Joe Hendren

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

UK police shoot dead innocent civilian in the name of the 'war on terror'

UK Police have admitted that man they shot dead in Stockwell tube station yesterday was not connected to the attempted bombings of London on July 21.

In other words - he was an innocent civilian.

This wasn't just a shooting - this was a summary execution, as NRT points out.
"They pushed him to the floor, bundled on top of him and unloaded five shots into him" - Witness Mark Whitby

This amply demonstrates the reason why shooting people dead on the 'suspicion' of being involved in a terrorist activities is a foolish and dangerous precedent.

I simply do not buy the argument that the only way to stop a suspected bomber in a tube station is to ensure he/she dies by shooting them 5 times. Incapacitating/injuring someone may be justified in some circumstances, but death should only be the absolute last resort, and only when a threat is established as being genuine. In this case it is pretty clear the evidence of a threat was circumstantial at best.

While one passenger may have reported the man wearing a belt with wires coming out of it - the man was only guilty of being an electrician.

And last I checked, running away from plain clothes armed men was not a capital offence, even if they did attempt to identify themselves. While we may hear calls for sympathy for the officer who was forced to make a 'split second' decision, we should also have some sympathy for an civilian who was understandably freaked.

A tube station is a very controlled and predictable environment - there are few places for a person to go. The first thing I would have done in this situation if I was the police would have been to clear the station of any trains - and given the word, this can happen very quickly.

Given that most tubes have CCTV and the train was in the station at the time there is a high chance there will be video evidence of the execution.

Chefen from Sir Humphreys attempts to justify the police action on the basis of a cruel utilitarian logic.
"When it comes to mass murder, the numbers say take a hardline because you'll save more people that way. Tough, but such is life."

In a sense Chefen is arguing that innocent civilians should die on account of the slightest chance it may save others - and this is only a short step from celebrating them as martyrs in the war against terror. In doing so, we would only be adopting the justifications of the terrorists, as well as providing Mr Bin Laden rhetorical means to recruit more martyrs for 'his side'.

And if you want to justify actions on the cold calculation of numbers, Iraqis may also see the logic in taking a 'hard line' against the UK, given the mass murder of 39,000 Iraqi civilians since the American/UK invasion.

Worst of all, Chefen erroneously attributes the guilt for terrorism to racial groups.
"I'm sure all those out there who are expert in the deployment of root-causes arguments can word it much better than "Sorry missus, but your son was running away from armed police towards a tube station and we had four terrorist attacks yesterday and we couldn't take the chance he was going to murder a few dozen commuters just for jollies. I can't wait for the crowd who plead for understanding of why certain populaces have brought terrorism on themselves to try and wiggle this one around 180 degrees."

And 'bought it on themselves' sounds a lot like how the Nazi's attempt to justify the infamous persecution of another racial and other groups - the holocaust.

I was talking to someone last night who compared the Stockwell incident to the bus bombers in Israel. But this example really crystallizes the point - the vast majority of people do not want to live in a society where the police and the armed forces are permitted to kill on sight those who are suspected of a crime.

Perhaps a reason why right wing 'liberals' rail against the 'Nanny State', a state that aims to care for and value the lives of its citizens is that such misnamed 'liberals' really want another type of state altogether - an oppressive state, governed by fear, where the state has unlimited license for indiscriminate violence and persecution. Mostly in the name of defending gross property and income inequalities from the democratic majority.

Bush and Blair harp on about 'defending our values' yet pass draconian anti-terror legislation that takes away the values worth defending, such as the right to a fair trial and the assurance no free person will be imprisoned without charge.

When the terrorists are caught and convicted I don't want them to be executed or put in a jail cell 'with the key thrown away' - that's too easy. Following an open and public court process I would like to see prison, along with an involved and challenging restorative justice process that will allow families of victims the chance to force the terrorists to face the human costs of their actions.

The best weapon we have in the 'war on terror' is the maintenance of our own humanity and the highest level of respect for human life - this is one thing the terrorists can never have.

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PS: I do think it would be unfortunate if the good work of the UK police in the aftermath of the July 7th bombings was overshadowed by the latest incident. While they were unable to stop the bombs, they were on the case quickly with some good leads, information they shared with the public. I have a suspicion we will find the 'police' involved in the shooting were not ordinary bobbies.

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At 8:40 pm, Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

There is a sound basis for the headshot technique if at close range. Shots to the head are the only way to shut down the body's central nervous system. Why is this important? Well, say a bomber is shot in the leg or torso, they will likely still be conscious for long enough to detonate the device when the police get close and inflict more fatalities including the surrounding civilians.

Yes, the killing of a civilian in such a manner in this case is a tragedy. But the technique used is there for a good reason - it is the only way to stop a person intent on detonating from blowing themselves and others up. Note that it can be somewhat countered by terrorist using a trigger that detonates when let go, rather than when pressed - in which case you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

What would you say if it had been a bomber and they had managed to detonate as they piled onto the train and killed a number of civilians plus the three police officers pursuing him?

At 8:41 pm, Blogger Bernard Woolley said...

And re your PS, I seem to recall that the Police involved were member of a special unit called SO-19.

At 8:50 pm, Blogger ZenTiger said...

This was indeed a tragedy. But to see someone make a run for it, possibly about to take out as many people as he can before being shot, and you think you can clear the tube quickly - how have a reality problem.

You are trying to make this about an execution without a trial. A killing based on mere suspicion.

It is far more than that. It is indeed an instant decision - take a life or let this guy take 20 lives.

This was about saving innocent people, not killing one.

If it is so understandable (to you) to run when told to stop, then it is equally understandable for the police to think they are dealing with a suicide bomber.

This is not "in the name of the war on terror", as you would like to make out. It was in the name of the 20 or more civilians on the tube that hoped (expected) to be protected.

A terrible tragedy. But understandable.

You might want to practice holding your hands up, palms flat and out, and screaming "Not a bomber, don't shoot"

That way, the guy next to you can self destruct in all the confusion.

At 10:44 pm, Blogger tincanman said...

This is such a tough one. What would your reaction have been if he had been a suicide bomber and had detonated a bomb that resulted in twenty or thirty deaths?

I know this was not the case - but what would your reaction have been?

At 11:00 pm, Blogger Gooner said...

All very easy for you to transpose yourself into the cops shoes Joe and say he was wrong.

Joe, I have pulled a gun on someone. I was ordered to shoot him if a certain event happened. It didn't happen so he lived. But don't you EVER tell me the cop here was wrong. He made a judgment call in a situaiton where all his training tells him to shoot to kill. It is part of his psyche. He cannot alter that state of mind. And, don't you ever tell me that training shouldn't take place. It should and it must.

I love this quote from A Few Good Men, paraphrased (Jack Nicholson):

...we live in a world that has to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You?...That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall...I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it.

Freedom has to be fought for. The West fought against Hitler who started a war *against* freedom. Not the opposite Joe.

At 3:14 am, Blogger Chefen said...

Been away for a couple of days so missed all this.

Joe, how about rereading the original post and instead of misreading it you criticise the actual content rather than pulling a Noam on it?

At 1:47 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

BW: Given the billions of dollars that has been devoted to the defence industry - ie finding new and better ways to kill people - perhaps this demonstrates why the development of a non-lethal way of incapacitating people might be a good idea. We also need to get more serious about arms control.

But I am still fundumentally uncomfortable with the policy of shoot first and ask questions later.
If the police have more information on why they thought he was a suicide bomber they need to release it pronto. If wearing a coat on a hot day and looking flustered is enough to make you a target of a shoot to kill policy, people in london are going to be very scared.

Its been widely assumed that this action was justified under a 'shoot to kill to protect policy', but Martin Kettle questions whether this is covered by police guidelines.
"At first sight this could be depicted as a radical extension of police guidelines. But is it? A closer examination reveals that it is more a particularisation of appropriate rules that have governed firearm use by police and the military in Britain, especially Northern Ireland, over many years. These rules contain a number of basic principles: that any force used should be the minimum necessary, that force should be used against particular targets rather than indiscriminately, that no more rounds should be fired than is necessary, that an audible warning must be given and that the officer should be certain that the suspect is about to take offensive action."

How can 8 shots be justifed in terms of 'force used should be the minimum necessary' and 'no more rounds should be fired than is necessary?' An innocent man has been killed in the effort to protect other innocent people. That action must be judged.,16141,1535611,00.html
"What is understood is that the block of flats in south London where Mr De Menezes was living was under surveillance, prompted by evidence found at the scene of the failed Oval station bomb. On leaving his flat on Friday, he was followed by armed plain-clothes police. He took a bus for the three miles from Tulse Hill to Stockwell. It was only when he crossed the road to the tube station that the police intervened and called on him to stop. Instead he panicked, jumping over the station's ticket barriers and running down to a train where he was shot."

If officers were so worried about a bomb going off on the tube, why were they not equally worried about de Menezes getting on a bus? It doesn't make sense. It also raises the question why the 'suspect' was not confronted earlier.

Thanks for the link to SO-19.

At 2:23 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

"You are trying to make this about an execution without a trial. A killing based on mere suspicion."

Well, this is exactly what the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes represents.

And it is related to the 'war on terror'. I often think its quite useful to think back say, 10 years ago, and ask myself what I would have thought of all the changes (security/civil liberties/acceptance of torture) that have happened since 9/11. Its for this reason I am worried the death of de Menezes could represent the start of a slipery slope few of us would like to see.

Philsophically I dislike basing moral decisions purely on consequentialist grounds - I believe there is something intrinsticly valuable in human life.

At 2:31 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Chefen your initial post was called "Don't run from armed men the day after terrorist attacks". Isn't a double standard to tut tut the actions of de Menzes and at the same time maintain the police actions were blameless?

Oh and I was amused by your reference to 'pulling a Noam'. In fact I am reading Hedgemony or Survival right now :)

At 2:46 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...


Although this is completely hypothetical - one thing I would not have done is criticised the police for not shooting. Naturally I would have also been absolutely appalled at the loss of innocent life.

PS: Apologies for lateness of replies - we received some sad news about a friend of the family and the phone was busy most of the day, so I didn't get enough net time earlier to read up on the latest and get back to you.

At 8:17 am, Blogger Heine said...

Joe, you obviously have not been living round these neighbourhoods lately. People are freaked, and bloody glad that the police are dealing with this quickly in order to prevent any other deaths.

Stockwell is home to a lot of Kiwis and Aussies, so any such bomb had potential to kill some of your countrymen. I am glad my trips on the tube are safer at the moment. Anybody who overstays in this country, runs away from clearly marked police (noticing the fact that there was a terrorist attack the day before) and not stopping, deserves to be stopped.

At 12:28 pm, Blogger Joe Hendren said...


You really feel safer with a police 'shoot to kill' policy in operation ? At least they could have warned people it was in operation, and encouraged public debate about it beforehand.

So it follows that the person shot by police could just as easily been an aussie or a kiwi.

Aussies and Kiwis can get blazay about life in London very quickly. I have seen aussies and kiwis jump the tube barriers and such, so I don't take any comfort in the fact it was not one of my countrypeople that was shot.

I have heard conflicting reports about whether he was an overstayer - in any case that is besides the point. While I agree he deserved to be questioned (and the police had plenty of opportunties) I do not believe the 'deserves to be stopped' equates to 'deserves to be shot'

At 12:09 am, Blogger Chefen said...

Chefen your initial post was called "Don't run from armed men the day after terrorist attacks". Isn't a double standard to tut tut the actions of de Menzes and at the same time maintain the police actions were blameless?

No, it isn't a double standard. If you *read* what I wrote you would see I made no such comparison. I did not maintain the police were blameless and I did not tuttut Menezes. You made those connections in order to paint a single police action as the surface of some totalitarian regime and whoever doubted your own sophistical line as implicitly supportive of the Nazis.

Oh and I was amused by your reference to 'pulling a Noam'. In fact I am reading Hedgemony or Survival right now :)

Well no freaking wonder you see Nazis in every corner. How about reading someone who isn't still convinced that Amerika is the continuation of Nazi Germany, makes most of his claims up and whose references all start with Chomsky, N?

Don't start coming over all libertarian now, after specifically making false references to what I wrote in order to demonstrate I'm a Nazi in hiding.


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