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July 23, 2005
Collateral Damage

At first blush, the news reports from Britain indicated that special operations forces had averted another suicide bombing in the London subway system when they shot and killed a suspect who gate-crashed and attempted to escape on the Tube. The man had ignored several commands to stop and cooperate, and instead headed for the same system that had recently seen two coordinated attacks. When police stopped him, they immediately killed him to stop the suspect from blowing up the train, themselves, and surrounding Londoners. They had every reason to believe that they had saved dozens of lives.

Every reason, until they discovered he had no bomb:

Scotland Yard admitted Saturday that a man police officers gunned down at point-blank range in front of horrified subway passengers on Friday had nothing to do with the investigation into the bombing attacks here.

The man was identified by police as Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old Brazilian, described by officers as an electrician on his way to work. "He was not connected to incidents in central London on 21st July, 2005, in which four explosive devices were partly detonated," a police statement said. ...

The shooting shocked many of the country's 1.6 million Muslims, already alarmed by a publicly acknowledged shoot-to-kill policy directed against suspected suicide bombers. And it has dealt a major setback to the police inquiry into suspected terrorist cells in London.

"This really is an appalling set of circumstances," said John O'Connor, a former police commander. "The consequences are quite horrible." Azzam Tamimi, head of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "This is very frightening. People will be afraid to walk the streets, or go on the tube, or carry anything in their hands."

A cousin of the dead man, interviewed on Brazil's leading television network, identified him as Joo Alves Menezes and said he was an electrician who had been working in England for more than three years. The cousin, Alex Pereira Alves, identified Mr. Menezes' body in London, the network said.

Mr. Menezes was from the interior state of Minas Gerais, home of the bulk of migrants from Brazil to the United States and Europe and had been in Britain legally, Mr. Alves said. He would have been on his way to work that morning, he said, and had no reason to flee the police.

Menezes, a Catholic, had legally emigrated to Britain three years earlier and worked as an electrician. He spoke English well and would have understood the commands to stop, and his family says he had no reason to flee from the police -- and yet he did.

Many people will take this time to second-guess the London police and British special services. They will note the tragic consequences of a shoot-first policy that killed an apparently innocent man just trying to get to work, although one would expect that an innocent man would have stopped when commanded to do so instead of running for the nearest subway car. The police themselves will now second-guess themselves when it comes to making split-second decisions that could mean death in either direction.

Debate on tactics has its place and its benefits, but when such debate comes, it has to take place in the proper context -- and that context is the war which Islamofascist terrorists have declared on the West.

In its way, this shows the folly of treating captured terrorists as if they were POWs. The Geneva Conventions exist to prevent civilian authorities to make these kinds of choices. It forces nations engaged in warfare to clothe their soldiers in recognizable uniforms so that civilians do not face these deadly consequences. The death of Menezes shows the wisdom of summary executions of infiltrators, spies, and saboteurs during wartime in order to discourage their use. The use of deadly force on people in civilian life in part because of a poor choice of outerwear during a hot summer season directly relates to the kinds of attacks that al-Qaeda has conducted on civilian populations.

London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, departed from his normally loathsome moral equivalencies to point the blame for Menezes' death where it belongs:

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said: "The police acted to do what they believed necessary to protect the lives of the public.

"This tragedy has added another victim to the toll of deaths for which the terrorists bear responsibility."

Livingstone manages to get this one right. This is why civilized nations saw the need to agree on conditions for war as an exchange for proper treatment of the combatants. It protects the combatants -- but more so, it protects the non-combatants. Al-Qaeda hides its operatives among non-combatants to not only avoid their own capture but also to maximize collateral damage in our response. Encouraging this by granting their terrorist minions GC protections only guarantees more of the tragedy that took Menezes' life.

If anyone doubts this, let me pose this scenario. You have taken your wife and children to the subway in your city. Just as you turn away to see them off on their day, you hear loud voices telling someone to stop now and for everyone else to get down. As people drop to the ground, you see a young man vault the turnstiles and run hell-bent for the same subway car your family just boarded. You notice that he's wearing a long trenchcoat despite the 80-degree heat and what looks like a bulky sweater underneath, and that he looks terrified. Several police trail behind him by twenty feet, yelling at him to stop, but he speeds up instead. The doors to the car have not closed, and he sees them open and lunges towards your family. At this point, it occurs to you that if he has a bomb, he could set it off at any time and kill dozens of people -- including you and your family.

What would you like the police to do? Treat him like a criminal or a terrorist?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 23, 2005 10:09 PM

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