Thursday, October 27, 2005

Licence to kill?

Quietly announced today behind stories on the smoking ban and bird flu, was the review of the firearms strategy for dealing with suspect suicide bombers, A Scotland Yard review after the shooting of Jean Charles de Menenzes having concluded it remained the best approach. The review on whether or not to change this policy is ongoing.

Now it strikes me that police need an effective way of dealing with such situations, but we come up against a questioning of the use of lethal force. Now in a clear-cut scenario, I have no problem with the police using any force necessary to stop a suicide bomber intent on killing even more people. But in a situation such as that which happened in London earlier this year, the intelligence possed by the police was obviously not enough to justify the shooting of someone who 'was thought' to be a bomber.

The thing is, if the police are going to sanction lethal force in a situation where they are not in full possession of the facts, then they are effectively judging someone guilty before the fact, and, by shooting them in the head, denying them the possibilty to defend themselves or be found innocent at a later date. It is very difficult to offer a reasonable explanation of your actions from beyond the grave, after all.

It is also worrying that in the same BBC website article, the shoot-to-kill policy is already being talked about in non-terrorist terms. Again, I defend the right for the police to use lethal force, but it should not be authorised carte blanche, even in specific situations. We need a greater focus on information and crime-prevention than simply shooting the suspect and having done with it. It is often the case in police shootings that the victim is mentally ill rather than 'evil', and as such if at all possible the individual should be given medical help as a patient rather than shot as a criminal.

Now of course, this is a fundamental problem of dealing with terrorists. We need an effective was of stopping suspects which doesn't involve detaining them without trial or shooting them on weak information. But at the same time there is obviously a need to stop criminal acts and terrorist atrocities which we have intelligence but not proof of. It is admittedly a very difficult situation to be found in. Crucially, however, a quick response should not be confused with a poorly thought out response, especially when such a method as shooting suspects is being used. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty; killing someone, however simple it may be, removes that right permanently.

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