Behind Robert Semrau's dismissal -

Behind Robert Semrau’s dismissal

His removal from the Canadian Forces sends a clear message through the ranks



No mercy

Robert Semrau arriving at the court this week with his wife, Amelie; Photograph by Blair Gable


Two years after shooting a severely wounded enemy fighter on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Capt. Robert Semrau has finally received his punishment: a demotion in rank, and dismissal from the Canadian Forces. The 36-year-old infantry officer—whose controversial case sparked a furious, nationwide debate about the ethics of mercy killing in a war zone—will not spend any time in a prison cell. But his career in uniform is now over.

Well, almost over.

It will take a few weeks to fill out all the paperwork, and until then, Semrau (now officially a second lieutenant) will continue reporting for duty at CFB Petawawa—setting the stage for what is sure to be an awkward farewell tour. The judge may have said that he “failed as a leader” and behaved in a “shockingly unacceptable” fashion, but the Moose Jaw, Sask., native remains a respected figure within the rank and file of his regiment, as evidenced by the dozens of fellow officers who lined the gallery at his Oct. 5 sentencing hearing. And sometime over the next month, when he leaves the base for the last time, there will be plenty of hugs and handshakes to go around.

Even the judge, Lt.-Col. Jean-Guy Perron, conceded he had trouble understanding how a captain with such a stellar reputation could be standing before him, convicted of opening fire on an unarmed man. “By all accounts,” he told Semrau, “your conduct before and after this incident has been exemplary.”

But despite any lingering sympathy for a man who found himself in an impossible situation, Perron’s ruling was a clear victory for military prosecutors—and the entire chain of command. Although the Crown wanted him to serve two years in jail on top of a dismissal, the final sentence could not have sent a stronger message: soldiers are obliged to follow orders, not their own moral codes.

“Your actions may have been motivated by an honest belief you were doing the right thing,” Perron said. “Nonetheless, you have committed a serious breach of discipline.”

That serious breach occurred in Helmand province on Oct. 19, 2008, when Semrau’s unit—a small band of Canadian troops mentoring a company of Afghan National Army soldiers—discovered an unidentified man lying on a dirt path. He had been shot by a U.S. Apache helicopter, and in the words of one eyewitness, was “98 per cent” dead.

Soldiers are bound by the Geneva Conventions and the Canadian military’s own code of conduct to administer first aid to all casualties, friend or foe. Instead, Semrau raised his rifle and fired two bullets into the man’s chest, later telling comrades that he “couldn’t live with myself” if he left the insurgent to suffer.
There is no defence in law for mercy killing.

When word of the incident surfaced two months later, Semrau was charged with four offences, including second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years. But in July, a military panel found him guilty of only one charge: disgraceful conduct. The jury concluded Semrau shot the man, but were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the captain’s bullets actually led to his death. (No body was ever recovered.)

A disgraceful conduct charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but Perron concluded that kicking Semrau out of the army was enough to deter others from repeating his mistake. “Decisions based on personal values cannot prevail over lawful commands,” the judge said. “You made a decision that will cast a shadow on you for the rest of your life.”

A life that will now be spent in civilian clothes.


Behind Robert Semrau’s dismissal

  1. The message is certainly clear–stay the hell away from desk jockeys who second guess REAL heroes. The last thing I would do is join todays armed forces fraught with political correctness.

    • But otherwise you would have definitely already joined up, yes? I'm sure you would have been every bit the real hero as Second Lieutenant Semrau, or maybe even as knowledgeable about the law and the chain of command as those who actually participated in the case, but that's the way it goes I guess. Ah well, at least you know how to type.

    • Very clear message… if you kill at home you can keep your pension and ranks (Williams) but if you kill the enemy you'll be damned.

  2. As a veteran of the military I am ashamed of the court martial results.For thes idiots who discharged this fine soldier who have never heard a shot fired in anger they shame many of us.This soldier commited an act of humanity.Once again world politics has won out against common sense and fairness.The west will eventually end up in a world conflict which we will lose for the first time because while the enemy fight us with every dirty tactic invented our people will fight with one hand tied.This has memories of the first world war for those who read.

    • " our people will fight with one hand tied."

      both hands tied and blindfolded, am afraid!!

  3. Just like Oliver North, The Somalia Inquiry, decisions as to the "correctness" of actions by people who have no clue of the actial sittuation make decisions of right or wrong…. Not a single Court member has ever served in combat or front line Peacekeeping…. Says a lot for those young men and women who contemplate serving in uniform…..
    They can take away the uniform, but never the pride!!

    • we are supposed to try to save the people who want us dead; who will gladly thank us for saving them and then kill us without a second thought. and we are proud to say, we will do our best to save them.

    • Apparently they can never take away the stupidity either. It says a lot that you would defend the actions of Oliver North in Iran-Contra and the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia.

      • Were you there? Armchair experts.

    • oh where was common sense all around…………certainly not in Helmand province or the court room…..particularly not the court room…..Still serving queen and country after 30 years…….but not for much longer………you're welcome.

  4. Court martial results is a disgrace and shame on Canada!
    It proves how deep is the damage done to this Country by post-trudeupian, politically-correct libtards :(

  5. After spending 35 years in the Infantry, both as an NCO and Officer, all I can say is that no one can judge Capt Semrau until he has walked a mile in his shoes.
    We send our young men and women into combat, put them under extreme stress and expect them to make split second decisions while there is dust all around them. Then when word gets out that he allegedly mercy killed an enemy insurgent, something most of us would do for any pet, we convict him of disgraceful conduct.
    There was no evidence that the insurgent wasn't dead prior to Semrau shooting him. No one apparently saw him take the shots, but only saw him hovering over the body with the rifle pointing at the insurgent. What exactly was so disgraceful?

    The message send by this court martial and sentencing is, whatever you do cover your a..

    • So if you are correct nobody can judge anybody charged with a criminal offence unless they have walked in their shoes.
      So that means the majority of judges couldn't pass judgment on the majority of defendants who appear before them. I also look forward to you applying your logic to the case of Omar Khadr, how many judging him have walked even one step in his shoes?
      As someone who has also worn the uniform too, valuing human life and adhering to the rule of law are values that separate us from the scum we fight. Everytime we fail to maintain our standards we get closer to those we oppose.

      • You sound like a logisitics officer hareball adn by the sounds of things an Omar Khadr supporter. . Obviously never seen combat by these comments.

        Well said Karl.

        • Nope
          but keep fishing and trying to divert the attention from what makes us different from the scum we fight.
          once you adopt their ideas you are no different from them.
          but no doubt you can justify your adoption of illegal action, but so can every criminal.

  6. The message sent by the Judge is crystal clear. If you are in combat and come across a critically wounded enemy who has little to no potential of survival, stop what you are doing, expose yourself and your unit to ambush,call for a medevac and hope it doesn't get shot down and evacuate the casualty as well as your own casualties. Rest assured Col.Perron, your decision has done more to solidify the ranks than you can imagine. As a former member of the Forces I feel quite confident that the rank and file Combat troops are now shoulder to shoulder and looking back at NDHQ saying, "What do they really know about us?"

  7. Go fight in a WAR torn country, come home charged with MURDER?!
    Only in Canada.
    Destroying a man with guts, like Semrau, is disgusting.
    What did they want him to do, carry the dying man around on his back, because he was bound by inflexible, rules? Maybe it's time to overhaul these outdated military rules, so that orders will make common sense, and maybe then, soldiers will feel obligated to follow them, without compromising their own integrity in such situations!!
    Incidentally, what brain dead person thought the incident should surface two months later, anyway?
    Pure Garbage.

  8. This judgement is insane. There is no serviceable rational behind it . It does make it terribly obvious how impotent our situation in Afghanistan is.
    I congratulate Robert Semrau for doing the humane thing by putting that horribly wounded man out of his misery. Every soldier understands this situation. He could have just walked away, and were is the kindness in that?

  9. I really cant believe they are doing this to Captain Semrau. A combat veteran risking his his life day in day out in Afghanistan. His fate decided by some out of touch legal body concerned only with the politics of the situation. I don't think the Americans or the British would do this to their soldiers. I hope the Captain knows that the vast majority of people are behind him.

  10. As a retired member of the Canadian Forces I am apalled at this decision on Capt. Semrau. Here we have a man in a serious combat siruation being judge by people who have never served a day in uniform. I live here in the US now but even when I served in the RCN I was always troubled by representatives in Ottawa (Minister of National Defence) making decisions for us without any background in what we did and needed.

    I served with a man who was in Government but quickly distanced himself from the Political circus in Ottawa. I speak of Fred J. Mifflin. He was a great man for DND posotion. No we allow people to make decisions because they must not because they are knowledgeable and experienced in the subject.

    This is an embarassment to the Country and those brave men that represent it. The public should be outraged. Those same people making rulings are the people who are regulating how Veterans are treated. That' s a scary situation and it needs to be corrected. This ruling needs to be overturned and Capt. Semrau returned to his fellow comrades. Everyone needs to get behind this.

  11. Yes, rules are made and broken … always.

    The "unidentified" man was shot by a U.S. Apache helicopter and, according to "one" eye witness, was 98% dead and, thus, unlikely to survive a medivac flight … if he was 98% dead.

    Now, if I had been in Capt. Semrau's shoes, I would probably, with difficulty, have done the same thing, but there has been enough agreement in the comments here for me to slant the discussion in another direction: What should we do if the unidentifid man had been 88% dead? What if he had been 68% dead?

    It seems that we just do it … and live with the consequences.

    • I guess he could have called in a Medevac for this Terrorist who was there with the intent of killing Canadian Soldiers therefore endangering the lives of the Canadian Med evac chopper crew from ground fire. This was not an option unless the chopper was coming in for our own wounded. Saving the life of a Terrorist under these circumstances was not an acceptable risk.

      He could have put him on a stretcher and humped him out of there keeping in mind it takes four men to hump a stretcher, therefore temporarily losing the use of four men in case of an Ambush not to mention fatigue.
      He could have left him there in extreme pain with no hope of survival where he could have been cared for by his own kind, the Taliban, who would have sooner or later come along and put a bullet in him.

      Nice to be a fat cat sitting on your throne in NDHQ with your nice clean uniforms judging the REAL soldiers.

  12. One wonders how long the veterans in this country will take to form a voting block.The Royal Canadian legion does a fair job for veterans but their hands are tied. I think it is time for a more active association to form for all military veterans.One that has political sway like unions.One that is not bound by the traditions established in the Legion movement.With veterans in every community in Canada voting as a block we could change the direction of our country.As an old man I would gladly offer my support for one who would start such an association with only what is good for our military and country.Politics can no longer be dictating what hardware our military require to save lives.this must be removed from party politics.

    • If you want to be active then join the Rally/Protest against the New Veterans Charter, The Veterans Claw Back, The Widows Pension, and Agent Orange. in front of your MP's office on Nov. 6/2010 at 11:00am. Veterans and their supporters will be protesting across the country.

  13. The is no chance the wounded man would have survived, he was in great pain and in a hopeless situation. The action of shooting a wounded person dieing in pain on the battlefield, enemy or friend, is not unknown in any war you care to mention. Trying to apply "justice" from a desk in Ottawa is ridiculous.

  14. What most accounts leave out is that this officer was not in command of this operation. He was ordered by his Afghani commander not to aid the wounded man and to leave him to die. I think he did the right thing according to Canadian Military values ( which are not established in Ottawa offices).

  15. As an infantry soldier with 3 tours to Kandahar under my belt, I would be happy to serve under Captain Semrau. I hope he knows that the troops are behind him 100%. Way to go Ottawa, you ruined another good soldier.

  16. As a retired officer, I regret that Capt. Semrau was judged by Ottawa-bound AJAG theoretical soldiers and now by the general public including commenters here whose sumtotal knowledge of operational issues and experience in theatre is near zilch. As another poster said earlier, to properly judge Capt. Semrau's actions, one needs to have walked a mile in his shoes.

  17. Only in Canada!This solder,as all the others fighting this stupid useless war,deserve medals and accolades!Not dismissal.They are there to fight and kill a ruthless enemy-in any condition!The less of them,the better.Their numbers are unlimited anyway.Totally insane decision,there should NEVER EVEN HAVE BEEN A TRIAL!

  18. This trial should never have taken place or at least Cpt Semrau should have been " judged" by his real peers, officers who haved had a personal war experience, in the killing fields…not in a cosy legal office away from the reality of life and death situations when decisions are actually taken by soldiers or officers based on their perception of what is the most logical course of action to take, in keeping with their moral values which include, like it or not in our civilized society, mercy killing…Now retired, I served twice as a NATO civilian staff member heading a team of Afghans in Kabul and I therfore fully understand Capt Semrau attitude and action . I only feel respect and empathy for this fine officer and gentleman who deserves all the support he can get from his fellows soldiers and citizens.

  19. One thing I forgot to say: when and how can we start and contribute to "the Capt Semrau's rehabilitation campaign"?
    There are international precedents . A pardon or an amnesty would certainly not be enough in view of the damage done to the Canadian military institution by this " bureaucratic" decision so blatantly teinted with the prevailing political correctness of our time and ignorance of the terrible reality of what is war. I sincerely pity these military judges who will have to live with their verdict however mild they may think it was for they ruined a man's life and career and ultimatly sent the wrong message to the troops and chain of command.

  20. One last personal comment about discipline . Yes it is an essential part of the military process but the record has it that the greatest and most honourable soldiers and officers in history, at one time or another, all broke it based on rational or moral grounds…In the superior interest of the military institution, respect of sacrosanct discipline must be enforced with "absolute" moderation in certain cases ( or better left aside) especially when moral and ethical values also come into play or interfere. Sometimes pragmatism must prevail over discipline. Nomal honest men will rather follow the dictates of their conscience and intelligence than the relevant chapter of the code of discipline

  21. Its my opinion that the judge and miltary prosecutors are members of the unit known as

    "piss pot cleaners and latrine inspectors".

  22. He did the humane thing.

  23. u r most definitely a mullah!!

  24. What a miscarriage of justice. A soldier in a war, doing his job by protecting himself and his comrades from the enemy, is dragged through the mud and booted out—for doing his job. Those military judges are a DISGRACE—the EPITOMY of hypocrisy ! ! SHAME ! !

  25. Although the only comparison between Captain Semrau's actions and those of Col . William's is the death of a human, it will be interesting to see if William's military treatment is just. Captain Semrau's certainly is NOT.

  26. K-R
    Absolutely right. Laws don't apply to the folk complaining here.
    The officer failed to obey the most basic of rules that separate us from those we fight.
    An injured unarmed man should never be shot dead because somebody likes to play god. If we allow this line to be crossed without consequences how can we complain when others follow our lead.

    • You are correct – the law should be followed. By the way – where is the law that requires a Canadian citizen to
      expose themsleves to a potential harmful situation to aid another person? Perhaps he should have called 911 and walked away.

      • No law required.
        If you sign on, then you have to accept you'll be in harm's way. You also have to accept that you need to uphold the values/laws of your own country. You don't become a soldier if you don't accept that you might be injured or killed in the execution of your duties.
        Being a squaddie is not an easy thing. It takes some application.

  27. Rather embarrassing for Canada that a bunch of lefty bureaucrats 12000 or so miles from the action can destroy some hero's career because even though he did the right thing it wasn't PC.

  28. l. Russell Williams, pleaded guilty to murder; and apparently the military overlooked the classic trait of a psychopath- a lack of empathy. The military punished, Captain Robert Semrau for demonstrating empathy, by shooting a wounded insurgent. This should be a wake up call to a flawed process in the military, and they need to come out of denial. Never underestimate the importance of being able to demonstrate empathy

  29. no doubt in my mind that a Taliban insurgent would not have hesitated to put Semrau out of his misery had the tables been turned. let's update the rules of war to reflect the one we are engaged in. would make our troops feel a whole lot safer. just sayin…….still serving queen and country after 30 years. you're welcome.

  30. To treat someone of this caliber and courage like this is an outrage. We are hypocrites and cowards to have allowed it to go on. How tipically CANADIAN.

  31. The level of support this man has from fellow soldiers causes me to wonder if there isn't some level of moral ambiguity extant in our forces that leads them to think Semrau's behaviour is acceptable? I hope they're getting the message: It's not.

    Contrary to what we have been told in some quarters, this was not a 'combat incident', it was the result of a combat incident. One of the notable features of it is that someone felt safe enough to be shooting photos and even a video. The soldiers in those were certainly not receiving fire as they 'checked out' the dying Afghan – who had been hit by cannon fire during an airstrike the night before. Semrau's unit had been sent out to investigate those reported casualties.

    Since Semrau's unit was on its way back to base anyhow, failing to even try to bring that man in for treatment, or at least just bandaging his wounds, make his subsequent shooting appear, at the very least, more callous than chivalrous. While many soldiers, even Captain Semrau, with similar wounds might appreciate a merciful double-tap, the enemy would be considered barbaric if they did it and, no doubt, a widow would fail to see any mercy in it.

    I believe that a failure of leadership in a former CinC who sent his men out to 'kill scumbags" is causal in this. We now accept the necessity of 'winning hearts and minds', for all the killing has just made things worse. If our soldiers aren't unreservedly 'on the side of the angels', they do their country no service in Afghanistan. Those who would support such behaviour should be guarding a gate here at home, preferably with an empty gun.

    • or maybe thats were you have been, ever been in a war zone, or have you just read about it in your comfy arm chair..

  32. I am writing this from Afghanistan and though it maybe too late for this to save this man but I was in the East in Wardack when a Afghan Major stopped me and asked about this man and I was shocked that he knew about it. I asked how he heard of this trial here in Afghanistan and he tells me that it was his ANA troops with Robert that day and he was animated that the Captain was completely innocent and that no one from had Canada had taken his statement for this trail. The Major's name is Farooq and he was at FOB Carwile in mid October when I was there. He said he had information that would clear the Captain's name. This is not a joke, you can call the Hill Times the paper that I work for and ask where I am. Or go on my blog. This guy Farooq was the Commander that day the Taliban was shot. I don't have the time to pursue this. After dealing with the brass in Kandahar I understand how this sh!t has got out of control.

  33. re:voting block. every CFmember can choose which riding they vote in regardless of where they live. what would happen if we chose en masse to vote in a riding of the PM, duceppe etc.

  34. Captian Semrau such be given a medal for what he did, he is in fact a real Canadian hero and anyone in this country that say anything different is an idiot and an enemy to this country.My brother has served with this man and told me he is what a leader should be.The jerk that fingered him for this is watching his back closly and i can only hope he gets what he deserves.This country is going in a direction that makes me wonder if my uncle die for nothing during WW2, my grandmother allways had is medals front and centre when we came into her house and the whole family was always very proud of what he did, yet more and more i wonder if he could see Canada today would he do it over.Maybe all right thinking Canadian should leave Toronto too all the leftards and start our own country based on first and formost Honor,it seems to be in short supply and its the leftards who teach in our schools that are mostly to blame.

    • I'm glad someone is mentioning the guy who outed the Captain. His must be a lonely life in the Forces, as it should be.