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Captain Robert Semrau: A Question of Ethics Essay

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On October 19, 2008, Captain Robert Semrau of the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment shot and killed an unarmed, gravely wounded Taliban insurgent in Helmand province, Afghanistan. At the time of the shooting Capt. Semrau was employed as commander of Operational Mentor Liaison Team call sign 72A composed of four soldiers divided into two firing teams. The team had been conducting a clearing operation in conjunction with the Afgan National Army whom the team had been mentoring when the forward faction of the company came upon an enemy position. An intense fire fight ensued resulting in Capt. Semrau calling in an air strike with an Apache helicopter. After the air strike was completed the two divisions advanced coming across a Taliban guerrilla who had been gravely wounded when he was shot out of a tree by the Apache strike. The on-scene Afghan National Army officer, Captain Shaffigullah determined that “the man was too wounded to save, telling the others: If Allah wants him, he will die. If not, he will live.” Unsatisfied by this, Capt. Semrau made what he perceived to be a moral decision and subsequently fired two rounds into the insurgent’s chest to put him “out of his misery.” The ‘mercy killing’ was kept secret amongst the witnesses of the Operational Mentor Liason Team and Afghan National Army for two months. The incident remained a secret amongst the close circle of witnesses for two months before a member of the Afghan National Army broke the silence in December of 2008. The break in the silence gave Corporal Steven Fournier the courage to discuss the incident of Oct. 19th with Chief Warrant Officer David Fisher and the National Investigation Service. Capt. Semrau was then subsequently arrested and taken into mil...


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... that of a ‘competing obligations dilemma.’ Faced with a wounded insurgent, who was ’98 per cent dead,’ the decision to shoot him at point blank range and ‘put him out of his misery’ caused confliction among the ethical obligations of Capt. Semrau. The obligations in conflict were integrity, loyalty and responsibility. Each of the obligations that are used to guide Canadian Forces personnel could easily have been applied to the ‘soldier’s pact.’ In Capt. Semrau’s mind he had rationalized that he was morally justified in shooting the insurgent as he ended the misery of the Taliban guerrilla and hoped someone would do the same for him if the roles were reversed. Regardless of how he interpreted his ethical obligations, his use of them contravened the overriding authority of Principle I of the ethical principles which is entitled ‘Respect the dignity of all persons.’


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