Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Canadian soldier on trial for killing unarmed Afghan

AFP , GATINEAU, CANADA

A Canadian officer on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to the 2008 murder of an unarmed and severely wounded Afghan insurgent, in the first Canadian prosecution of its kind. If convicted, he could face a life sentence in a military prison.

Captain Robert Semrau, 36, was charged with murder for “shooting, with intent to kill, an unarmed male person” in Afghanistan, as well as behaving disgracefully and neglecting his military duty, said court documents.

Semrau is being tried by a military judge and a five-member panel in the Oct. 19, 2008 death.

Military documents outlining the facts of the case agreed to by the prosecution and defense said Semrau’s troops were on patrol in Helmand Province when they were ambushed by Taliban fighters.

Semrau was mentoring Afghan troops as part of a NATO program. Following several clashes, British and Afghan troops along with their Canadian mentors came across two “presumed” Taliban fighters: one dead, the other too severely wounded for treatment on site.

Prosecutors said the wounded man was “insulted, spat upon, and kicked” by Afghan soldiers in Semrau’s company. His rifle, ammo and vest were taken and the patrol moved off, deciding to leave his fate “in Allah’s hands.”

The wounded man was “still alive, moving slightly and moaning,” prosecutor Captain Thomas Fitzgerald told the court.

Semrau, a Canadian private under his command and an Afghan interpreter codenamed Max soon returned to photograph the two insurgents, after deciding they could be “high value targets.”

They found the wounded man “still breathing, his chest [was] rising slightly … He had moved, changed position,” Fitzgerald said.

The private snapped two pictures of the wounded man as Semrau stood guard.

Semrau then told Max and the private to “head back” as they “should not have to see this,” said the prosecutor. The pair walked a short distance “when they heard two distinct shots.”

Semrau is alleged to have told the private under his command “that he couldn’t live with himself if he had left a wounded human being and nobody should be made to suffer like that.”

Later that day, Semrau was overhead saying that he fired the shots that killed the insurgent and that “anyone would do the same for any other human being in that situation. He is still a human being and should not suffer like that.”

The court is also expected to visit Afghanistan to hear from up to a dozen Afghan witnesses.

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