Canadian soldier spared jail in Afghan shooting

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A Canadian soldier convicted of shooting a wounded, unarmed Afghan insurgent in what may have been a battlefield mercy killing was kicked out of the military on Tuesday, but he was spared from going to jail.

A court martial panel had convicted Captain Robert Semrau in July of “behaving in a disgraceful manner” on the battlefield in Afghanistan in October 2008. But the panel said he was not guilty of the charge of second-degree murder.

Semrau had faced a sentence of up to five years in prison as a result of his conviction but a Canadian military judge on Tuesday decided only to dismiss him from the Canadian Forces. The judge also reduced Semrau’s rank before his removal.

Prosecutors said Semrau told other officers privately he had killed the man to put him out of his misery, but defense lawyers said the evidence was flimsy and prosecutors failed to prove how the victim actually died.

The insurgent had been badly wounded in a U.S. helicopter attack and his body was never recovered.

“Your actions may have been motivated by a sense that you were doing the right thing. Nonetheless you committed a serious breach of discipline,” the Canadian Broadcasting Corp quoted the judge, Lt. Col Jean-Guy Perron, as telling the sentencing hearing.

Semrau, who was accompanied by his wife and family for the sentencing, avoided reporters as he left the military court in Gatineau, Quebec.

His case was the first criminal case of its kind in Canada since the country sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002.

His arrest came at a time of growing unhappiness among Afghans at the number of civilians who were dying at the hands of U.S. and other NATO troops, most of them in air strikes.

Reporting by Blair Gable and Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway