Canadians need the full facts on the Semrau murder charges now

The Canadian Government needs to clear the air immediately about the actual circumstances that led to Capt. Robert Semrau being charged with second-degree murder in the death of an unarmed Afghan man during fighting in Helman Province last October.

This will benefit participants on all sides of the debate over Canada’s role in Afghanistan, and it will help our Canadian soldiers who are fighting in that benighted corner of the East. In fact, about the only people not likely to benefit from a transparent investigation are the politicians who sent our soldiers to Afghanistan and are keeping them there.

One can feel a certain sympathy with former prime minister Jean Chrétien for sending our troops abroad in the face of demands by the violent and threatening Bush Administration in the United States that Canadians join the unwarranted and now discredited invasion of Iraq. It is harder to feel any sympathy for the decision of the toadying regime of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to keep bleeding our soldiers in the Afghan hellhole Chrétien chose.

Nevertheless, whatever we may think of their foolish and politically motivated mission in Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers are generally well trained and highly disciplined. They know this themselves, even if we civilians sometimes forget it. So there is certainly now a suspicion within their ranks that the charges against Capt. Semrau were motivated by the need to achieve some political goal.

If the air is not cleared quickly and the full facts made known to everyone, this suspicion will grow rapidly among the troops. This in turn will have a deleterious impact on the morale of Canadian soldiers, which is already tanking as a result of the hopeless nature of their mission, to the detriment of their effectiveness and safety in battle.

With Capt. Semrau facing 25 years in a military slammer and the reasons for this shrouded in murk, Canadian soldiers in the war zone must be wondering, “What if I make the same mistake?” They need to know, as do we back here in Canada, whether Capt. Semrau did indeed make a “mistake,” or if his alleged actions are understandable under the hopeless and dangerous circumstances in which he found himself.

As civilians concerned about our country’s misadventures abroad, many of us are asking ourselves: “What the hell did Capt. Semrau do?” What we should be asking ourselves is this: “What goals are the Canadian Forces trying to achieve by laying these charges?”

We need to remember that soldiers in populated war zones often have difficult decision to make about when it is appropriate to return fire. Canadian soldiers’ discipline has served them well when they are tested by opposing forces in places where there are large numbers of civilians. Their American counterparts, to their discredit, are not so disciplined – to their own ultimate cost.

The timing of the charges against Capt. Semrau is suspicious, coming not when the event supposedly happened but months later at a time when the government’s own confidential polling – now confirmed by public polls conducted by the media – shows that public support for the Afghan adventure is quickly eroding.

There is no good reason not to submit the charges against Capt. Semrau to public scrutiny now.

If we are not told the facts, it is reasonable to conclude that the government is concealing something that would make the Afghan mission even more unpopular with Canadians.

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