Captain Robert Semrau has been sentenced today in his military court martial for the shooting of a critically wounded Afghan combatant during his service in Afghanistan. The sentence is a reduction in rank and dismissal from the Forces. Although Semrau never took the stand in his own defence, it is alleged that he told his soldiers that he shot the man to end his misery. The man was suffering from terrible wounds after having been shot out of a tree by an attack helicopter and was lying on the ground. There was no possibility to call for medical aid, which apparently would have been useless, given the man’s wounds. Semrau, along with several other soldiers, Canadians and Afghans, saw him there, then walked on. After a short time, Semrau walked back alone. Two shots were heard.
I am an old soldier, served from 1955 to 1980 as an officer in the Canadian regular forces, mostly in combat arms – tanks and helicopters. I would hope that if I had ever been – or will ever be – faced with a similar moral dilemma, that I would have the courage and integrity to make the same decision as Semrau. He made what I perceive to be a truly moral decision, to help a wounded man on the battlefield die rather than leave him there to slowly die in agony. He saw him as another man in extremis, not just as a dying enemy. No-one saw him do it. The Afghan’s body was never found.
Semrau’s mistake was that he told others what he had done and why, because he thought that they would understand what he did. Evidently at least one of them failed to understand or at least talked about it. Big mistake. The military “justice” system has no mechanism to deal with Semrau’s behaviour. In my view, his actions were moral but not legal. So when it was drawn to the attention of the military hierarchy, they had no option but to prosecute him. They are releasing from the forces a man who, by his own actions, has demonstrated the best of humanity under the worst of conditions. Robert Semrau, as one professional soldier to another, I salute you for your humanity.