Court martial for Semrau heads back to Canada
Capt. Robert Semrau (left), and his lawyers leave the military courtroom at Kandahar Airfield in this June 26, 2010 photo. (Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Saturday, June 26, 2010 9:49AM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 2:02AM EDT
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The witnesses have all spoken and the court martial of Capt. Robert Semrau, who allegedly executed an injured Taliban fighter two years ago, is headed back to Canada for its final chapter.
Semrau, 36, is believed to be the first Canadian soldier to be charged with murder as a result of a battlefield encounter which occurred in Helmand province on Oct. 19, 2008.
"The defence is confident right now that these proceedings will result in a just outcome," lawyer Maj. Steve Turner told reporters Saturday afternoon.
Despite sitting for two weeks in the dusty confines of Kandahar Airfield, where the court martial proceedings were constantly delayed by the sounds of military vehicles rumbling by and fighter jets screaming overhead, only two witnesses were heard.
An interpreter, who testified under the pseudonym Max because his identity is protected by a publication ban said Semrau told him to "stay back" moments before the insurgent was shot dead.
Shortly after, while he was standing about five to 10 metres away from Semrau, Max heard a single gunshot blast and saw the soldier's gun pointed at the head of the insurgent, the court martial was told.
"I saw the smoke out from his barrel," Max told the four-member panel serving as a jury in the military court. But he later added he did not see the bullet enter the man's body.
The other witness was an Afghan National Army captain who was on the patrol with Semrau and told the court that the Taliban fighter was "98 per cent dead" when they found him.
Capt. Shafigullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, said the man had lost both legs, his intestines were visible and he was unconscious after being blasted out of a tree by a helicopter gunship.
Regardless of when or how the man died, the end result was a foregone conclusion, Shafigullah told the panel that will decide Semrau's guilt or innocence on a charge of second-degree murder.
"I don't know if he was dead before or dead after (the shooting)," Shafigullah said through an interpreter.
"There was no possibility for him to stay alive that day. He could die in five minutes, 10 minutes or a half-hour."
The events leading up to the October 2008 incident began with a military operation in the Taliban-infested Helmand province, which is just west of Kandahar, the province where the bulk of Canada's soldiers are stationed.
Semrau's trial began three months ago. Surprisingly in Kandahar, after a day of legal wrangling the defence opted not to call any witnesses.
"The prosecution has to prove a number of items and it has to prove each of those items beyond a reasonable doubt which is a high legal standard," said Turner.
"Everyone is aware of the circumstances of this case and the type of evidence that has come out and some of the issues with it. I'll save the details in my closing arguments," he said.
Turner said his client will be happy to return home to Canada.
"Having enjoyed the plus 40 clear sunny days that all of us have had here for the past couple of weeks I can indicate he will be well pleased to be back home with his family, particularly with a new addition," he said.
The case will resume in Gatineau, Quebec on July 7th. At that point both the prosecution and defence will give their final arguments. A charge to the panel is expected the next day.
Semrau had a previously spotless record in stints with both the British and Canadian Forces.
The general court martial, which began in Canada in March, is the first in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002.