“He felt it was the humane thing to do”

A fellow soldier says Capt. Robert Semrau admitted to a “mercy kill”


Capt. Robert Semrau fired two bullets into the chest of a severely wounded Taliban fighter because he “couldn’t live with himself” if he left another human being “to suffer like that,” a fellow soldier testified today. “He said it was a mercy kill,” said Cpl. Steven Fournier, the only Canadian who was with Semrau at the time of the alleged shooting. “He said he felt it was necessary. He felt it was the humane thing to do.”

A key witness for the prosecution, Fournier provided a damning account of what he claims unfolded on the morning of Oct. 19, 2008, when he and Semrau stumbled upon an injured insurgent who, moments earlier, had been shot out of a tree by a U.S. Apache helicopter.

Both soldiers were part of a small Canadian team assigned to mentor a company of Afghan National Army (ANA) troops, who were conducting a “sweep and clear” patrol in a dangerous district of Helmand Province. When ANA members first discovered the maimed fighter—who had a gaping hole in his stomach and a mangled left leg—their commander, Capt. Shafiqullah, ordered them not to provide medical treatment. As Fournier quoted him saying: “If Allah wants him, he will die. If not, he will live.”

When a second casualty was discovered nearby (this one already dead) Fournier suggested that both men be photographed for intelligence purposes. Semrau agreed, and after snapping two pictures of the corpse and two pictures of the wounded man, Fournier turned off his camera and began to walk away. Seconds later, two shots rang out, and he swung around to see Capt. Semrau standing over the wounded insurgent, his C-8 rifle still aimed at the man’s heart.

“He told me: ‘It’s OK, it was me,’” said Fournier, who assumed the gunfire was hostile. Semrau was calm, he said, and expressed surprise that his bullets had pierced all the way through the man’s body and ricocheted off the ground. “He said he did not expect his two rounds to go through him like that,” Fournier said.

On the witness stand Wednesday for the third straight day, Fournier described how his mind raced in the minutes after the shooting. “What just happened? None of it made sense to me. I was still just shocked at this point.” As both men left the scene, accompanied by an Afghan interpreter nicknamed “Max,” Fournier said Semrau offered an explanation for his actions. “He couldn’t live with himself if he left a wounded insurgent, a wounded human, to suffer like that,” he testified. “He said he was willing to accept whatever fallout there was on it, and that it was a mercy kill.”
Both the Geneva Conventions and the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct compel our troops to provide First Aid to all casualties, friend or foe. As in the civilian world, mercy killing on the battlefield is strictly forbidden, regardless of the circumstances.

After returning to the ANA position, Fournier said Semrau was confronted by Capt. Shafiqullah, who heard the rifle and was upset that his Canadian counterpart ignored his command. “He said he didn’t want anything done with this person,” Fournier said. “He turned around and walked away from Capt. Semrau. He was angry with us.” Fournier said he and Semrau also had a brief meeting with the other members of their four-man team, Warrant Officer Merlin Longaphie and Cpl. Tony Haraszta. “He told us that he fired the shots, that it was necessary, that he couldn’t live with himself if he left someone in that condition,” Fournier testified. “He said he hoped that anyone else would do the same thing, even to himself.”

Semrau, 36, faces four charges, including second-degree murder, for the alleged battlefield execution. A Moose Jaw native with two young daughters, he is the first Canadian soldier ever accused of homicide on the front lines of a war, and if convicted, the mandatory sentence is life behind bars with no chance of parole for ten years. He has pleaded not guilty.

The unprecedented court-martial has triggered a fierce debate—both in the ranks and out—about whether the reality of combat sometimes trumps the law of combat. However, Semrau himself has never admitted to shooting the man, and not once have his lawyers suggested that he killed out of compassion. “The prosecution’s theory may turn out to be wishful thinking at the end of the day,” said Maj. Steve Turner, Semrau’s lead lawyer. “We are confident in our case and it’s going to play out the way it plays out.”

A member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Fournier said he was rattled by what happened and considered it a “significant” event, but did not report it to his superiors. Still a private at the time, Fournier said he held out hope that a more senior soldier—Warrant Longaphie, perhaps, or Cpl. Haraszta—would come forward with the allegations. “I didn’t know what to really do,” he said. “I wanted to focus on my work and hope that it came out somehow.”

It eventually did come out two months later, when an Afghan soldier approached Semrau’s commanding officer, Maj. Steven Nolan, with a cryptic allegation: “Captain Rob no good,” he said. “Captain Rob boom boom Taliban.” Suspicious, Nolan ordered his sergeant-major, David Fisher, to question Fournier about what he saw that morning. “He told me to tell him, with no lies, exactly what happened on the 19th of October,” Fournier said. “I was quite relieved. It didn’t force me to be the snitch. People would not see me as the guy who came forward to ‘rat out’ a captain.”
Hours later, Fournier received a telephone call from Chief Warrant Officer Bernard Caron, a member of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service. He told Caron what he saw, what Semrau said, and agreed to accompany a unit of military police officers back to the scene of the alleged crime. The man’s body was never found, but investigators did recover two 5.56 mm shell casings and two bullets that were later matched, through ballistics tests, to Semrau’s C-8.

Late in the afternoon, Semrau’s lawyer began what is expected to be a lengthy cross-examination of the Crown’s star witness.

“You would agree the body was beyond saving, even with bandages,” Turner asked Fournier.

“I assumed that, yes sir,” he answered.

The testimony continues Thursday morning.


“He felt it was the humane thing to do”

  1. Jeesh! welcome to reality folks. It's sad really when we regular people all comfy cozy in our peacefull nation are confronted by the foul taste of reality. Cue Harper haters to start posting soemthing that they can spin against the gov't here. Who knows maybe this is typical of what is the documents in the shipping container and why the PM is doing his best to keep things in perspective. Right or wrong = who knows and I only know one thing for certain I am glad I am not a judge or a memberof the armed forces becaue I could never make a decision either way like this poor guy had to and if truth must be told I would have probably walked away and prayed for the good lord to take this decision away from me to be honest I think I would not be alone.

  2. I haven't seen anyone try to make this a political issue–except you.

  3. This man is a good soldier. Trained to kill, yet shows mercy to the enemy. We should be rewarding him, not trying to send him to prison. This is a terrible miscarriage of justice. He has displayed admirable personal conduct. Mercy in his actions. and honour in his conduct since. He has not lied or shirked. He should be admired, even promoted, not prosecuted.

    • Agreed 100%

  4. Having retired, after 12 years in the Canadian Army (Regular) Armoured Corps, I am in complete support of the humanitarian action taken by Capt. Robert Semrau in a combat situation.
    Person who haven't been in a like situation, shouldn't be so hasty to judge! Try remaining calm under fire.
    If we don't stand behind our troops, they invite you to stand in front!
    Capt. (ret'd) Brian JM Caldwell, CD

  5. Brian – am not decided in the issue yet, but kudos for signing your name.

  6. "When ANA members first discovered the maimed fighter—who had a gaping hole in his stomach and a mangled left leg—their commander, Capt. Shafiqullah, ordered them not to provide medical treatment. As Fournier quoted him saying: “If Allah wants him, he will die. If not, he will live.”"

    "Both the Geneva Conventions and the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct compel our troops to provide First Aid to all casualties, friend or foe. "

    I'm sorry, but DID I MISS SOMETHING HERE? Shouldn't Capt. Shafiqullah be court marshalled????? Semrau did the right thing in my opinion, that man would have lived in utter agony until death finally came. Semrau would not have been compelled to do the humane thing had his commanding officer done THE RIGHT THING, which is to offer aid.

    As a military brat and having a considerable post-secondary education in conflict zones and humanitarian issues, I stand behind Semrau 100%. People don't understand the horrors of war, and hate to break it to Canada, we're in a war over there. People die, people get blown up, it's unavoidable, it's kill or be killed. The only thing you can control over there is how much you let someone suffer. It takes a far better man to do what Semrau did than to try and save the Talibani soldier—the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and to try and save him would have led to the same end but a far more horrific road there.

  7. The captain is a victim of political correctness running amok.

  8. If you come across someone who probably isn’t going to make it, even if he is rushed in and given the best care possible, which the poor afghan soldier obviously wasn’t going to get, and you are ordered to walk away and leave him to suffer gruesomely, (rest assured this man was suffering terribly) how can you ever face your reflection in the mirror every morning the same way ever again? Yeah, most people would say, I was ordered not to do anything and it’s off me. This is my superiors problem. But some people are empathetic souls and can’t stand to see human suffering, enemy or otherwise. I like to think of myself as that type of a person. Would I have done the same thing? I can’t really say, because I am just an average canadian who has a very small chance of coming across something like that, as compared to the average combat soldier. But if it were me, and if I was standing in Capt. Semrau’s shoes at the time, I honestly don’t know what I would have done. I just know that it would tear me up for a very, very long time to have to leave him dying a slow painful death out there in the desert.
    Something will definitely have to be done about Capt. Semrau’s actions, that much I agree with. And yes, it will have to fit the crime, as this sort of action is strictly prohibited by the U.N., but this is a huge case, a special case, that affects the entire U.N. combat services, and this will set a precedent. But I think special considerations have to be made, considering that Capt. Semrau clearly had the afghani’s best interests at heart. I don’t know the Captains history so I dont really know what type of a person he is, and that will have to be considered during the investigation and trial. All mitigating factors have to be individually considered when assessing the sentence and if Capt. Semrau is found to have been an otherwise good soldier who just found himself at a crossroads and chose the more difficult road, then I feel he should be given the lightest possible, yet appropriate, sentence in a minimum security institution, with special priveleges regarding location of the institution (close to home for easy family access), a longer visitor’s list, t.v. and computer in his own private room, and the occasional weekend pass when he’s earned it. And he shouldn’t be dishonorably discharged. He should still get some sort of soldier’s pension so as to provide for his family as well.
    I don’t know if the afghani was going to make it if he would have been given every possible chance, but the afghani was ordered to be left out there to die and Capt. Semrau couldn’t accept that. His superiors should be held accountable, and if they have no jurisdiction to hold the specific commander accountable, then whoever put these canadian soldiers under the commanding officer should shoulder some of the blame. Any commanding officer in charge of Canadian soldiers should be held to the highest standards, and should have a code of ethics they are obliged to follow. If the commander had ordered the soldiers to administer medical care, this wouldn’t even be an issue here. The commander is a heartless joke.

  9. What a cock eyed country we live in. A soldier is court martialed for killing an 'insurgent' who we can assume would have died anyhow, and yet four RCMP goons kill a defenceless man at Vancouver airport and are not even reprimanded. Maybe we need a Geneva convention code for Canadian police forces.

    • Meanwhile, in Toronto, the police raid the Toronto Humane Society, arrest four executives then perp-walk them past waiting paparazzi because they DID NOT kill terminally ill or wounded ANIMALS. Is it just me???

  10. Would it have made a difference if he had started an IV on the wounded man, and gave him IV morphine until he was out of pain and eventually died from respiratory suppression or hemorrhage?

  11. Capt. Robert Semrau has made an honest mistake. It sad, probably his career scrap and if he send in jail, he is life to. I wish him good luck and hopefully those that judge him will understand to.

  12. As an ex member of the canadian forces I agree with your comments.

  13. As an ex member of the canadian forces I agree with your comments.

  14. I am not ashamed of not respecting acts of war. It's madness on a large scale. There was a time in our history when we could challenge others to a duel if they insulted our integrity and the person who pulled the trigger first lived.Thanks to an evolved morality we stopped the dueling practice and now we must entertain how sick and foolish war is as a coping strategy for serious conflicts.

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