Canadian officer not guilty of Afghan murder charge

Captain Robert Semrau leaves his military tribunal in Gatineau, Quebec July 19, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian army officer was found not guilty on Monday of allegations he murdered a wounded Afghan insurgent, in the first criminal case of its kind since Canada sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002.

But the court martial panel in Gatineau, Quebec found Captain Robert Semrau guilty of a lesser charge of “behaving in a disgraceful manner” for shooting an unarmed person on a Afghanistan battlefield in October 2008.

Military investigators charged Semrau with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting the insurgent, who had been badly wounded in a battle with Afghan government troops being mentored by Canadian forces.

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.

Semrau’s arrest came at a time growing unhappiness among Afghans at the number of civilians who are dying at the hands of U.S. and NATO-led troops, most of them in air strikes.

Canada has about 2,700 troops based in the southern city of Kandahar, but the military mission is scheduled to end next year.

Semrau faces a sentence of up to five years in prison on the lesser conviction.

Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Frank McGurty