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“Shoot to kill” is a huge mistake

Tags: — Allan @ 9:41 pm

The police in Britain has adopted a policy of “shoot-to-kill” when encountering suspected suicide bombers. I find this both extremely worrying and completely counter-productive: I just don’t get it. The stated reason for the new policy apparently is that it is necessary to have a credible last-ditch defence against suicide bombers.


Shoot to killThe argument goes that if the police officer is not allowed to shoot a terrorist suspect with the aim to kill, but instead simply aims to wound him or her, he might still trigger the bomb and so cause a lot of carnage.

But how stupid do we think suicide bombers are? Except for the fact that they want to become suicide bombers (which in and of itself does not point towards high IQ) the fact remains that a potential suicide bomber in the UK is likely to be well educated and certainly will know about this policy. From the suicide bomber’s point of view, the primary effect is that his bombs now should be equipped with a dead man’s switch – to ensure that it goes off if someone shoots him.

From every other point of view, it is a losing proposition for both society as a whole and the police force in particular.

Imagine for a moment what goes on inside the mind of a police officer who sees someone he suspects may be a suicide bomber. If the suspect is indeed a suicide bomber and the police officer does not apprehend or indeed shoot him and the bomb goes off, the police officer will be in terrible trouble. After all, he has been granted a blanket authority to shoot suspected suicide bombers – but didn’t use it, so clearly he is to blame.

MenezesIf on the other hand the police officer does shoot the suspect, he is apparently home free whether the suspect actually was a suicide bomber or not. This at least is what happened in the one known case where a police officer in July 2005 shot Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes at an Underground train station in south London. The police has apologised for the mistake, but insists that the shoot-to-kill policy is a vital defence against terrorism. The fact that the police appears to have been less than honest when describing how this innocent man came to die is a separate but also very worrying issue.

GunThe result of this change of mindset where the delicate balance between the three branches of government has been shifted dramatically could be devastating for society. And as far as I can tell, there simply is no upside. Suicide bomb plots should not be foiled at the last second like it might happen in the TV drama 24: it simply doesn’t work this way in real life, even if it might appeal to portions of the public to say so.

I also think it is fundamentally wrong to burden our police officers with the added responsibility of being spur-of-the-moment judges when it comes to suicide bombers. And for them to dole out the death penalty as a result of a hunch is just so wrong I can’t find words to describe it.

I don’t know how many suicide bombers there are in the UK, but I’m sure that is not a big number compared to the number of people that may act or look like a suicide bomber at some point in their lives. I have personally seen lots of brown people with rucksacks on the Underground that look like they are in a hurry – and if this is not the criteria for spotting a suicide bomber, what is?

The police certainly isn’t telling us.

It seems to me that the terrorists already have accomplished some of their goals. For some reason I cannot fathom, the government and the police is helping them. What am I missing?