On shooting to kill


‘Shooting to kill’ is immoral, unethical and illegal – even where adopted by United Kingdom police forces. To shoot to kill, as a deliberate and calculated policy, is unacceptable in any country professing democracy, to uphold human, civil and political rights, and to abide by the rule of law. It is the policy Pinochet’s fascist government followed in Chile and, equally sinisterly, what the ‘death squads’ did systematically and successfully in El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Central American regimes, for too many years, destroying too many lives. Even one life was too many.

Thanks to Bill Leak at the Australian

Thanks to Bill Leak at The Australian

The shooting to death of any human being is abhorrent. Our law allows for this only in the case of self-defence. There can be no justification for police targeting a ‘suspect’, following them and then, when they run for a train, bus, tram or the tube shooting them down with a bullet (or bullets) to the head or the heart, with instant death. The stupidity of the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes is readily apparent. Had he been, as appears to be the rationale [sic], a ‘suicide bomber’, shooting him down in the crowded underground would have been madness, and shooting him on the tube, filled with fellow passengers, is even more reckless. Myriad ways exist to disarm or put out of action human beings, without ending their lives. Surely police are taught this in their initial training, have continuing education in non-mortal methods, and are brought up to speed on new techniques.

Critical questions must be asked about the policies applied in the poorly named ‘War on Terror’.

Critical questions must also be asked about the rush to judgement arising out of the London bombings. Conflicting newspaper reports indicate that there is mass confusion about the bombers.

Were they ‘suicide bombers’? Media report this as if it is an established fact. Yet others, more prudently, ask whether this should so easily be said, citing evidence such as the purchasing of return tickets – unnecessary if the train and tube trips were to be the alleged bombers’ last.

Four dead men stand condemned as the bombers. Yet they are unable to speak for themselves. Were they alive, ‘innocent before being found guilty’ would be their right. Yet in death, they are deprived entirely of this fundamental tenet of the British legal system.

Memories are short, too. The right to be held innocent until proven guilty did not avail Gerry Conlon and his fellow accused, who became prisoners thanks to police, prosecutors, judges, courts, trial and appeal courts which condemned him on the basis of his (and their) Irish accent.

When London pubs and railway stations were the subject of a bombing campaign by the IRA, people with Irish accents did not only suffer bias, prejudice and discrimination in their everyday city lives. They were at risk of being arrested, tried and convicted, without proper evidence, with evidence supporting their lack of guilt being concealed by the prosecution, or with evidence manufactured by police.

On 5 October 1974, two English pubs in Guildford were wracked by bomb explosions. The Guildford 4 – three men, one woman – after being charged in December that year were tried and convicted a year later. They spent December 1974 to October 1989 in prison. Alongside them, the Maguire 7 stood charged with ‘handling explosives’ for the IRA. They were charged, convicted and imprisoned, too. Today, all of them would be described as terrorists. That title was used against them three decades ago, too.

All were exonerated and released, except for Conlon Snr, who died in prison. This vindication came about through years of campaigning, and despite the failure of the justice system to listen, for too long.

As Gerry Conlon says, in his book, In the Name of the Father, of the many eyewitnesses to the bombings, none could identify any of the Guildford 4, and no physical evidence tied them to the bombings. The police and prosecuting authorities ‘had no explosives, no detonators, no guns and no ammunition. They had no maps of London, no maps of the southeast of England, no list of targets, no lists of prominent people. They had no usable intelligence information, no touts, no ‘grasses’ no safe houses, and no cars.’ What they did have were false ‘confessions’, engineered by overbearing police and accepted by susceptible courts, despite the contradictions on all important points between them.

As for the Maguire 7, supposed traces of nitroglycerin on their hands, said to be detected by laboratory results from swab tests, convicted them. There was nothing in the trial showing how nitroglycerin got there, or where it came from. In the light of other convictions, based confidently on forensic tests, the question arises of whether there was nitroglycerin at all.

The maiming and killing of civilians going about their daily business by bombs or any other means is abhorrent. Equally abhorrent is the support given to denial of justice and the rule of law, exemplified by the ‘shoot to kill’ policy.

If that policy had been exercised against Gerry Conlon, his father, and the other nine who served time with them, it is unlikely that there would ever have been a vindication of them, a recognition of their innocence, and of the unethical (and perhaps criminal) conduct that went in to convicting them.

The ‘War on Terror’ cannot be allowed to stand in the way of justice, fairness and a due regard for our right to live in a society which upholds human rights, takes action against the denial of civil and political rights, and not only believes in the rule of law, but applies it.

The colour of a person’s skin, their ethnic origin and their religion should not make them automatically targets. In the words of Martin Niemoller:

In Germany they came first for the Communists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me – and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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