Thursday, March 25, 2010

Some daylight on the Afghan file

The military trial of Canadian soldier Robert Semrau began yesterday and the Star had a report on the opening by the prosecution in the case: "Prosecutor: Battlefield execution was mercy killing." Semrau has been charged with the murder of an Afghan insurgent in October, 2008. The suggestion is that this was a mercy killing, but the facts are all to come. Semrau pleaded not guilty.

This public proceeding, with all of the allegations and rebuttals as to what transpired on that Afghan battlefield to come, stands in contrast to the government's handling of the Afghan detainee allegations from the start. Here are some of the facts that were raised yesterday:
Before the alleged killing of an unarmed Taliban fighter, Capt. Robert Semrau told a young comrade to look away, a military prosecutor says.

Two gunshots and several moments later, the experienced officer is alleged to have admitted to putting the wounded man out of his suffering.
Prosecutors also foretold of a nine-minute video recorded on the mobile telephone of an Afghan National Army soldier showing the wounded fighter removed of his rifle, vest and ammunition, being assaulted, spat upon and kicked with sand, all while Semrau, the senior Canadian officer on the scene, stood some five feet away.

An Afghan soldier decides against treating the insurgent, saying fatalistically that his life or death is “in Allah’s hands.”

Then, prosecutors said, Semrau made a similar decision not to provide lifesaving medical care, a violation of the rules instilled in Canadian soldiers to treat friend or foe alike wherever they’re found on the battlefield.
There will be more facts coming to light as the trial proceeds. And again, it's all going to occur in public for the world to see. It may sound trite yet it's quite a contrast to the government invoking the safety and security of the Canadian forces serving in Afghanistan as a rationale for their continued unwillingness to comply with the parliamentary order requiring disclosure of documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. None of what's alleged above likely helps the safety and security of forces serving in Afghanistan, yet we're reading about it.

It may not be so simple as drawing a straight line from one process to the other, but the transparency of one compared to the curtain pulled over the other is striking. The rule of law is being served in one case, in the other, it's not looked very good to date.