Mercy Killing or Murder in Canada should be the title of this news article.  As the Ottawa Citizen reports here, a Canadian officer has been charged in what appears to be a “mercy killing” of a severely wounded, suspected insurgent in Afghanistan. The story reports:

 After U.S. Apache attack helicopters were called in and the assault was defeated, Afghan soldiers found a dead Taliban fighter beside another who was severely wounded. After the insurgent was disarmed, it was determined that his wounds were “too severe for any type of treatment” in the field, court was told.

According to a synopsis of events read in the court earlier this year, two shots were heard and at least one witness said that he saw Semrau firing his rifle at the severely wounded insurgent. She said the soldiers moved on and the bodies of the two Taliban insurgents were left behind.

Officials have said there is a chance the trial could take place in Afghanistan because some of the witnesses are Afghan nationals serving in the Afghan army.

We’ll follow the trial and send updates later.

Second, there is  a court-martial beginning in Hawaii, report here, involving the shooting death of a US government contractor in Iraq.  The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports:

Spc. Beyshee O. Velez, 31, is being held at the brig at Ford Island on two counts of murder, three counts of assault, and one count of fleeing apprehensions. He was charged on Monday.

He is accused of killing Lucas Vinson, 27, of Leesville, La., Sept. 13 at Contingency Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit in Iraq.

The Associated Press reported that the military told Vinson’s family that he was shot three times after offering a ride to an American soldier who flagged down his vehicle on the base.

Again, we’ll follow the story.

25 Responses to “Military Justice News Round Up”

  1. Anon1 says:

    “Afghan soldiers found a dead Taliban fighter beside another who was severely wounded. After the insurgent was disarmed, it was determined that his wounds were “too severe for any type of treatment” in the field, court was told”

    Seems pretty open and shut, can’t murder someone if they are “a dead Taliban fighter”.

  2. Comrade Cossio says:

    ??? ??? ???

    AGAIN ITS UNBELIEVABLE THat i had the caps lock on while I was typing, no for real, amazing that Anons can’t understand that the living fighter was beside “the dead taliban”.

    Too much boozing in college no doubt.

    But as far as this story goes, maybe soldiers can also be court-martialed for letting the terrorist suffer.

    Joseph Keller would be proud of today’s catch-22 military.

  3. MJW1 says:

    While I rarely agree with the comrade, his latest was spot on. Anons, step up your game.

  4. Paul says:

    I think in the words of Cloudeley Shovell, “He was only MOSTLY dead.” There’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead. Now, mostly dead: he’s slightly alive. All dead: well, with all dead, there’s usually only one thing that you can do. Go through his clothes and look for loose change.


  5. Late Bloomer says:

    I think the GCs make it clear that “mercy killings” are a no-go. It’s a slippery slope and leaves too much to the subjective discretion of the “mercy giver.” We had an issue in A-stan where a detainee succumbed to his wounds while in our custody. HUGE investigation followed and it was determined that because we made every effort to save him and place him in no worse condition than when we found him, we had acted properly and IAW GCs/LOAC/etc.

  6. No Man says:

    I think LB has the law correct, I just don’t know what a military jury will do should the Canuck officer contest the case. Given the wounds it sounded like the unit would have given the guy some morphine and left him there regardless of his almost deadness.

    And today’s comment thread proves why we should still have comments. Nice job everyone-particularly PAUL who very nicely wove in Billy Crystal’s very funny monologue from TPB.

  7. Late Bloomer says:

    I don’t have an issue with the “morphine ‘n go” scenario. Again, you’ve left him no worse than you found him, and you acted humanely (i.e. pain alleviation).

  8. Cloudesley Shovell says:

    Every great thread has a Princess Bride quote. I cannot claim the quote, however; it was of course Miracle Max.

    Let’s get down to brass tacks–whether it’s the bar exam classic of shooting a person who’s burning to death, trapped in a crashed car, or the relatively common battlefield coup de grace, or just administering narcotics “to ease the pain”, the situation is the same.

    A person is dying. There is general agreement that the death is inevitable, and is coming at great pain. I would say that each person, whether shooting the burning person, committing the battlefield coup de grace, or administering morphine, has the same intent. That intent is to stop the suffering (“ease the pain”) not cause the death. No matter the course taken, drugs or firearm, the result is the same, suffering ends, death ensues.

    I don’t think there should be a distinction. When you prosecute the shooter and praise the drug giver, what you’re really doing is punishing the method of alleviating pain, not the person’s intent.

    Yes, I recognize that shooting someone in the head normally results in instant death, and that it’s different that giving drugs that only knock the person out while they bleed, burn, or otherwise die. But the intent behind these actions is the same–not to kill but to ease suffering.

    The person giving morphine (particularly in the battlefield scenario) may well intentionally give too much in a “death inevitable” scenario, but will never be prosecuted. Consider the scenes from “The English Patient” or “Saving Private Ryan” involving overdoses of morphine given to severely injured, dying people.

    I think the folks on a court-martial jury will recognize this, so I’ll go out on a limb and say that a trial will result in an acquittal. It’s nice to think that in a better day prosecutorial discretion would have ended this before it began, but “the good old days” often weren’t.

  9. Late Bloomer says:


    How do you reconcile the notion of the unforeseen intervenor? We can all armchair QB the “fact” that death was inevitable. But was it? The coup de grace arguably places the unfortunate soul in a worse physical state of being (assuming we can all agree that the permanence of death is always worse than the pains of life). A dose of morphine does not usually cause death. It may do nothing to prevent it, but it certainly doesn’t cause it.

    Of course, I often question why it is permissible to administer a “kill shot” in an EOF situation while a “disabling shot” is not likewise permissible.

  10. Late Bloomer says:

    I should clarify:

    A disabling shot on a soft target is not permissible.

  11. Cloudesley Shovell says:

    Late Bloomer,

    I’m sure we could discuss the legal and moral implications of these situations forever. It’s a fascinating debate.

    I’m intrigued by your comment on kill vs. disabling shots, but can’t interpret your acronyms. What’s EOF? Could you explain? Who says a disabling shot on a soft target is not permissible? If it gets into sensitive ROE issues, then never mind.


  12. No Man says:

    LB and CS:

    It is a fascinating debate and will be interesting to see how the legal issues and jury come together.

    As for the escalation of force question, that’s really unrelated to the issue we are talking about. Disabling shots on humans are not permitted because (1) the risk of harm to bystanders is increased where you are not shooting at center mass and (2) you can only use deadly force (i.e. fire your weapon) when opposing an imminent threat of grave injury and disabling shots are not intended to be deadly force–which gets back to the collateral damage issue, but also is meant to reserve deadly force for only those situations of imminent threat of grave injury. That’s not all the right buzz words, but that’s my unclassified take on the question.

  13. Late Bloomer says:

    EOF = escalation of force.

    I don’t think anything here is sensitive, as it is all accessible on public domain. Specific ROE would be a different story.

    With respect to No Man’s analysis, I respectfully disagree. ANYTIME a round exits the business end of the weapon, deadly force has been used, regardless of the intent of the shooter. Yes, the risk of collateral damage is a relevant concern, but that risk is just as present when using deadly force on a kill shot. My view is that deadly force on humans is impermissible because it causes unnecessary suffering in a disproportionate measure to any military advantange that might be gained. It is a form of maiming, if you will. A similar analysis exists for certain forms of poisonous gases. They result in a military advantage (i.e. dead enemies), but the human suffering is disproportionate to that advantage.

  14. Late Bloomer says:

    Also, EOF is a force protection measure. It enables us to identify hostile acts/intent at the maximum range possible, to distinguish threats from non-threats, and to dispose of threats in a fastidious and humane manner. As such, another reason disabling shots should be impermissible is because, if you are in a situation where deadly force is authorized, you may kill without legal consequence. And since disabling shots consitute deadly force, why would you disable instead of kill, when there are unforeseen second- and third-order effects? If you are in a non-deadly force situation, you have a legal and moral obligation to use only as much force as is necessary to accomplish the mission (i.e. dispose of the threat).

    I hope all or some of that made sense.

  15. No Man says:

    While LB says he fusshers, I think we actually agree. Though I am trying to figure out what this means before I come to that conclusion:

    My view is that deadly force on humans is impermissible because it causes unnecessary suffering in a disproportionate measure to any military advantange that might be gained. It is a form of maiming, if you will.

    Deadly force on humans, isn’t that what combat is?

  16. No Man says:

    Fusshers nice! That would be “disagrees”

  17. Late Bloomer says:

    I meant deadly force against soft targets (humans) in the EOF context. Disabling shots may be authorized against hard targets (vehicles, etc.) in the EOF context, but not against soft targets.

    Never heard of “fusshers” before. Must be some of that new online jargon I’ve not yet learned.

  18. LTC Slade says:

    This whole discussion is interesting…I’m curious, though…is any of y’all actual (or have you ever been) a trigger puller? Hell, is anyone on this thread even in the Army (or marines)? Just seems a little unusual to hear navy guys talking about this…

  19. Comrade Cossio says:

    Sir Cloudesley Shovell raises some great questions on the method of a “mercy killing”.

    Consider the old woman pinned by a truck/train.

    Their organs are being heldup by the object, and once that object is moved, they die. So we all heard the story (true stories) where they rush and get the relatives for a final good-bye, and then the curtain closes as the crew makes the choice to end the life peacfully.

    We can go on and on….But the main point is what’s the difference from a bullet in back of the head and letting one starve to death (Shivo)?


    George: We’re gonna get a little place.

    Lennie: Okay, yeah, we’re gonna get a little place and w’re gonna…

    George: We gonna…

    Lennie: …have…

    George: [Lennie mouths what he says] We’re gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we’re gonna have, maybe-maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we’ll have a little field of…

    Lennie: Field of alfalfa for the rabbits.

    George: …for the rabbits.

    Lennie: And I get to tend the rab…

    [George shoots Lennie to death in the head and grieves over him]

  20. Late Bloomer says:

    LTC Slade, I think quite a few on here are Soldiers and Marines. Whether or not they are trigger pullers is up to them to decide. I, for one, am thankful to God that I never had to raise my weapon at anyone.

  21. Cloudesley Shovell says:

    LB and No Man, et al,

    Thanks for the clarifications. I’m not up to speed enough to debate the nuances of various rules and escalation of force scenarios, but it is interesting stuff.


  22. Southern Defense Counsel says:

    I’d have to say this is the first thread I’ve enjoyed reading in quite some time. Thanks for the well reasoned debate.

  23. Late Bloomer says:

    Civility and satire/humor don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

  24. Dew_Process says:

    Sir Cloudesley,
    While I understand your point, are you not talking about “motive” versus “intent?” It would seem that the intent is to terminate life while the motive was to stop the suffering. Conversely, is it a “defense” to the act or mere mitigation?

    More important perhaps, is a “coup de grâce” part of the law of war? If so, is that then a recognizable defense?

  25. Cloudesley Shovell says:

    Dew Process–

    I recall an episode, nearly 25 years ago. A friend and I were driving home late at night and encountered two dogs along the side of the highway. We nearly hit one dog, who was frantic, running circles around the road. The other dog was on the shoulder, rather still. We stopped. The dog on the shoulder had apparently been hit by another car, and while not appearing to be in much pain, suffered from a very obviously broken back (the dislocation in the spine was obvious through the skin) and the dog’s hindquarters were paralyzed. Soon another car stopped. Neither I nor the people in the other car had a firearm (firearms in autos is not terribly unusual in the rural midwest, esp. during hunting season). A couple more cars stopped. Every single person’s reaction was the same as my initial reaction–put the dog down, but nobody had a gun. Just then, by complete coincidence, a sheriff’s deputy happened by. To this day I distinctly recall one of the women in the small group assembled by the roadside blurting out, “Thank goodness, he can put that poor dog out of his misery.” The deputy got out of his car, wondering why four or five cars had stopped at this spot in the road at this late hour. The group pointed out the injured dog, and more than one person said the dog needed to be put out of its misery. The deputy approached the dog, took one look, drew his revolver, and shot the dog.

    The group thanked the deputy, and one-by-one, departed. The second dog, no collar or ID, but probably from a nearby farm, remained behind with his dead friend.

    Now, I’m not saying that we should treat enemy soldiers like dogs (or horses). What I am saying is that it is my belief that there are situations were people agree that the coup de grace is appropriate. It shows up again and again in movies and books, both in fictional and historical accounts. War is an ugly ugly thing, where the whole point is to kill the enemy. To judge battlefield conduct by the rules of polite civil society is not entirely appropriate. Yes, there are I think universally recognizable wrongs regardless of environment, but the shades of grey between black and white are much extensive on the battlefield than in, say, Boulder, Colorado.

    You make very valid points about whether I’m talking about motive or intent. It’s easier as a bystander (or jury) to draw conclusions when the tool used to ease suffering is a gun. What if, instead, it was a medic who just gave too much morphine? The medic’s intent from the get-go may have been to put the guy out of his misery, but it’s much harder for a bystander or jury to decide, based on the tool used. It’s much easier to justify the morphine use because the medic can just say that the guy was in extreme pain, and more morphine was necessary to ease the pain. Who’s to say, without an autopsy, what caused death, the morphine overdose or the injuries? That’s why I said a prosecution is punishing the method more than the actual act.

    It’s a difficult situation because the coup de grace is one of those areas where the law and morality intersect, and neither operates well.

    I could go on about DNR orders. Many people are faced with an elderly parent withering away in a nursing home. If the elderly parent stops eating, the child (assuming a health care proxy) can prevent force-feeding. Medicine might be able to keep the body alive for quite some time, but there is a point when the spirit is gone. The whole point of withholding food or other efforts to prolong life is to bring about the inevitable, which is death. The difference is that the law does not punish (at least in this arena) intentionally doing nothing as opposed to doing something, even though the result is the same.

    I understand the legal distinctions, but morally, is there really any difference? I have my personal opinions, I realize other have different opinions. I also understand the purely legal arguments. I just think this is an area where the law does not work well, and it’s one of the reasons the founders put so much faith in juries–juries can acquit despite the law, whereas a “professional” like a judge or prosecutor might take a rigid “the laws the law” approach.

    I’ve rambled a bit, sorry about that. I’ll close by pointing out that the MJ Benchbook instructions to juries only state that the jury “should” convict if the evidence proves the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. It doesn’t say “shall” or “must.” There’s a reason for that. Jurors should ultimately let their conscience be their guide. That’s why I think in the end the Canadian case will result in an acquittal.