Court martial finds Capt. Robert Semrau not guilty of murder in battlefield death

Posted on July 20, 2010 by

From this article: Court martial finds Capt. Robert Semrau not guilty of murder in battlefield death

This one rips at me in many ways… My comments are likely to stir up mixed responses, but that’s OK, healthy debate makes us a stronger society! 🙂

First, it is wrong to shoot an unarmed person, even an enemy in a theatre of war. Anyone who argues against that doesn’t understand that whether or not you “like” the enemy, there are rules we must follow. Fighting an enemy that doesn’t follow the rules doesn’t give us carte blanch to forget the rules. If we fail to follow our own rules, we have absolutely no moral grounds to be there.

Second, while many good soldiers have been killed by injured enemies through the years, I heard nothing about whether he thought the injured man was a threat, which could have justified the shooting.

Third, even an enemy’s life has value to someone. The enemy is fighting for a cause they believe in, whether or not we agree with it (obviously we don’t, or we wouldn’t have troops there fighting them). Regardless, their zeal cannot be considered any less valid a position than that of the crusaders in the past.

Finally, to debunk his defense argument for the shooting, while I am a proponent of euthanasia for terminally ill people, it has to be at their request, not a decision made by another person. If they opened up “mercy killing” to soldiers, it could really get dicey with regards to wounded POWs, etc. Soldiers are not doctors, they can’t unequivocally state who will survive and who won’t.

Overall, I agree with the guilty verdict for disgraceful conduct. However, if the facts in the story are correct (which isn’t a given by any stretch!), shooting an unarmed man who poses no threat to you or your unit regardless of whether it happens in a theatre of war, really does constitute murder. He is an officer who leads troops. This means he must conduct himself to an even higher degree than the men who serve under him and must also set an example for them. This is not an example I would want to be taught to our soldiers.

His decision was not what I would consider to be one that was well thought out nor did it display leadership. It really is difficult to make the right decisions in many situations, particularly when every decision he makes is likely to be judged by “armchair quarterbacks” not at the front nor in the fight, but it has always been that way in a professional army, and that is the task he swore an oath to perform. This guy didn’t swear to flip burgers or push paper, he swore an oath to fight in a war if required, and to follow a very strict set of rules. Those rules were designed over many centuries to try and maintain a level of professionalism, and lives on both sides are on the line.

The consequences of inappropriate actions by our soldiers, particularly those in leadership roles, can be devastating, as this incident has proven. Thankfully, few of us will ever have to face this.

Just as an aside, if he gets any amount of prison time, the first 2 years will be served at the military prison in Edmonton, which is more like 10 years in a civilian prison, then he will be transferred to a regular prison.

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