Mercy or murder? -

Mercy or murder?

The trial of a Canadian soldier raises troubling questions


Capt. Robert Semrau is facing a military court-martial—and the possibility of life behind bars—for allegedly executing a severely wounded Taliban fighter. According to the prosecution’s version of events, the 36-year-old was bound by both international law and the Canadian Forces Code of Conduct to administer First Aid, but decided to fire two bullets into the man’s chest instead.

From the comfort of a courtroom in Gatineau, Que.—where tracer fire isn’t flying and flak jackets aren’t required—the Crown’s case seems simple enough. Mercy killing, regardless of the circumstances, is strictly forbidden, and the rules of engagement clearly state that medical care must be provided to every casualty, friend or foe. But as the latest witness made abundantly clear, the heat of battle has a way of messing with the best-laid plans.

Warrant Officer Merlin Longaphie, Semrau’s second-in-command during their Afghanistan tour, testified Tuesday that he saw the unidentified Talib shortly before the captain’s fateful encounter. Like Semrau, Longaphie was part of an Operational Mentor Liaison Team (OMLT) assigned to advise members of the rag-tag Afghan National Army, and on the morning of Oct. 19, 2008, they were conducting a major sweep through Taliban territory in Helmand Province. Under fire from enemy insurgents, Longaphie and his unit had just finished sprinting to safety across a large cornfield when he noticed a commotion 25 meters to his right. “It appeared to me there was a body on the ground,” he said on the witness stand. “Some other Afghans, two or three, were looking at the body and lightly kicking it.”

Capt. Thomas Fitzgerald, one of the prosecutors, wanted to know why Longaphie didn’t rush to treat the man—reminding him of his legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions and the military’s code of conduct. “If the person on the ground back there was a Canadian soldier, would you have done something different?” Fitzgerald asked.

After an angry objection from Semrau’s lawyer, Fitzgerald rephrased the question. “Why didn’t you move closer?”

“At the time I didn’t think there was a need to go over there,” Longaphie answered. “Visually, from what I perceived, it was a dead Taliban and there was no reason for me to go over and confirm whether he was dead or alive.”

Two other men—a private under Semrau’s command and an Afghan interpreter named “Max”—have told military prosecutors that the mangled enemy fighter was indeed breathing, and that the captain put him out of his misery. Longaphie didn’t witness the alleged crime; he had moved on from the scene by the time Semrau supposedly aimed his C-8 at the man’s heart. But if nothing else, his testimony was a poignant reminder that combat is not court, and just because the rules dictate that every injured foe must be treated, that doesn’t mean it happens.

Whether that helps Capt. Semrau remains to be seen. Failing to double-check a supposed dead body is one thing. Pumping two rounds into an unarmed man is quite another.

The government claims that Semrau subscribes to a so-called “soldier’s pact”—an unwritten code that says if he is too maimed to be saved, it’s up to a fellow warrior to put him to ease his pain and finish the job. If prosecutors are correct, Semrau extended that pact to the enemy, using it as an excuse to execute. “No one should suffer like that,” he allegedly told one subordinate.

This is the first time a Canadian soldier has been accused of homicide on the battlefield. He faces four charges in all, including second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole or ten years.

A father of two young daughters, Semrau has pleaded not guilty to all counts. His trial continues Wednesday morning.


Mercy or murder?

  1. He's a soldier! The victim has aligned himself with terrorists in an organization that would kill him if he chose to leave anyway! Semrau has plenty of stress on him, he's risking his life to defend his family, his country and his God given freedoms! The only circumstance that would change my opinion, would be an autopsy showing that provided he wasn't shot twice more in the chest that he may have lived had he gotten immediate medical care. But chances are the courts aren't going to release any of that information.

  2. I would love to see the people who are in this court room try to fill the shoes of this brave soldier. This man was sent into battle and did not complain if he seen a body laying there and it was a canadian soldier they yes he would of been concerned but a body of the enemy would not or should not be of concern SAFTEY is of concern. These people are ruthless and CONCERN could get him killed. He is a young father and im sure his concern is to do his job and go home to his children and wife. WEAR his shoes for that day and see what you would of done.
    Canada is a wonderful country to live in probably the best in the world but it sure doesnt mean the people running it have much common sense.
    There are too many double standards from this government…. you send a man into battle with a loaded gun yet he uses it and he is a killer… CANADA trained this man to be a killer…. sent him into fight and he does his job and ……
    I wonder if he had treated this man and rolled him over and the man had a granade and killed yet another of out soldiers would he still be a killer if the man had died?

  3. As far as I know, euthanasia or mercy killings are forbidden by Canadian and Afghani laws.

    Soldiers are not trained for mercy…they are trained to kill without asking questions and even if they have the right to disobedience so many will truely follow their principles and abstain from following orders…the rest of the soldiers follow their principles which are you join the army to kill or you're too stupid to decide for your own so you let a bunch of psychopaths do it for you. So please pretend that these individuals didn't have a choice but to join the army and kill people they don't know. Soldiers = Talibans. Persuing one goal: destroy the other.

    • Your intelligence and command of the English language is on full display here Sir, and both have been found lacking. I suggest you take some remedial language courses. A stint in the military might do you some good as well. Sadly, brave Canadian soldiers like this one put it on the line every day so ignoramuses like you can spout nonsense. I would feel very comfortable having any of the men or women of the Canadian Forces have my back, you sir, not so much.

  4. Guilty!

    • fuck you mark he did what he should have done not guilty

  5. So far, we've only heard the prosecution's side of the story — and not all of that. We haven't heard a word in Semrau's defence, so I personally believe the Captain is innocent of the charges — until the court decides otherwise. Seems to me there's a fundamental principle there, somewhere.

    For him to have "murdered" anyone, the Crown will have to prove that (a) there was a victim (b) that the victim was alive and that someone's intentional actions caused him to stop being alive, and (c) that Semrau was that someone. Many people are assuming (a) (b) and (c) — and still believe that Semrau did nothing wrong. In fact, however, there has been no conclusive evidence presented so far that any of (a) (b) and (c) are true.

    Semrau is also charged with disobeying a lawful command — i.e. that he was ordered to provide First Aid and did not. The testimony last week, reeked of "hiney covering" by a REMF — which is army slang for someone who doesn't have to get shot at every day. The boss said he gave the order on the radio and Semrau acknowledged it — yet, conveniently, those two radio transmissions are the only ones that didn't make it into the official log??? Unbelievable. The boss is covering his @$$.

    Not guilty.

    • The prevailing story seems to be one of a mercy killing. Wasn't Captain Semrau quoted somewhere as saying so himself? And not by fellow Canadian or Afghan soldiers, but a direct media quote from either himself or his lawyers? Maybe I am confusing the narrative.

      If I am NOT confusing the narrative, then Capt. Semrau has already agreed there was (a)/(b) someone who was alive and stopped being alive due to the actions of a third party and (c) that Semrau was that third party. Which would leave us with motive, and the rules of engagement and the orders he was to follow, and a whole lot of very uncomfortable second-guessing way back over here.

      • The prevailing story is based on assumptions founded on the prosecution's theories. Captain Semrau, to my knowledge, has never said anything about what happened. Nor, have his lawyers. At least, not yet.

  6. To "Pete":

    You obviously have no concept of what being a soldier entails or how soldiers are trained.

    • And just think, this soldier was training the Afghan soldiers!!!

  7. Are you kidding me? Give this man a medal! He is out there to do a job and that job is to rid the area of Taliban. He did his job. If these men start second guessing their actions or reactions we are going to lose more men then we already have. Send him back home to his family with our thanks!!!

    • exactly right.

  8. Mike – Canada did not train this soldier – Great Britain did and he left their troops with an exemplary record.

    As to the comments made by those who have decided he is guilty or that it was a mercy killing – No body, no witness saw him actually fire a shot. Lots of allegations. People getting their exercise jumping to conclusions!! The fact is, the media can't even get the facts right about the birth of Captain Semrau's second child. According to the media, it was a cesarean birth and it wasn't. If they can't even report that correctly, how is it we should believe them in reporting the rest. Are people no longer capable of logical thought processes?

  9. Great. Does this mean that it’s up to laywers, journalists and politicians on how we will now wage war?

    • The rules of engagment are clearly spelled out for all military personnel from the Generals on down. I don't like the Taliban and the fact that they don't abide by these rules but that doesn't excuse our troops or military courts from their responsiblilties to enforce this code of conduct. You can't pick and chose which laws you apply ; or ignore them when they don't serve your needs. We leave that to our politicians.

      • Yes and have you read about OUR Politicians lately!?

  10. The Taliban must be having a great time laughing at us. It is absurd that this is even happening. The man is a soldier who we pay to put his life on the line and kill the enemy, not risk his life, and those for whom he is responsible for, to see if an enemy soldier needs First Aid. THE SAME SOLDIER THAT WAS TRYING TO KILL HIM!!!! The Western world has grown too soft. War is war. You see the enemy, you kill the enemy. That's it.

  11. Pete: For you to say, "the rest of the soldiers follow their principles which are you join the army to kill or you're too stupid to decide for your own so you let a bunch of psychopaths do it for you" is disgusting.
    Those are not the principles which the majority of the army believes in. These men and women do not join the Canadian Forces in order to "kill people they don't know". They join to serve and protect their country and family, and the rights and freedoms of all Canadians (including YOU). So before you spew out your ignorance, next time I would take a moment to stop and think if you truly know what you are talking about. Canadians like you make me ashamed.

    Sincerely, a DND Public Servant

  12. It's hard to rationalize these charges. If he had shot and killed the combatant moments earlier, it would have been his duty. Or if he simply let the enemy suffer and die he would be blameless. But because he showed mercy he is on trial.

    War is messy and doesn't always fit into neat rules. This should never have gone to trial.

    • War is pure madness, war is a racket!

      • canadian soldiers should not be there. the dune coons can deal with their own, there is never going to be productivity so long as their government can remain corrupt. the local authorities should be the ones to clean them out. instead of our brave soldiers trying to help the population (and getting bombed by the same people they are helping) they should be out of that country.

  13. This reminds me of shell-shocked Canadian soldiers being executed on the battlefield for cowardice.

    The rules of engagement should not be so cut and dried. This soldier did what I would expect of him. He should not be punished. He should not be on trial.

    This is a miscarriage of justice.

  14. I agree with the majority of comments. One extra point.. is if this "murdered" man was able to, in his last breaths get his hands on a gun, who is to say that he would not point and shoot at a Canadian solider? I have no military training, and very little legal knowledge, but it seems like a safe thing to do.

  15. Friends, that is why they call it a legal system. There is ni justice in it. War is hell! I wonder what the Taliban's family would say about the "Mercy killing" if it indeed happened that way?

    • Winning hearts and minds remember!

  16. why would any soldier patch up the enemy and send him on his way just so he could try to kill the soldier and his buddies the next day? who ever made this rule was suffering from severe stupidity. perhaps a good canadian will be inspired by this incident, to gain power in parliment and change those rules.