Two years ago a Canadian Armed Forces Captain, Rob Semrau, was convicted of “disgraceful conduct” because he executed a wounded unarmed combatant. As a result of this he placed on trial but found not guilty of “murder, attempted murder and negligence of duty”. After the trial the court-martial for the matter Judge Jean-Guy Perron had some choice words for Semrau:
“Shooting a wounded and unarmed person is disgraceful because it is so fundamentally contrary to our values and training that it is shockingly unacceptable.
“Every Canadian soldier is an ambassador of Canadian values. Your actions may have been motivated by a sense that you were doing the right thing. Nonetheless, you committed a serious breach of discipline. How can we expect our soldiers to follow the rules of war if their officers do not?”
Sun Media journalist (and founding editor) Peter Worthington took to his column on October 7th to lambast the statement by the judge. Worthington seemed infuriated by the fact that the judge didn’t approve of the killing of an unarmed wounded combatant. Thus in the defence of Semrau, he wrote an article with several arguments why killing unarmed wounded people in war is okay. The arguments were quite weak and were unable to in anyway to justify the killing. Here I will tackle each attempt he made.
What was the “serious breach of discipline”?
What was the “disgraceful” conduct?
Semrau was absolved of the three major charges “not guilty” on all of them.
Answer: Despite the fact that a jury found him “not guilty” doesn’t necessarily mean anything. O.J. Simpson was found “not guilty” of the murder of his wife, and there’s no way I think he didn’t do it. It is still a cowardly act to kill an unarmed wounded person. In addition to this it is also may be war crime. A wounded enemy combatant who no longer poses a threat is supposed to receive medical treatment. If that can’t be done in the situation you leave them, you don’t execute defenceless people.
Also, his apparent view that, on a battlefield, wounded enemy are not or should not be killed taxes credulity and ignores what happens in war.
Answer: Again wounded combatants that are unarmed and wounded do not pose a threat. The enemy combatant should have been restrained in someway if it had been possible. His statement “ignores what happens in war”, seems to indicate that this happens all the time, the execution of unarmed wounded people. His argument is that if they do it all the time it cannot be wrong. Its a logical fallacy.
He basically gives an anecdote from the movie Saving Private Ryan.
Answer: That is a movie it is not real. It’s based on a true story, that doesn’t make it a legitimate comparison. There are aspects to it we can’t investigate because its a work of fiction.
Take the example of Omar Khader. When U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and shot up an enemy position, thinking everyone had been killed, Khader wasn’t dead and tossed a grenade that killed that killed one and wounded another.
Khader was shot three times, but the American medics saved him.
Answer: Khader could have been killed because he was posing a threat by throwing a grenade. Even after the grenade had gone off they could still have had reason to believe that he was a threat, but he still wasn’t shot. Essentially Worthington’s argument is that an enemy who was wounded and attacking wasn’t killed, so an wounded enemy that was unarmed not attacking should have been killed. That doesn’t even make any sense.
You don’t have to look very deeply into the Pacific war against Japan to find cases of mortally wounded Japanese soldiers trying to kill their attackers.
Answer: Here he’s making the same logically flawed argument. A wounded attacker with a weapon was was killed, so a unarmed wounded who is not attacking should be killed.
Canadian soldiers in the Normandy campaign were ever-wary of the enemy pretending to be dead, and then fighting back.
This is an even worse argument for shooting an unarmed wounded person. Enemy combatants pretending to be dead but still armed is not comparable to a person who is unarmed, even if they both are wounded. There is a difference between believing someone is dead and thus falsely believing they are not a threat and someone who is wounded and you know is not a threat.
My father, a machinegunner in 1917, played dead during a German attack on Canadian trenches – then came to life and gunned down the attackers, thus earning a Military Medal.
Answer: This is simply a reversal of the previous argument.
Vince was in “C” company and recalls stepping around the bodies of Black Watch causalities, when his lieutenant shouted that a Chinese was crouched near a bunker. Vince cautiously approached, ready to fire, and saw that the guy’s head was bloodied and that he had a grenade in his hand.
“I would have shot him in the head but the lieutenant and a Black Watch lieutenant were in my line of fire,” Vince recalls. “The bullet would have gone through them. So I raised my Enfield and I banged him hard on the skull. I called out to them, ‘He’s dead!’ They waked away.”
Answer: Once again he uses an example of someone who was also injured but was armed and posing a threat. The repeated use of this argument is a dishonest attempt to paint the unarmed attacker as still a threat. If repeated enough times the reader will begin to identify the unarmed person not attacking as being the same as an armed person who is attacking. This is incredibly dishonest.
A series of stories about what the conditions in war are like and a book on the Afghan War telling about suicide bombers.
Answer: After this the arguments become statements that it was okay to kill wounded people during World War Two even though the rules governing the conduct of war have changed since that time. Its also a logical fallacy, just because it was not illegal at some point doesn’t mean that it is not illegal now. Soldiers are obligated to follow the laws of war even if they change.
As a follow up Worthington gives a statement by another person talking about suicide bombers and that they were taxing on a person’s soul. I’m sure it is, war is an inhumane act that would wear on the mind any person who wasn’t a psychopath. This isn’t a reason why an unarmed wounded combatant should be killed. These few stories about the horrors of war are intended to drum up sympathy for Semrau so that we can’t criticize him for what he did. This is demonstrated even further by criticizing the judge for never having been in combat, thus he supposedly couldn’t understand killing an unarmed wounded man.
The article by Worthington is another example of the right wing’s use of flawed logic to justify their beliefs. This attempt to portray the killing of an unarmed wounded man by Semrau is horrible. He deliberately covers up not only the cold blooded nature of the act, but also tries to normalize it. As though murdering unarmed wounded people, even combatants, is an acceptable way to conduct yourself. This is shown by the lack of any substantial argument or justification for the act.
In truth, probably what happened was that Semrau was angry over his experience in combat or even angry over the death of a fellow soldier. This is in reality an act of revenge, which ironically would have made a better argument than creating a series of scenarios which detracted from the actual event. But Worthington knows that revenge is not a politically nor morally acceptable motive for what Semrau did. Thus he tried to create the illusion that killing an unarmed wounded man is “normal” by comparing it to the killing of soldiers who were not armed.
The judge’s statement is true, “Every Canadian soldier is an ambassador of Canadian values.” If this is what Worthington thinks, that killing unarmed wounded people is a Canadian value, then it would not be the first time this country’s values did not reflect my own. It is also another important reason why I oppose nationalism and its dogmatic insistence that the country, and thus by extensions the government, can do no wrong.