Wednesday 27 January 2010

Shooting unarmed dying enemy soldiers

Are soldiers who shoot unarmed dying enemy soldiers murderers or Good Samaritans?

Captain Robert Semrau, a member of the 3rd Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment, appeared on charges of second degree murder on January 27, 2010. He is facing a murder charge, along with three other charges that include attempting to commit murder, behaving in a disgraceful manner and negligently performing his duties. The charges are controversial since the Taliban fighter, he is accused of shooting, was severely wounded and his being shot by the captain could be considered by the court martial members as an act of mercy.

Semrau, was a commander of a small operational mentor liaison team that was out on patrol with 100 Afghan National Army troops, when they were ambushed. When the fight with the Taliban was over, two Taliban fighters were found, one was dead and the other severely wounded. According to witnesses, Semrau was alone with the severely wounded Taliban fighter when two shots were heard. According to one of the witnesses, the severely wounded and unarmed Taliban fighter had been shot dead by the captain. An assault rifle was taken from the wounded man before Semrau was allegedly seen firing his rifle at him.

This is the first time a Canadian soldier has been charged with murder for killing an enemy combatant on the battlefield. Although Canadian wounded soldiers were murdered by German and Japanese soldiers during the Second World War, no Canadian soldier was ever charged with shooting an unarmed enemy combatant during that war or the Korean war.

Marylene Trudel, the prosecutor said that there was no justification Captain Semrau to kill the unarmed, Taliban fighter. Captain Semrau's defence in this case is not known at the time of this writing.

This isn’t the first time such a shooting has occurred. On November 13, 2004, U.S. marines entered an Iraqi mosque that had previously been used by insurgents to attack U.S. forces. They stormed it and an adjacent building, killing 10 militants and wounding five of them. The wounded had been left in the mosque for others to pick up and move to the rear for treatment. No reason was given why that had not happened.

A second group of Marines later entered the mosque after reports it had been reoccupied. Footage from the embedded television crew showed the five wounded insurgents still in the mosque, although several appeared to be already close to death.

A Marine corporal was heard saying on the pool footage provided to Reuters Television: “He’s fucking faking he’s dead. He faking he’s fucking dead.” The Marine then raised his rifle and fired into one of the wounded insurgent’s head. The bullet killed him.

Let me say from the onset that just because an enemy combatant plays dead doesn’t mean that shooting him is wrong, especially if the one that shoots the other believes that he may be shot dead by the one playing dead who makes a sudden move. Did the captain really believe that the severely wounded insurgent was faking his death so that he could suddenly shoot the marines in the mosque by a hidden gun?

On May 5, 2005, Navy investigators determined that the corporal acted properly according to the Rules of Engagement as he was acting in self defence since he believed that the insurgent may pull out a hidden gun and shoot him. I find that hard to believe however since no one saw a gun in the insurgent’s hands and there were other wounded insurgents who were still alive and they were covered with blankets where hidden guns could have been concealed and the corporal didn’t shoot them.

There was a similar incident in May of that same year in which a marine captain shot the wounded driver of the militant Shite leader, Sadr. He told fellow soldiers that the man was so badly wounded, that he shot him to death out of compassion. The U.S. army tank company commander was convicted of shooting dead the wounded Iraqi but he walked free from court, although he was dismissed from the army for doing what he called was a ‘mercy killing.’ Army Captain Rogelio Maynulet had faced up to 20 years in prison after a court martial at a U.S. army base in Wiesbaden, Germany, found him guilty of assault with intent to commit voluntary manslaughter. Prosecutors had pressed for conviction on a more serious charge of assault with intent to commit murder, which carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence.

In December 4, 2004, Staff Sgt. Johnny Horne was found guilty of the murder of a severely wounded Iraqi civilian in Baghdad. He shot the civilian on August 18, 2004. He got three years in prison and his co-defendant, Staff Sgt. Cardenas Alban got a year in prison. They both claimed that the shooting of the civilian was an act of mercy.

Should a soldier in the heat of battle assume that an enemy combatant is unarmed, even if he has already searched him or disarmed him? Insurgents and terrorists are not enemy soldiers covered by the rules of war. Nor should they be. They observe no rules and wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an unarmed, wounded soldier. However, we are all governed by rules of law and shooting an unarmed person, no matter what he was doing prior to being shot, is highly improper.

In the rules of land warfare, one of the principal tenets is care and protection of the helpless. Commonly this refers to non-combatants, civilians, innocent bystanders, and even enemy combatants who have been wounded. There are instances – far too many historically – of the enemy killing wounded opposing combatants. Cases of combatants killing their own wounded are extremely rare and done only in the most extraordinary circumstances. Protecting wounded combatants is a basic rule in the universally accepted Geneva Conventions.

An American Department of Defense directive signed by the deputy secretary of defense in 1998 mandates that law-of-war obligations are to be observed and enforced; that all violations of the law of war are to be promptly reported, whether committed by or against U.S. forces; and that all components of the military services are to establish an ‘effective program to prevent violations of the law of war.’ Obviously the American per se frown on the shooting of unarmed wounded combatants.

In times of war, especially during firefights, things can get real hectic. There have been times when enemy soldiers who have surrendered have been shot on site simply because there was no one available to guard them and having the enemy soldiers wandering about in the battle zone was too risky.

As I see it, there can be times when injured enemy combatants can be shot but these incidents have to be under very extreme circumstances. They are as follows;

1. The person who shoots an injured enemy combatant does so inadvertently thinking that the sudden movement of the injured person leads him to believe that he himself is about to be shot.

2. The person who shoots an injured enemy combatant does so at the request of the injured combatant because that person is so severely injured and in extreme pain and there is no hope of him receiving medical help to save him or relieve him of his pain and even if medical help was nearby and available, the injuries are so severe, he still couldn’t be saved.

The first instance comes under the heading of self preservation and the second incident involves mercy. Other than those two reasons, I cannot see instances where injured enemy combatants should be harmed in any manner.

I have always enjoyed watching the MASH series and on occasion, the TV show gave us incidents where enemy combatants were given the same kind of medical help as the Allied soldiers were. That’s the way it should always be.

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