Saturday, July 10, 2010

The honour of Capt. Semrau


Lorne Gunter July 9, 2010 – 7:49 am

Canada doesn’t send monsters into combat. Our soldiers are not bloodthirsty killers eager to “off” as many enemy as possible. They are as intelligent, thoroughly trained and compassionate as any soldiers in the world.

We should be proud of men such as Capt. Robert Semrau — even if it is true, as prosecutors allege, that he killed a fatally wounded Taliban captive on the battlefield to put the man out of his misery.

Were any of us in his boots?

In October 2008, Capt. Semrau had just finished leading men — successfully — through a lengthy ambush in Helmand province, which was at the time the most violent province in Afghanistan. His unit consisted of a handful of Canadians and several Afghan National Army officers and soldiers.

After a brief firefight, a U.S. Army Apache helicopter was called in to clear the Taliban out of the area Capt. Semrau’s troops were patrolling. The gunship blasted an insurgent out of a tree. An Apache fires rounds the size of a man’s thumb, several of which ripped through the enemy combatant, cutting off both his legs. According to eyewitness reports, the man had lost a lot of blood. One Afghan said “there was no blood in his body.”

There was no chance of saving the man, even if a medevac flight could have been arranged to airlift him to a field hospital. In any case, with the ongoing battle, there was no chance a medic and helicopter could reach the site. A man in Capt. Semrau’s position, then, had two options: Leave the man behind in agony or put him out of his misery and move his men along to safety as quickly as possible.

He was responsible for his men’s lives. He was anxious to get them out of harm’s way. Even if he shot the Taliban soldiers — which has not been proven in court — he didn’t snap and perform the action out of spite or revenge.

Would it have been better if he had used the situation as a teaching moment for the benefit of the Afghan soldiers who accompanied him? Sure. According to reports, they were hitting and spitting on the wounded Taliban fighter. They should know not to abuse their prisoners, no matter how detestable their actions. But such lectures are not a realistic option in the heat of battle.

Still, Capt. Semrau is on trial. A four-officer panel will now decide his guilt or innocence. If they find him guilty, he could face a life sentence for murder.

Let’s just hope and pray his judges act honourably — as honourably as Semrau did, even if it is the case that the charges against him are proven in court.

National Post

lgunter@shaw.ca