A harsh new reality begins to emerge

It seems that I underestimated the significance of the terrorist attacks on July 7 in the London subway system.

Consider the following news items. A harsh new reality is beginning to emerge.

Item #1 —

More may be shot, chief says

from Monday’s Globe and Mail

Britain’s most senior police officer apologized for the killing of a young Brazilian man mistaken for a suicide bomber, but warned yesterday that more such deaths are possible.

The frank statement from Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair forced many Britons to consider a difficult question: How much police violence can they accept in the name of public safety? …

“Somebody else could be shot. But everything is done to make it right,” [the police commissioner] said. “This is a terrifying set of circumstances for individuals [i.e., police officers confronting a potential suicide bomber] to make decisions.”

If officers are dealing with someone suspected of carrying a bomb, they must be lethal, Sir Ian added. “The only way to deal with this is to shoot to the head. There is no point in shooting at someone’s chest because that is where the bomb is likely to be.” …

Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, was followed to work by three undercover police officers. Mr. de Menezes ran away from the armed men, disobeyed their shouted orders, and was shot five times as he boarded a subway train.

The officers apparently first came to suspect the Brazilian electrician because his Scotia Road apartment block was already under surveillance. …

Police say Mr. de Menezes attracted further attention because he wore a padded jacket in summer and because he reportedly jumped the subway turnstiles.

Around his neighbourhood, people shook their heads at these explanations. Immigrants from equatorial regions often dress more warmly than other residents, they say, and anybody — especially Mr. de Menezes, from a region of Brazil plagued by crime and police brutality — might have run away from men brandishing pistols. …

Witnesses say he was lying on the floor of the carriage when officers pumped bullets into his head and upper back at close range.

Note the last sentence:  witnesses say that police had the suspect on the ground before they shot him.

British police have now adopted a policy established by the Israeli security services, wherein suspected suicide bombers are shot up to five times in the head. The rationale is that it doesn’t do any good to shoot at the chest, where the bomb may be located; and it doesn’t do any good to shoot at the extremities, which would still give the individual an opportunity to detonate the bomb.

Police may be faced with a decision to kill a civilian in a public place, and be forced to make that decision without sparing a moment for reflection.

Imagine the fear among visible minorities in London, facing this new “shoot to kill” policy.

Item #2 — closer to home

More attacks inevitable, Americans warned

from Monday’s Globe and Mail

In the wake of horrific bombings in Egypt and Britain, Americans girded for more terrorist attacks, warned by leading political figures and intelligence analysts that such strikes were inevitable.

In New York, millions of subway riders faced the prospect of random searches during this morning’s rush, while gun-toting police appeared on subway trains in the nation’s capital.

“Our luck may be running out, it’s only a matter of time before something is attempted here,” said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism specialist.

“Both FBI and CIA people believe that the risk of something happening here has increased greatly as a result of the pattern we have seen abroad,” Mr. Cannistraro said in a television interview on ABC. …

Last week’s attempt at a repeat attack [in London], apparently averted only because four backpack bombs did not explode, left Americans jittery.

There have been no successful attacks in the United States since Sept. 11, but U.S. President George W. Bush has consistently warned further strikes must be expected and that no amount of security can thwart all plots.

Imagine the fallout if there is a successful terrorist attack in the New York subway system.

The first job of any government is to maintain security:  to keep its citizens safe. If terrorists escalate their attacks, and make them a fact of daily life — as they are in Israel — our governments are going to clamp down, however much we may regret that course of action.

My oldest child is seventeen years old. This weekend, I wondered, for the first time, what kind of world awaits him as he enters his adult years.

As a child, I worried about the possibility of a nuclear war between the USA and the USSR. But, in general, we North Americans have been privileged to go about our daily lives without the shadow of imminent danger constantly hanging over us.

I fear that we are one terrorist attack removed from a reprioritization of fundamental western values.

I fear that my son is not the only one who is leaving the innocence of childhood behind.

UPDATE, July 26, 9:30 a.m.

Jack, a fellow blogger, has rebutted the information I provided about Israeli policy vis-à-vis suicide bombers. As I explained to Jack, my information came from another Canadian newspaper, the National Post.

But Jack pointed out, There have been multiple circumstances in which [Israeli security forces] caught the bomber and did not use their sidearms. Jack illustrated his point by referring me to the following examples:  here and here.

Jack also provided a link to this opinion piece from the Jerusalem Post:

Israel has taken enormous care in its “targeted killings” of “ticking bombs,” almost never killing anyone in a case of mistaken identity.

CONTRARY TO the absolute lies told in British media in recent days, the Israel Defense Forces have not instituted a shoot-to-kill policy, or trained the British to carry out one. …

Had Israeli police shot dead an innocent foreigner on one of its buses or trains, confirming the kill with a barrage of bullets at close range in a mistaken effort to thwart a bombing, the UN would probably have been sitting in emergency session by late afternoon to unanimously denounce the Jewish state.
Thanks, Jack; point taken.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack's Shack
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 17:51:00

    British police have now adopted a policy established by the Israeli security services, wherein suspected suicide bombers are shot up to five times in the head.

    Hi Q,

    FWIW, I am not 100 percent certain regarding the policy vis a vis the IDF. I can tell you that there have been multiple circumstances in which they caught the bomber and did not use their sidearms.


    There are other examples. The significance of this is that there are measures and steps that can be taken to try and limit/prevent the tragedy we saw the other day.

    Technology offers some amazing things.

    If that link doesn’t work you can find the articles at http://www.israel21c.com under technology.

    But I do agree with you that there is a real loss of innocence and it is something that I am very sad to see.

    I expect to see a lot of changes in the near future, time will tell if they are good or bad.


  2. Scott
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 18:22:00

    Hi Q – I just stumbled upon your blog and so far I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m sure I’ll have time int he next few days to play catch-up while I’m slacking off at work.
    I myself was surprised by this story. I initially thought the London bombings, while tragic, were just a footnote in history. But you’re right that the impact might be more than any of us expected. We tend to accept that Israel is in the middle of a warzone, but we don’t think of London that way. And the implications may be more than we’re willing to accept.


  3. xsapph
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 18:39:00

    Don’t give up hope of innocence lost, because each of us always inspired to overcome all odds and retain some personal identity whatever the vagaries of life… I am sure that we can each hold onto something essentially pure despite these difficult times…
    (I am about 20 miles from London, so have some sense of the gravity of the situation)… xsapph


  4. Q
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 18:45:00


    I got the information about the Israeli policy from another Canadian newspaper, the National Post:

    The policy is a key part of Operation Kratos, Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism campaign named for the Greek god of strength. It is based on Israeli police tactics that call for shooting a suspect up to five times in the head to keep him from setting off a suicide bomb.

    In some respects, the National Post has done a better job of writing up the story than the Globe and Mail; the article is worth a read.

    Whether the information about Israeli policy is accurate, I can’t say. Even if it is accurate, it’s reassuring to learn that Israeli security forces do not always utilize maximum force in such cases. I guess these are the kinds of decisions we will have to learn to make here in North America, too.


    Thanks for your comment. I’ll drop by for a look at your blog, too — you can count on it.


  5. Jack's Shack
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 19:07:00

    Hi Q,

    I’ll hazard a guess that neither you nor I are excited about the possibility of watching an execution and that is what happens with this type of policy.

    You have probably seen enough of my writing to know that I am not thrilled by having to hold to such a policy, but I see the need.

    In the end preservation of life is paramount. The question we are going to have to deal with is how far are we willing to go.

    How much of our freedom do we give up to protect ourselves, where do we draw the lines.


  6. Q
    Jul 25, 2005 @ 21:16:00


    Thanks for the encouraging words. You are right. Although there is an ugly side to human nature, there is also a beautiful side. The beautiful side always manages to shine through, no matter how dark the circumstances.

    I had a quick look at your blog. You tell beautiful stories.


    I’ve had a chance to look at those links. I think the key difference is, in both cases they apprehended the suicide bomber at a crossing point. Once someone is in the subway (or other crowded setting) the security forces have fewer options. They’re no longer taking risks only with their own lives, but also with the lives of hundreds of civilians they are sworn to protect.

    The thought of witnessing an execution is terrifying. But what bothers me in this case is the thought of the Brazilian, who was executed by the London police even though he was an innocent man.

    There’s an old utilitarian argument that is relevant here. It says that an act that harms one person may be ethical if many other people benefit from it. That’s the kind of scenario we’re looking at here. A small number of innocent people may be killed to protect a larger number of other people who would otherwise become the victims of suicide bombers.

    We instinctively reject the utilitarian argument because there is no way we can rationalize the injustice committed to the innocent party: especially if s/he is deprived of life without cause.

    But the alternative is what? If police have good reason to suspect that someone is a suicide bomber, should they give that individual an opportunity to set off a bomb and kill dozens, or hundreds?

    This is the kind of utilitarian calculation we’re being forced to make. And that’s what I mean when I speak of leaving the innocence of childhood behind. We citizens, in solidarity with our governments, may all have blood on our hands before this conflict is resolved.


  7. Jack's Shack
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 00:09:00


    Agreed on all points so far. It occurs to me that one of the reasons I questioned the remark about Israeli policy is that it seems to be rather impractical to suggest that head shots are required. Or maybe I am juxtaposing two separate issues.

    Here is what I am talking about.

    1) The head is a very small target and unless you have managed to restrain the target or gotten quite close there is a real possibility that the person will miss. Not every member of the military/law enforcement is an expert marksman.

    2) Spinning off on a small tangent if you have restrained the target and are concerned that you cannot prevent him/her from detonating the device it makes sense to shoot them in the head. But again that assumes that you are close enough and able to put the gun to their head. It is an execution without the benefit of a trial or jury.

    Very scary and it places a tremendous burden and responsibility on the police.


  8. Jack's Shack
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 01:31:00

    Hi Q,

    Ok, I stumbled across a piece in the Jerusalem Post that I found to be interesting. You can find it here

    I like the entire opinion piece but for the purpose of this comment look at this:

    CONTRARY TO the absolute lies told in British media in recent days, the Israel Defense Forces have not instituted a shoot-to-kill policy, or trained the British to carry out one. For example, on Friday, at the very time British police were shooting the man in the Tube, the IDF caught and disarmed a terrorist from Fatah already inside Israel en route to carrying out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Israeli forces didn’t injure the terrorist at all in apprehending him and disarming him of the 5-kg. explosive belt he was wearing.


  9. Bill
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 08:46:00

    While I am not the greatest fan of the Jerusalem Post (I find a degree of bias not entirely appropriate in a newspaper ) I do have to agree that;

    Had Israeli police shot dead an innocent foreigner on one of its buses or trains, confirming the kill with a barrage of bullets at close range in a mistaken effort to thwart a bombing, the UN would probably have been sitting in emergency session by late afternoon to unanimously denounce the Jewish state.

    Mayor Ken Livingstone, and the powers that be, in London are coming to grips with terrorism and this startling reality is causing startling errors. Like Q I think innocence is the first casualty we are now dealing with.

    The world is no longer innocent. I was talking to an Islamic taxi driver yesterday, he said while he does not like what is going on total war may be inevitable between the west and the Islamic hardliners. His regret is that it will make him and his family traitors in the eyes of a large number of Islamic faithful but that said he will never support the fundamentalists.

    His last comment (with passion ) was THIS IS WRONG WE MUST STOP IT!

    I Agree……


  10. Q
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 09:27:00

    Jack and Bill, you’ve both made excellent points.

    Jack, I appreciate the further information about the Israeli policy with respect to suicide bombers. I think I’ll move it up into the post as an update.

    Bill, you wrote, this startling reality is causing startling errors.

    That’s it exactly. I was shocked by the story of Mr. de Menezes’ death, and that’s what led me to post on the subject.

    I think we’ve crossed a threshold. I know, the Israeli government has killed civilians when it was targeting terrorists. And I know that American forces have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians in the war there.

    So maybe my response is irrational, but this seems different to me. Physically closer to home, because it happened in London, not an Iraqi or Palestinian city. Emotionally closer to home, because it happened on the public transit system during business hours.

    And the execution was carried out by police, not soldiers.

    It’s too easy to imagine this scenario playing out on the local public transit system, with some policeman who overreacts because he isn’t able to cope with the level of responsibility that events have forced upon him, and some unfortunate victim who, like Mr. de Menezes, happens to be carrying a backpack and wearing a jacket on a hot day.

    What I’m saying is, for the first time I can identify with the victim.

    Then again, I’m not a visible minority. And that makes all the difference, doesn’t it?



  11. Jack's Shack
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 10:12:00

    It is a little unnerving.


  12. Scott
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 16:07:00

    By the way, what exactly do we mean when we call it a “hot day”? The high in London today was 64F. That’s in the middle of the summer, folks. The high today in Menezes’ hometown in Brazil was 86F. It’s the middle of the winter there. I’d be wearing a jacket too, even if the Brits are sweating.
    But here’s what I want to know – I understand the utilitarian argumen that one innocent death trumps a bomb going off. But when is it not OK to shoot subway passengers? Is there any scenario when you can’t say, “He could have had a bomb. Isn’t it better that he’s dead and we’re sure?”


  13. Q
    Jul 26, 2005 @ 17:22:00

    I suspect my comment on utilitarianism was confusing. Partly because I tend to see both sides of every argument (that’s the way my mind works, and it’s how I sort through issues). And partly because I’m conflicted on this particular issue.

    If there’s a guy on my bus with a bomb, I want him dead without unnecessary delay. But hasty decisions are likely to be bad decisions … in which case an innocent man ends up dead.

    You write, when is it not OK to shoot subway passengers?

    I have two quick (even glib!) answers for you. First, by utilitarian reasoning, it’s not OK to shoot so many innocent passengers that you cause more deaths than you might have prevented.

    Second glib answer: it’s not OK to shoot someone when you don’t have enough evidence to legitimately suspect him or her of being a suicide bomber.

    But this doesn’t really solve the problem. Obviously the police thought they had adequate grounds to shoot Mr. de Menezes; and obviously they were wrong.

    Scott, I wasn’t defending the utilitarian argument. I can only say, I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make such horrific decisions. But someone in government, someone in the police force, and some unfortunate police officer who happens to be the person on the scene — these people have to make the hard decisions we’re talking about.

    Not so long ago I remember reading about a plane that was nearly shot out of the sky. I think it had been struck by lightning. Its navigation equipment stopped functioning. Its radio communication equipment stopped functioning. And it was heading for Washington or somewhere that could reasonably have been a terrorist target.

    A fighter jet approached with orders to shoot the plane down if it proved necessary. Thankfully, they got the attention of the pilot of the disabled plane (by firing a flare) and escorted him to an airport for a safe landing.

    But someone might have made the decision to shoot that plane out of the sky, and thereby killed an innocent pilot and a couple passengers.

    It’s the same scenario on the subway. Collect data, make a decision, act on the decision … and pray you haven’t killed an innocent man.

    I wouldn’t want to be the one making the decision. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be the person at risk of being shot!

    But the July 7 bombings are forcing that sort of decision on Londoners. And a similar attack on a subway system in North America would have similar consequences.


  14. Scott
    Jul 29, 2005 @ 15:48:00

    I completely understand that the Londoners are adopting a less tolerant mindset, and I even subscribe to a utilitarian POV.
    I liked your answer to my question, when you said that the limit of the number of innocents that can be killed is the number that might have been killed by terrorists. I agree with that. However, Menezes’ killing didn’t prevent an attack, and more importantly, didn’t prevent another innocent person from being killed. Admittedly, we have a very small sample, but if we continue the current trend, we could have lots of innocent people dying with no disruption to terrorist activity.
    I guess we have to step back and weigh the terror potential. I would take down the guy pushing his way towards the front of an inflight airplane (and not assume he’s just airsick, since Delta’s now too cheap to provide bags for passengers), but I think I’ll keep the only penalty for running in the hallway as a detention slip.


  15. Q
    Jul 30, 2005 @ 19:12:00

    Menezes’ killing didn’t prevent an attack, and more importantly, didn’t prevent another innocent person from being killed.

    Quite right. From a purely utilitarian accounting, the authorities are “minus one” so far.

    I think I’ll keep the only penalty for running in the hallway as a detention slip.

    Very clever! A sense of humour is a precious asset when times are hard.


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