A military panel acquitted a Canadian officer Monday of murder of an unarmed and badly wounded insurgent in Afghanistan but sentenced him to up to five years in jail for "disgraceful conduct."
After two days of deliberations, Captain Robert Semrau, 36, was found not guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder or negligent performance of military duty, despite the four-member military panel concluding he had indeed shot and killed an unarmed Taliban fighter.
The lesser disgraceful conduct charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. The Canadian National Defense Department said Semrau's sentence would be determined at a later date.
If Semrau had been found guilty of first-degree murder, he could have faced life in prison, which in Canada means he must serve 25 years behind bars before he can be eligible for parole.
The drama unfolded on October 19, 2008, as Canadian soldiers faced an increasingly tough insurgency as they defended key positions in the region. Semrau was mentoring Afghan soldiers under 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.
According to prosecutors, 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 on, deciding to leave his fate "in Allah's hands."
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, prosecutors 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," prosecutor Captain Thomas Fitzgerald had said in earlier proceedings. The pair walked a short distance "when they heard two distinct shots," he added.
The private "whirled around thinking he'd been caught in another ambush," his gun ready. He saw the victim was "no longer moving."
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."
But neither Canadian, nor international law recognizes mercy killings.
Source: AFP American Edition