We’ve recently learned that London’s Metropolitan Police has a shoot-to-kill policy when dealing with suspected suicide terrorists. The theory is that only a direct headshot will kill the terrorist immediately, and thus destroy the ability to execute a bombing attack.

Roy Ramm, former Met Police specialist operations commander, said the rules for confronting potential suicide bombers had recently changed to “shoot to kill”….

Mr Ramm said the danger of shooting a suspected suicide bomber in the body was that it could detonate a bomb they were carrying on them.

“The fact is that when you’re dealing with suicide bombers they only way you can stop them effectively — and protect yourself — is to try for a head-shot,” he said.

This policy is based on the extremely short-sighted assumption that a terrorist needs to push buttons to make a bomb explode. In fact, ever since World War I, the most common type of bomb carried by a person has been the hand grenade. It is entirely conceivable, especially when a shoot-to-kill policy is known to be in effect, that suicide bombers will use the same kind of dead-man’s trigger on their bombs: a detonate that is activated when a button is released, rather than when it is pushed.

This is a difficult one. Whatever policy you choose, the terrorists will adapt to make that policy the wrong one.

The police are now sorry they accidentally killed an innocent they suspected of being a suicide bomber, but I can certainly understand the mistake. In the end, the best solution is to train police officers and then leave the decision to them. But honestly, policies that are more likely to result in living incarcerated suspects — and recover well from false alarms — that can be interrogated are better than policies that are more likely to result in corpses.

EDITED TO ADD these comments by Nicholas Weaver:

“One other thing: The suspect was on the ground, and immobilized. Thus the decision was made to shoot the suspect, repeatedly (7 times) in the head, based on the perception that he could have been a suicide attacker (who dispite being a suicide attacker, wasn’t holding a dead-man’s switch. Or heck, wire up the bomb to a $50 heart-rate monitor).

“If this is policy, it is STUPID: There is an easy way for the attackers to counter it, and when you have a subway execution of an innocent man, the damage (in the hearts and minds of british muslims) is immense.

“One thing to remember:

“These were NON uniformed officers, and the suspect was brasilian (and probably didn’t speak very good english).

“Why did he run? What would YOU do if three individuals accosted you, speaking a language which you were unfamiliar with, drawing weapons? You would RUN LIKE HELL!

“I find the blaming the victim (‘but he was running!’) reprehensible.”

ANOTHER EDIT: The consensus seems to be that he spoke English well enough. I don’t think we can blame the officers without a whole lot more details about what happened, and possibly not even then. Clearly they were under a lot of stress, and made a split-second decision.

But I think we can reasonably criticize the shoot-to-kill policy that the officers were following. That policy is a threat to our security, and our society.

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