture , and even worse beheading. I would (in the after life, if such exist) guard over anyone who loved me enough to prevent that type of pain, or to be the next taliban freak show on You Tube having my head cut off, with the chance my children could see that.

    It seems obvious that his men didn't respect or like him, and perhaps are making this out to be something bigger then it really is. Remember how troops got back at their WO, by pouring naptha and other items in his coffee… Troops don't do that to people they respect!!

    Right, or wrong, I hope that the Capt is cleared of all charges, as to go through war, and see the things we see, is a sentence all in its self. As for the the other members of that OMLT section, I hope to god that I never have to work with you, as career is above honour in your opinion, and opinions will have people killed in the line of fire..

    A proud Canadian Soldier Pro Patria (Remember…. Never Pass a Fault)

  8. For refusing to walk on while a dying man lay in agony, this Canadian soldier risks watching his two kids grow up from across jailhouse bars. The soul aches trying to establish where justice lies in all of this.

    Whatever the outcome of this trial, may these two children never lose sight of the humanity and compassion of their father.

    I hope the immediate family is coping as best as possible, although I really cannot begin to imagine. Does anyone know whether there is a way to support their needs (like a donation to a foundation, or a local service club or R.C. Legion, that might be watching over them)?

  9. How would you wish a seriously wounded Canadian soldier to be treated by the Taliban fighting them?

    • Are you serious? I don't want ANY of our allied soldiers alive in Taliban custody. You will not find a Talib signature on the Geneva conventions. Disturbed beauty sleep would be the very least of my concerns.

      • Currently there is an American soldier that has been a POW for several months http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/07http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/07/02/afgha
        Note the date and that it has been almost a year and this poor kid is still under Taliban control.
        This is why we act morally.
        If they see us doing the wrong thing then these POW's will die and or be tortured is that what we want?

        An Isreali soldier is still under enemy control.. the Isrealis actually started a war to try and free him http://www.mia.org.il/

        We must think and act according to laws and rules.
        That is the CDN and CF way.
        Paul Franklin
        (ret Master Corporal)

        • Paul, I have read your above and below comments, and I am woefully inadequate in any attempt to express my admiration, gratitude and respect towards your service. I wish you a long, happy and (as) healthy (as possible) life. If you are ever within a hundred yards of me, I've got the first round covered. And the second, and third.

          We act morally because that is how we want to act. The hope that our enemy might act similarly is secondary, and (at least in this conflict) perhaps misguided.

          Continued…

        • …continued.

          Capt. S. had the option of walking away and letting a dying man die in agony; according to evidence he was expressly ordered to do just that. He chose (and here is where we get to the "act morally" part) another gesture. You argue persuasively that you would refuse that the unwritten "pact" or "code" ever be applied in your situation — and I celebrate that you have recovered from your wounds as well as you have. But that argument insists on top-notch trauma care being provided to a dying man who was, let's be honest, not going to get top-notch trauma care. There is no tourniquet for intestines slithering about in the dust. If the Taliban feel this incident justifies in any way the mistreatment of any of their prisoners, that says nothing about Capt. S., nothing about our values, and everything about them.

    • Regardless of what I/we wish, Canadian soldiers (wounded or not), would end up in a decapitation video on Al Jazeera.

  10. Captain Semrau should be discharged only.Jack Granatstein's quote is true to life. The main reason Kurt Myer was treated so lightly after WW2 was Canadian soldiers took few prisoners after over 100 North Novies were murdered. It's called war and our troops are in one. Capt. Shafiquiian's order was the route cause…What is the facebook contact so I can be # 7,695.

  11. Given the choice; would you rather die on that road on your own or end the pain? There's no way to write something like this into a rule book as it's too circumstantial. Hopefully when the trial runs it's course the jury will properly weigh the circumstances vs the rules accordingly.
    I hope they handle this right or it could be the last time such incidence gets recorded.

  12. Taliban, are these the same people that mercifully cut people's heads off on television? Clearly jade_lee has absolutely no concept of mercy or the condition of the taliban that was torn apart by 30 mm bullets. Who would want to be a Canadian soldier these days when they are constantly being torn apart back "home" by politicians and press while putting their lives on the line as asked by Canada. The people that should judge this case should be people who have walked a mile in their shoes.

  13. We don't put rules in place then later decide if they are meant to be followed, sorry.

    And Canadian civil juries don't sit 12.

  14. “The public would certainly denounce it if it happened in the reverse: if a Taliban killed a wounded Canadian,” says Chris Madsen, a military law expert at the Royal Military College. “That's the big test. Would it be shocking enough if it happened to our side?”

    I am not sure when Chris Madsen was elected the official spokesperson for the Canadian public, but if this had happened in reverse i would like to think we would all be able to keep our minds open enough to appreciate the fact that that situation would have been the story of a man, quite possibly living in poverty and fear his entire life and driven to support an extremist group like the Taliban who was able hold onto his humanity and empathy enough that he was willing to put a canadian hero out of his pain and suffering and leave him at peace.

  15. Our Fallen Heroes

    No matter how many times we see this on TV it is always an emotional and traumatic sight. An escorted black hearse with entourage carrying another fallen young soldier speeds along the “Highway of Heroes” to rendezvous with the Chief Coroner in downtown Toronto.

    During this journey along the “Highway of Heroes” the route is lined with ordinary people wanting to pay their respects in support of one of their own. Also bridges spanning the highway provide another platform for ordinary folk to welcome home their fallen hero's. Some waving the Canadian Flag, while others just wave most of them shed tears as the motorcade speeds by them.

  16. Why do we send our brave young men and women to a war torn country knowing that there will be casualties and some will not return alive? We are told that they are serving only as peacemakers and training the Afghans to fight their enemy, the Taliban! However, in the stark reality of warfare, roadside bombs do not distinguish between “friend and foe”.

    In addition to witnessing the horrors of war, they have to operate with their hands tied behind them; blind folded and feet shackled together. The “Geneva Convention” also provides a set of guidelines for warring combatants on how to morally conduct their selves before, during and after battle has been fought.
    The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are international treaties that contain the most important rules limiting the barbarity of war.

    OUR troops as with all other NATO members are required to follow these set of protocols. Whether these conventions are recognized by our enemies cannot be assured or guaranteed during today's conflicts.

  17. There is a distorted morality in the minds of the Military's upper echelon and our “Teflon” Political Leaders, who together train our young men and women for war. These new recruits have no doubt heard of the many horror stories, but none of them are prepared for what they will experience. Sent there in an advisory capacity only they accompany the Afghan Army; they cannot give orders, directions or take the lead if they find it necessary.

    They are the hosts and our soldiers are the guests.

  18. The recent article in MacLean's regarding “A Soldiers Choice” whereby Capt. Robert Semrau has been charged with Murder (A Mercy Killing) on the field of battle and brings to light the helplessness and brutality of warfare.

    I am totally at a loss to understand these predefined rules for combat; on one hand a “soldier” pursues the enemy. He/she has orders to “search and destroy” all combatants; he/she has been given the authority of “Playing God”.

    But when an act of kindness for another human being (albeit an enemy combatant) to relieve that individual's suffering, that soldier, the one we trained and sent over there, has now been charged with murder? I would also question the actions or lack thereof taken by the senior Afghan officer in charge of not providing aid as required by the Geneva Convention?

  19. This whole debacle reeks of conspiracy in the name of Political Correctness; to demonstrate to the world that we Canadians must be seen to be “Squeaky” clean at the expense of one of our soldier's who was there to serve his country and assist indigenous peoples in their struggle to rid the evil Taliban.

    For your information I am not a conscientious objector or dissident! If asked to serve my country I would without hesitation. But I would expect those in charge to have the intestinal fortitude to stand up and support the young men and women asked to perform a duty of numerous horrors and nightmares.

  20. I sincerely hope that Maclean's will continue to cover this sad story enough to muster all the support it can for Capt. Robert Semrau. Keep up the good work MACLEAN'S!

  21. After reading all the comments here it appears that you all support euthanasia. Correct? How about sucide? Mercy killing in war is a slippery slope where had we truly believed in this practice historically, I am sure many returning veterans without legs or being burnt beyond recognition would be dead today. The fact is that when a person is severely injured their body releases it's own pain killers, "endorphins", so stating that one kills an injured person to decrease their pain is playing judge and jury. It's a very difficult decision to not stand by this soldier but I don't in his decision to end a persons like due to the soldiers perception of the enemies pain.

    • What would you have done if you were in Capt. Semrau's shoes at the time?

      • I would not have shot the injured taliban! I would have reminded the men I was there to mentor about our obligations when at war to assist a dying enemy medically.

  22. life

  23. My problem here is with the sentence.

    Technically, he broke the law. But it's clear that he did so for all the right reasons, and made the more moral of the two options available to him. Leaving the man to die is inhumanly cruel. The commander of the mission had ordered them to move on, and not wait for a medic (which considering it was enemy held territory was probably a good idea).

    What else could he do? He should be found guilty, sentenced to time served, and released. Ten years is NOT justice! It's a stark example of the failure of mandatory minimum sentences.

  24. The tactical situation made this an even more daunting choice. It was obvious that the ANA commander was not going to stay and call in a medivac (if there was even one available), and if the ANA was not going to stay, the thought of one or two Canadians staying behind to wait for the man to die (while giving what aid they could) or get medical help was not a good one.
    With all due repect to Cpl Franklin, he was with Canadians and had full medivac capability.
    I would not want to be in the situation that Capt Semrau faced because it is damn easy to judge back here.

  25. jade_lee, get a 'life.' Mercy killing takes place more than you know, in situations where seniors or cancer patients are having to endure so much pain that an overdose of Morphine 'happens.' I would hope that if I or any family member were in that situation, someone would be merciful in our suffering. I don't really think endorphins really 'cut it' when your abdominal cavity is exposed nor I doubt that a tourniquet would be any benefit.

    • how would you know that?

      • jade_lee, it's easy…I'm smarter then you. Deal with it.

  26. I think the mercy killing law is right, because like the other guy said, you're not supposed to play God. But you should help the person no matter what. They didn't bother he was probably already dead. Thats where it all gets twisted. The person who should get f-ed over here is the guy who ordered his troop to just leave him. Like, help him first, if not, you obviously thought he was dead! If he didn't and he thought he could live, then that makes him the criminal.

    Am I right or wrong here?

    • you are right and the guy who shot the dying man is also a criminal

      • jade_lee = not a humantarian. So sad…karma will dictate he will die a slow and painful death.

  27. If we want to send our military there to serve and protect.. Start with protecting our own or end up home in a box. Or worse,
    end back home so messed up that there is no help. I would of done the same. And all our military should lay down there arms and come home we have and will continue to waste our time!

    I know!!
    Brenda

  28. What part of war is NOT—KILL THE ENEMY ? ? This trial is just a JOKE ! ! If you do not want your soldiers to kill the enemy than DO NOT SEND THEM TO WAR ! ! ! ! DUH ! ! Canadian troops should NOT have been sent to Afghanistan in the first place, especially into a combat mission. If soldiers have a conscience then they shouldn't be soldiers. What a farce–charging Semrau—what a shame putting him through such an ordeal and publicizing it all. THIS is the crime ! !

  29. i understand the "rules" thingee. you have god and geneva convention, they have vlad the impaler. go figure.

  30. WAR IS WAR…YOU SHOOT AT ME AND I WILL KILL YOU. This IS NOT the same as if you look at me I will rape you. If this guy would have lived, he might of had a chance to kill someone else. Extremists don't give a sh*t what we think. Given what I know about the Taliban, had the shoe been on the other foot, the outcome could have been even more grim. Leave those with the courage to be over there alone, or GET YOUR ASS OVER THERE and find out for yourself before you pass judgment. I personally have had it with the continual bashing and persecution of the military…..you want war but you don't want anybody to get hurt. GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF YOUR ASSES!

    • Four stars to you,offshoredes. (or should I say 4 maple leafs)!!!!!

  31. As a retired Military veteran, I too would honor the code. I definetly would not want to die in agony waiting for hours for it to happen and would do the deed for my best friend. With tears flowing, I would pull the trigger. No doubt and no hesitation. If you love your friend doing what he wishes is the prime concern and to hell with the consequences.

  32. I am from a military family and know, though not first hand of course, that war must be a horrible thing. It sounds like in a normal military setting it would have likely gone differently. His working w/ Afghan soldiers like that may have changed his perceptions of what was expected or what could be done in that setting. He sounds like a good and honourable man, but I still believe that he should be corrected but not punished severely, in this instance. Unfortunately this was a man's life, not some small thing. He would likely have died anyway, but we are not called to hasten the death of another human being no matter the suffering they may endure at that time.

  33. This is one situation where I don't even care to hear a questioning of the "facts"; if we send soldiers into battle we then we can't also charge them with murder. It would be like giving out speeding tickets to drivers at the Indy 500.

  34. I would like to correct my previous posting, the military are facing many wars not two. Jihadists at the front, at the back and sides are from multifaceted special interests groups like: Canadian media, politicians who use any of their perceived "imperfection" to topple political opponents, and human rights activists who gained more popularity or notoriety and funding by being on the news. The sorriest part is that the one at their back might be the deadliest which could topple their mission and their lives more than what they are facing at the front.

  35. Last comment I promise…

    The second point is the so called code.
    The below link takes you to an interview I did on connect with Mark Kelly, I believe the interview speaks for itself. http://www.cbc.ca/connect/2009/11/interview-maste

    When a soldier commits suicide or "forces" the comrades to take their life there is fallout in the form of their familes, their friends and the army as a whole.
    That is something the soldier who made the pact has to live with for the rest of their lives.
    We train our people to do whatever it takes to save lives.
    As a disabled advocate I cannot stress enough the reasons why I do not agree with the "code".

    Remember we hold Rick Hansen, Terry Fox as Canadian heros. Why?
    They overcame horrible odds and rose to the challenges that faced them and their story is Canada's story.

    When you think of a code remember them.

    The Taliban do take prisoners and in fact an American is being held by them…. since June 2009 (almost a year).
    It is a very sad story.
    Would I want to be a prisoner?
    NO!
    But would I be a prisoner and suffer so that one day I could see my son?
    Yes! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJCiOlZHz5I http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0snkYYCcb4&feature=r...

    Paul Franklin

  36. Paul Franklin
    (ret. Master Corporal medic)
    Double amputee (January 15, 2006 Kandahar)

    I know who you are. Not only are you the epitomy of 'The Canadian Soldier' AND 'Canadian Hero,' you have my heartfelt respect. You represent why I'm proud to be a Canadian. There is no politician; government; prime minister or pompous GG will ever take your place.''

    However, I must take Cpt. Samerau's side in this. As a result of having to make an extremely difficult decision – in a split minute, only to act as a humitarian – he has my entire support.

  37. Pierre – You're upset. Go wipe Lavender Oil on your wrists; it will help…

  38. Last comment I promise…
    ha ha
    Give me a shout notyourprincess im at ptepaul@yahoo.co.uk

    • I will do that.

      PS: Parents, especially 'Moms' dealing with PTSD…'we lost our son over there…the only difference is…didn't have to arrange a funeral…'

      I hope you won't regret this.

  39. One mitigating circumstance in Capt. Semrau's favor is that his commanding officer ordered him to leave the soldier and he only had a few minutes to decide his course of action. That must have been a very intense moment in his, or anyone else's life, and who can say what is right or wrong in that situation but somebody who's already been there. It is my humble opinion that Capt. Semrau did what he thought was best, and I am inclined to agree with him. Good luck Rob.

  40. I am heart-sickened at the plight of this CPT. Ordered to keep marching, do you disobey that order to stop and aid the wounded enemy, risking your own life and possibly those with you? Do you compassionately end the suffering/life of an enemy for which you feel compassion.You cannot be "human" in the middle of the war zone. May the God of Heaven, who reads the heart and KNOWS the intentions of this officer, have mercy on him and his family. If his motives were pure and honorable, may he have God's peace with his decision regardless of the outcome.

  41. It may be hard for some to accept, but it sounds like the injuries of this person would have led to a slow painful death in the desert. The ANA officer refused to help the man which left the CF officer in a very bad position. It is very easy for people to pass judgment when they were not the ones faced with the situation. Under the circumstances I am inclined to believe that his actions were in fact motivated by a desire to end pain and suffering. It would have been just as easy to walk away. BTW it apparently was an Afghan who reported this – some might wonder what his motivation was. Once it had been reported the other officer did not have much choice unless he was prepared to be crucified in the press for 'covering up' the incident at some point down the road. Officially, the actions of this soldier cannot be ignored. Hopefully he will also be treated with a degree of compassion and not be imprisoned although he likely will be discharged from the military.

  42. Paul Franklin's comment is very good.
    This is not something to be condoned but it is also something that we, sitting in our comfy living rooms on a laptop are not fit to judge.
    That this man might be sentenced to 10 years after making a split second decision under unimaginably (to most of us) difficult circumstances would be a travesty.
    He must be sanctioned. The Afghans are watching. Some incarcerated time (Time served plus?) and discharge, perhaps, but not beyond that.

  43. "Their mission—Operation Atal 28—was to troll for Taliban, pick a fight, and shoot to kill."

    …shoot to kill.

    …to kill.

    Case dismissed.

  44. I know Captain Semaru and his family. They are all very nice people. He is very professional and very well liked. He never talks about other people and always smiles ( even when he's down and out ) I think if he is punished for this, they will be taking a great trooper. and the only lesson to be learned is… to let people suffer……ridiculous !

    My prayers are with him, his wife and children.

  45. Im glad this situation is being investigated, but mercy killing should be its own charge, not tied in with 2nd degree murder! I wish the people in charge would put our troops first. No matter what the outcome, the public must understand that it doesn't matter if you have all the fancy weapons and technology. At its core, war today is hardly different then it was 3000 years ago, and that mercy killing is an unavoidable reminder of that.

    Morality should come first, no matter what the law says. Best wishes to Cpt. Semaru his family and everyone serving in the armed forces.

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