Tag Archives: Geneva Convention

Without body, Semrau case open and shut

Some friends of mine are close friends with Rob Semrau and so I post this with reluctance but I think Scott Taylor makes some excellent points on why this case needs to be tried.

That said, there is a reason the military maintains its own justice system and that is to enforce a strict code of discipline on its members in an environment that inverts natural justice by its very existence. All religions preach a version of the commandment "Thou shalt not kill," yet that is exactly what our soldiers are trained and equipped to do. Hence the need for a separate judicial and moral yardstick that regulates and limits the use of lethal force on a battlefield.

As barbaric as warfare is, belligerents still aspire to play by such rule books as the Geneva Convention. Canada is a signatory to that convention and under its terms agreed to administer medical care to prisoners of war. It expressly forbids the execution of enemy wounded.

Many of those who support Semrau in the public debate point out, and correctly so, that the enemy we face in Afghanistan are illegal combatants that do not subscribe to the tenets of the Geneva Convention and, therefore, are not entitled to its protection. In the other camp are those who argue that the entire purpose for our intervention in Afghanistan would be defeated if we threw away our own principles by fighting like the Taliban.

If, in order to defeat the ruthless Taliban, we must become equally ruthless, what have we achieved in the long term?

If those soldiers who questioned Semrau’s action to the military police had strong enough misgivings about the incident to believe it required review, then the military justice system was correct to initiate proceedings.

This will be a precedent-setting case. It will be the first time in Canadian history that a soldier is charged with murder on a battlefield.

Keep in mind that, even under the most extreme circumstances, Canadian physicians are prohibited by law from ending a patient’s suffering. They can allow them to expire but cannot assist in the expedition of the death, so it will be interesting to see how the military court rules on this case.

While the gesture may have been a sincere act of humanity, there is nothing in Canada’s Criminal Code or military justice system which allows military personnel to play God in any circumstance.

Of course, without a body, or the identification of the victim to connect the accused to the crime, this should be a relatively easy case for Semrau’s defence lawyers.