The Court Martial of Capt Semrau, Part I: Rumours of War

Captain Robert Semrau faces three serious charges at his Court Martial scheduled to begin later this month, including a second-degree murder change. The charges stem from the events surrounding the conclusion of a battle in Afghanistan. Semrau’s group of soldiers, which included Afghanistan National Army troops, was ambushed. The insurgents’ assault was overcome and defeated. In the wake of the battle, a severely-wounded insurgent was disarmed. The accusation is that Capt Semrau subsequently shot and killed this insurgent.

In today’s Toronto Sun, journalist and former soldier Peter Worthington discusses his bewilderment with the fact that one of Capt Semrau’s subordinates reported Semrau’s actions to the higher chain of command. It is strange indeed. But without details, it is impossible to begin to make judgments about either Semrau or the whistle-blower. Certainly Worthington is correct when he says “once an official complaint was made, high command really had no choice” but to proceed with an investigation and charges. The possibilities of what actually happened out there in Afghanistan stretch from outright cold-blooded murder, to mercy-killing, to self-defense. Hopefully a clear picture will emerge during the trial.

Capt Semrau reportedly has a psychology degree from the University of Saskatchewan – my alma mater (the U of S psychology dept really doesn’t need any more negative national press – here starting at 13:40).

The trial starts later this month.

I am hopeful justice will be done.

But I’m also concerned about issues larger than Capt Semrau. This case, along with a myriad of other little ones and big ones (like the Afghan-detainee issue currently obsessing some Ottawa politicians) erodes public support for the mission. Canadian soldiers are not burning villages or raping civilians – far, far from it – but this is often the impression the media leaves in the Canadian citizen’s mind by a thousand little sensationalist cuts.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame the media – they are simply trying to do their job. Nor do I blame the citizenry either – they don’t know much about military affairs.

But the fact remains that negative press coverage does undermine the mission. It erodes public support. It saps morale. It emboldens our enemies.

I don’t have a solution for this problem. This is one of the weaknesses that afflicts all the Western democracies. But I suspect that over the next twenty years or so support among politicians and pundits for well-meaning interventions in failing/failed states will evaporate.

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