August 17, 2005

Who's responsible for this fiasco?


So now it seems pretty clear. The person wearing a bulky jacket and jumping the turnstile at Stockwell tube station wasn't Jean Charles de Menezes, it was almost certainly one of the police officers chasing him. De Menezes was simply a guy going to a job, wearing a denim jacket, walking at a normal pace, and even picking up a free copy of Metro newspaper.

Should the people who shot de Menezes be tried for murder? Should Ian Blair resign? I don't know, but I'm furious both at the enormity of this mistake and also at the seeming refusal of anybody to take responsibility for it. Someone must be held accountable, and the shoot-to-kill policy should be repealed unless and until (a) it becomes crystal clear how this happened, and (b) new safeguards are in effect to ensure it will not happen again.

Posted by Felix at 07:51 PM GMT

Well, if he was my blood, I'd be kicking off a decades-long vendetta right about now.

Resignations and firings don't cut it. They'll resign and go on the speech circuit, and rake in millions.

Posted by: L'Emmerdeur on August 17, 2005 10:15 PM

They (the police officers responsible) should be sent to Iraq to work as police officers over there, the Queen should personally receive the family to offer an official apology, and the family should be awarded citizenship and lifetime compensation.

Posted by: s on August 18, 2005 03:35 PM

The idea that his family should be appreciative of an offer of British citizenship is so ludicrous I don't know where to begin. We just killed their son for god's sake!

But you're living in NY sez your IP, and potentially therefore a merkin, so I thank you for reinforcing my prejudices this torrid Thursday evening.

FWIW, most of the people I know here never believed the police story in the first place. Once they'd got over the 24-hour circulation-boosting rush the press certainly didn't go with the police line.

If the leaked reports are true then the officers should stand trial for murder, and their superiors might stand trial as accomplices.

Posted by: Matt on August 18, 2005 07:20 PM

the reason they should be offered citizenship is so that they can benefit from anything and everything your crappy country has to offer and as a show of good will. as I also said, the family should be awarded tons of money and those responsible should be punished with more than just firings or resignations. you dimwit.

Posted by: s on August 18, 2005 08:24 PM

So, cash & revenge are the answers? You're not really going against stereotype here Mr/Ms S.

I just have a funny feeling they might feel an offer of 'crappy' British citizenship to be a teensy bit patronising; even if it did come wrapped in 50 notes _and_ they got to meet David Beckham, _and_ lots of coppers went to jail.

Posted by: Matt on August 18, 2005 08:41 PM

it would be a good start. so far, theres been a whole lot hand wringing, not much else. what do you suggest?

Posted by: s on August 18, 2005 08:53 PM

I doubt the family is interested in money or hobnobbing with Becks. More likely they want someone found accountable and sentenced to prison, and the shoot-to-kill policy amended so that other people don't lose their children this way. They certainly deserve a thorough, independent inquiry regarding accountability and judicial proceedings.

Posted by: Jame on August 19, 2005 09:03 AM

It seems the guys who shot Jean Charles de Menezes were operating under two mutually contradictory orders:

1. On no account to approach or challenge him as a suspected suicide bomber.

2. On no account to let him blow up the tube train.

In an analogy with the wider war on terror, the intelligence they had was faulty. The intelligence said: Jean Charles is a suicide bomber. Put that intelligence together with the policy not to verbally challenge bombers (because they'll just blow themselves up), and the overriding need to get him out of the tube train, and the result is the state killing of an innocent man.

But in your righteous fury, Felix, can you tell us which of the two orders/policies is wrong? Neither seems so bad to me. Surely, it's all down to the faulty intelligence - and when intelligence is wrong, the outcome is unlikely to be right, no matter how brilliant the policies or orders under which the policemen are working.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on August 19, 2005 10:06 AM

(1) is idiotic, obvs.

Posted by: Felix on August 19, 2005 12:23 PM

Is it really "obvs idiotic" not to approach or challenge a suicide bomber?

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on August 19, 2005 01:26 PM

Yes. The guy is walking down the street wearing a denim jacket. You think he might be a suicide bomber, so you want to stop him from entering the subway system. So you stop him in the street -- if necessary you point guns at him from afar and tell him to take off his jacket and his shirt, just like how they arrested the July 21 bombers. You don't wait for him to go into the tube station, then run after him and shoot him in the head.

Posted by: Felix on August 19, 2005 03:15 PM

Felix - You construct one possible scenario in such a way as to make the coppers seem at best thickoes, at worst psychopathic murderers. Both may be true, but it is also possible that an honest mistake was made - eg. cops waiting inside the station who messed up, etc - so that the tragedy wasnt the result of keystone cops tomfoolery but of a mistake made in executing the orders.

You are encouraging the UK to abandon its policies on possible bombers. You presumably think that the new policy should be to approach bombers in friendly fashion as you outline in 11. This is the correct approach for arresting armed miscreants as the law stands. I also predict you will be howling for a new new policy when next time a real bomber blows himself up during the questioning and gun-pointing scenario and takes some bystanders with him.

And you won't skimp on the fury in calling for it, I'm sure, with your enquiries and new guidleines to "ensure it can't happen again" stuff.

Face it, Stefan, for all your fury, you're no better at cobbling together orders or policies to deal with the unpredictable than anyone else. (That you are not being paid for it is no excuse.)

I hate state murder, honest! and share your impatience to know what really happened there, but "new safeguards" won't achieve what you want - because unpredictable events will always render them irrelevant, as happened here - and may succeed in hobbling the police's effectiveness more than you would wish.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on August 19, 2005 03:44 PM

Claude: by definition, when police shoot innocent civilians, they are working with 'faulty intelligence'. Your contruction is impossible to sustain. When Amadou Diallo what shot 41 times by (I believe) six officers, they presumed he was reaching for his 'gun' (in fact his wallet), but the only 'intelligence' they were acting on was their powers of observation. The question in this instance, as well as the Diallo case, is how those with disproportionate force reason in the course of a presumed emergency. I'm not asking cops to be perfect. But in the two instances I'm discussing, it seems that the acitons undertaken are far less perfect than if more prudent restraint had been in order. Like soliders, police may die because of bad decision making, or faulty intelligence. But we empower them a great deal. We should have ten police officer deaths for every innocent civilian, not the other way around. I'm sorry, but it comes with the territory. I'm far more likely to be the victim of crime that a police officer. S/he is more like to be shot.

In this case, since there was a perception of indirect harm (bombing), the issue shouldn't have been personal safety, but probability and preponderance of evidence. Why didn't the solider taking a piss make clear how limited his information was? If the police who followed him all the way from his flat to the tube, believing him dangerous enough to detonate a bomb on the train, actually let him get close enough? That shows considerable disinterest in protecting tube passengers, so the argument that they could justify his murder to protect the same people they electively let him get near enough to be a threat doesn't justify the action.

Posted by: 99 on August 19, 2005 03:58 PM

I encourage you all to read this post on the dangers and inherent ineffectiveness of "shoot to kill" policies in the struggle against both preventing suicide bombings as a terrorist strategy, and also in responding to one already in progress.

Posted by: s on August 19, 2005 04:06 PM

In fact, in your political correctness and knee-jerkiness you closely resemble this Ian Blair policeman fellow, who should, since you ask, definitely be made to resign in disgrace as soon as possible, and I'll be the first in the queue with the rotten eggs... even you would probably make a better commissioner. It is richly ironic that this awful cockup should have happened on Ian Blair's beat, as he was very much the sort of copper who bent over backwards to avoid any suggestions of "prejudice", "racial stereotyping" and so forth. This time, it looks like his boys were operating under a particularly hideous brand of prejudice - having decided, on the basis of very little, that Jean Claude de Menezes was an enemy of the state, and acting on that assumption to "execute" him using their new, Stefan-like anti-terrorist policies.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on August 19, 2005 04:08 PM

Claude, where did you get this worry about "a real bomber blowing himself up during the questioning and gun-pointing scenario" and killing bystanders in the process? Is this something that has ever happened? Have a look at the Palestinian intifada, which is rife with suicide bombers, and then get back to me.

Posted by: Felix on August 19, 2005 05:04 PM

"Shoot-to-kill" for dealing with suicide bombers is a bad policy. Not because it's pointlessly callous (although it is), but because it doesn't really do anything to prevent suicide bombs.

It's a strategy designed to defend against the very specific issue of a bomber about to press a switch to blow themselves up. Shoot and kill the bomber before they can do that. The problem is that terrorists can trivially adapt their strategy now they know that's policy.

In particular, why not employ a "dead-man switch" instead? Release your grip on the switch, and it triggers. Now, if you shoot the bomber, they blow up. Even if not all terrorists employ this tactic, the idea that they might would keep police guessing.

The real reason for a shoot-to-kill policy is that it sounds tough to the public, not because it makes anyone safer. And frankly, that's a terrible reason to have it.

Posted by: Lurker on August 19, 2005 06:49 PM

thats the gist of the article i linked above. if anyone had bothered to read it, the point would have been made abundantly clear.

Posted by: s on August 19, 2005 07:52 PM

I bothered to read it, and ignored it. (a) because it's all ridiculously Hollywood, and (b) because of the implication that if it wasn't for the possibiity of these dead-man switches, then the shoot-to-kill policy might make sense.

Posted by: Felix on August 19, 2005 08:08 PM

You know, it's a conversation like that that really needs the weak-ankled, weekend-warrior insight of the Oracle of Richmond. He'll put all this kill switch and dead-man jargon to rights. In fact, his infirmities would have likely saved him, since he would have never been able to vault the turnstile.

Posted by: 99 on August 19, 2005 09:11 PM

(a) because it's all ridiculously Hollywood

yet nonetheless technially easy to accomplish

(b) because of the implication that if it wasn't for the possibiity of these dead-man switches, then the shoot-to-kill policy might make sense.

absolutely wrong. the possibility of the switch only makes the shoot to kill policy less sensible. the chances of a mistaken ID have always existed, and the likelyhood of setting off the bomb by killing its carrierr are enormous.

Posted by: s on August 19, 2005 10:49 PM

BTW, for you scoffing naysaers, the dead man's switch has been used before in suicide bombings; evidence of thier use in suicide vests has been found when weapons caches were seized in Israel and recently in Iraq.

"on April 12, a few days after the fall, U.S. troops found a cache inside a school that contained 300 suicide vests, filled with C-4 explosives and sophisticated detonators (the dead man switch, specifically, designed to go off if the bearer is shot and loosens his grip). There was also evidence that at least 80 other vests had been removed from the site before U.S. troops discovered it. One such vest was worn by a man who detonated a bomb outside the Palestine Hotel on April 9, killing himself and a U.S. Marine. Then in late April, a cache of 800 suicide vests was found in a factory in south Baghdad; officers described these vests as highly sophisticated in design as well."

the dead man's switch is old hat, it is used in many appications such as power tools, vehicles, computer control systems.'s_switch

just because you dont like the implications of this simple device doesnt mean its some kind of hollywood fantasy. grow up.

Posted by: s on August 19, 2005 11:07 PM

99 - you reckon (#20) the Oracle would've escaped being killed because his ankles wouldn't have allowed him to vault the barrier. But Felix says the vaulter was probably a copper, not the innocent, non-fleeing Jean Charles de Menezes. Sterling's weak ankles would therefore not have been able to prevent his ingress into Stockwell Tube station.

In all likelihood, therefore, Sterling would have been well able to release his "dead man's switch" and take out most of the carriage with him. Our only hope of survival would have been if Sterling had mistakenly attached his "old hat" dead man's switch to a power tool instead of a bomb, as our dogged expert "S" suggests above. In such an instance, the effect of Sterling's state-sponsored demise would likely have amounted to no more than a bathetic "killer driller", out-of-control electric drill scenario - causing some superficial damage to the seat upholstery and Sterling's non-padded clothing, perhaps, but leaving bystanders and trigger-happy (or just somewhat confused) policepeople completely unscathed.

Posted by: Claude de Bigny on August 20, 2005 10:37 AM

Mr Felix Salmon - I had a look at the Palestinian Intifada, as per your instructions to my master, Claude de Bigny (#16), and I am now reporting back on his behalf, as you decreed.

It appears that some suicide bombers do indeed appear to have blown themselves up along with bystanders and policemen. It was unfortunately impossible for me to round up any actual witnesses with anecdotes to delight and instruct your memefirst readership. Please therefore take my word for it that it is possible for a suicide bomber to set off his load whilst being challenged by policeman. Whyever do you think it unlikely?

Anyway, my liege lord de Bigny's point was more respectfully to hint that as soon as the UK has followed your instruction to repeal their "shoot to kill" policy, suicide bombers may cease to be apprehended en route, despite the opportunity existing to take them out; and that, should a case of this sort subsequently be publicised in the public prints, you, Mr Felix Salmon, would be calling for an instant kneejerk repeal or creation of a new set of instructions and safeguards, "to ensure that this will never happen again."

It pains me to disclose it, but my master's impatience was aroused by your showy display of "fury", the more so as it was combined with an inane bleat calling for the repeal of a policy which had been formulated under the guidance of Israeli anti-terror experts, and for which you suggested no viable alternative, certainly not one from which the decadent citizenry of London and other sumps of Western corruption could hope to derive any benefit, as subsequent contributions to your thread have convicingly demonstrated.

May Allah regard this discussion blog with bountiful mercy!

Posted by: Abd al Walid Khuwalid on August 20, 2005 01:47 PM

Apparently the shoot-to-kill policy is being rethought. Good. Even police officers who support it agree that it's hard to have confidence in it.

As for dead men's switches etc, of course a suicide bomber can blow himself up wherever he likes. But those switches have only been found in Iraq, where they're being used against a military operation which shoots to kill just about anybody as a suspected suicide bomber. ie, they're being used in a war zone.

London is not a war zone, and the police are not soldiers. Giving orders to shoot to kill brings both states of affairs closer to reality, however. Which is a bad thing.

Posted by: Felix on August 20, 2005 02:26 PM

Or maybe it has been rethought, and is being kept. Who knows.

Posted by: Felix on August 20, 2005 04:03 PM

they have also been found in Israel. Just because they were only found in those two areas doesnt mean that the device can not be implemented elsewhere. and i'm not an "expert", but i do have a brain.

Posted by: s on August 20, 2005 05:34 PM

Shouldn't there be an intermediate step just before a 'shoot to kill' order, such as confirming that someone is in fact a suicide bomber?

I'm not a policeman or a soldier, and can't understand the confusion and speed of these moments. And yet surely there can be training to create that one moment, that double check? Perhaps someone who's been in real combat could say.

And even if the guy is a bomber, I think that an unwritten hallmark of Western societies is that you give people the benefit of the doubt. Innocent before proven guilty etc. Taking a hit to preserve that ethos is worth it (although al Walid rightfully notes that politicians do not agree).

Posted by: Jame on August 23, 2005 10:58 AM