SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Remembrance Day > Murders at the Château d’Audrieu > 3 January 2009


Summary of “Canadian soldier kills Taliban???”
Joe Warmington, Sun Media, 3 January 2009


Joe Warmington began his article with the following remarks:

Here we were thinking killing the Taliban was the purpose of having our brave young soldiers in the murderous death-invested hellhole that is Afghanistan in the first place. We’ve lost 104 there, most gutlessly blown up by dirty sneak attacks by Taliban bombers. As a country we have also had hundreds of others horribly wounded – limbs stolen and axes to the back of the head – done to people pretending to be benign but the whole time sneaking up on our men and women distracted while conducting such acts as handing out candy to children. No charges seem to come from any of these heinous crimes and now one of our own is charged with murder? What a kick in the groin. But it’s true.

Warmington was reacting to an announcement by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) that it had charged Saskatchewan-raised Capt. Robert Semrau with second-degree murder for “shooting with intent to kill, an unarmed male person” on or about 19 October 2008. The CFNIS based its action on an investigation that began on 27 December 2009 and involved analysis of evidence and interrogation of witnesses.

Upset by the charges, Warmington hoped that CFNIS was “working as hard at finding out who killed our nine guys with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in December [2008].” One of his military contacts cautioned him “not to rush to judgment,” but “let the process unfold,” because charges would not have been laid by CFNIS investigators unless they thought it was appropriate. While the contact acknowledged that the soldier in question might be a “sacrificial lamb” to appease “the critics and other countries,” he might also in fact have done something wrong. According to the rules of the Geneva Convention, you can’t kill soldiers after you capture them; you have to take care of them. If they are wounded, you “apply triage.” Even if the enemy in the same circumstances might “come and cut our guy’s head off,” we “have to have a higher standard ... This is the Canadian way.”

Warmington acknowledged that this was true, but that people on both sides of this issue were “rushing to judgment” He singled out the “anti-military types,” who were “excited at the prospect of scoring some political points like they did with the Somalia kid’s murder in the 1990s that ended with the dismantling of the airborne regiment [See Somalia Affair].” On the other side, “those who support the troops are on the defensive to make sure this doesn’t make the troops’ already tenuous reality even more dangerous thanks to those who would love nothing more than to weaken the mission.”

Warmington cited two reactions to the charges against Capt. Semrau that he saw on a Toronto Sun message board. One of them was from “NCM Deployed,” who wrote:

Capt., we NCMs [non-commissioned members] support your actions, and you are covered by the rules of engagement. We are at war. We cannot even sleep here in Afghanistan because the Taliban continue to mortar and rocket our bases. For the love of God, what kind of Catch 22 is this?

Another, under the name “Afghan vet,” wrote:

Condemning the government without knowing the details is premature. Was the prisoner shot in cold blood? Was he acting in an aggressive manner? ... Our troops are over  there doing a job, but at no time should we stoop to the levels of the enemy and act like terrorists ourselves. Wait for  more information to be released.

Warmington concluded his article with a few comments on the upcoming judicial process. From his perspective, it had “better show this Taliban member was executed in cold blood or something equally as vile or clearly wrong.” On the other hand, “if they charged him [Capt. Semrau] for a split-second decision in the heat of battle, where a judgment has to be made and an unarmed man on the other side was killed, then that seems like a whole different argument.” In that event, they would be putting our soldiers in Afghanistan “at great risk.” They wouldn’t know “when they can shoot and when they can’t,” adding “It’s not like it’s a video game and it’s not like it’s easy to tell who is armed and who is not.” According to one of Warmington’s contacts, who was close to the Afghan situation, this was a problem in the beginning of Canada’s involvement. Canadian soldiers were being killed, so they developed their own motto, “Shoot first; deal with court martial later.”

Warmington reminded his readers that soldiers have to “make judgments none of us over here living in peace and freedom would ever have to face.” He recognized that if Captain Semrau abused his power, then the court’s decision had to be respected, but at the same time, we need to “consider the kind of stress he may have been under.” Still suspicious of the judicial process, Warmington emphasised that the trial needed to be transparent, that every aspect of its proceedings needed to be scrutinised, and that it be fair and made public. His military contact assured him that the trial would be fair and that “a court martial hearing is the absolute best place for this.” Warmington acknowledged that this was probably correct, but he still wanted people to let him know if they ever “hear of a court date for one of those Taliban guys.”

Discussion: How does the use of words like “murderous,”” hell-hole “gutlessly”, “dirty-sneak attacks” set the tone at the beginning of Warmington’s article? Such emotionally-charged words can influence the reader to take the same position as the writer. This can be viewed as manipulative. However, they do help the reader to figure out the writer’s viewpoint. Why is that important?

There are important arguments in this article on the side of the prosecution as well as the defence. Can you find them? What possible political factors could influence a decision on Semrau’s case?