On October 19, 2008, Captain Robert Semrau of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment shot and killed an unarmed, gravely wounded Taliban insurgent in Helmand province, Afghanistan. At the time of the shooting Capt. Semrau was employed as commander of Operational Mentor Liaison Team call sign 72A composed of four soldiers divided into two firing teams. The team had been conducting a clearing operation in conjunction with the Afgan National Army whom the team had been mentoring when the forward faction of the company came upon an enemy position. An intense fire fight ensued resulting in Capt. Semrau calling in an air strike with an Apache helicopter. After the air strike was completed the two divisions advanced coming across a Taliban guerrilla who had been gravely wounded when he was shot out of a tree by the Apache strike. The on-scene Afghan National Army officer, Captain Shaffigullah determined that “the man was too wounded to save, telling the others: If Allah wants him, he will die. If not, he will live.” Unsatisfied by this, Capt. Semrau made what he perceived to be a moral decision and subsequently fired two rounds into the insurgent’s chest to put him “out of his misery.” The ‘mercy killing’ was kept secret amongst the witnesses of the Operational Mentor Liason Team and Afghan National Army for two months. The incident remained a secret amongst the close circle of witnesses for two months before a member of the Afghan National Army broke the silence in December of 2008. The break in the silence gave Corporal Steven Fournier the courage to discuss the incident of Oct. 19th with Chief Warrant Officer David Fisher and the National Investigation Service. Capt. Semrau was then subsequently arrested and taken into military custody December 30, 2008. The charge sheet of Capt. Semrau dated December 18, 2009 stated
Charge 1 (alternate to charge 2): S. 130 NDA, Second Degree Murder (s. 235(1) CCC), Charge 2 (alternate to charge 1): S. 130 NDA, attempt to commit murder using a firearm (s. 239(1)(a.1) CCC), Charge 3: S. 93 NDA, behaved in a disgraceful manner, Charge 4: S. 124 NDA, negligently performed a military duty imposed on him.
Capt. Semrau was tried before a military tribunal and found guilty of charge 3, behaving in a disgraceful manner. His sentence was a reduction in rank to second lieutenant and dismissal from Her Majesty’s service.
The morally and ethically questionable actions of Capt. Semrau have been heavily scrutinized as details of the ‘execution’ have emerged throughout the investigation and trial. Notwithstanding the opinions of the public and Canadian military, the actions of Capt. Semrau were illegal and immoral. Through discussion of applicable Canadian criminal law, ethical principles, obligations, types of dilemmas and how Trevino’s 1986 interactionist model of ethical decision making one can evaluate the legality and morality of Capt. Semrau’s ‘mercy killing.’
The Criminal Code of Canada is an...