The Jean Charles de Menezes Case

Hi everyone. Yes, it is true: I am back from vacation, and I have been stalking the comments section for a few days now, but I am trying very hard *not* to post regularly since I still have some outstanding work I want to finish before I get too sucked in. On the other hand some things are very hard to just let pass.

The case of poor Jean Charles de Menezes for a start. At the time of his death I defended the police action on this blog (incidentally, a lot of the comments at the time may well still be relevant to this post). At least, lets be clear, I defended the right of the police to act as they did to defend public life when there are reasonable grounds to assume that there is a real and present danger. I still hold that view.

However the FT today is running a version of events which is slightly different from the one we were offered, and formed our judgements with, in the immediate aftermath. In particular the FT suggests:

1/ Jean Charles de Menezes was in fact killed by guns fired by two police officers, not one as originally stated.

2/ Documents and photographs presented to the investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and leaked to ITV News suggested that Mr de Menezes was not carrying any bags, and was wearing only a denim jacket.

3/ ITV News also said the evidence to the IPCC said the CCTV cameras at Stockwell station were working and showed Mr de Menezes as behaving normally, and did not vault the barriers

4/ He was was in fact mistaken for Hamdi Issac, one of the men suspected of carrying out the failed attacks in London the previous day. If this was the case it is hard to see why more effort wasn’t made before he boarded the train to take him alive.

Of course all of this still has to be confirmed, but my initial response is: disturbing. It is extremely important for the effective conduct of the UK anti terrorism policy that we all have the highest possible confidence in the veracity and efficacy of the police services. It is important the inquiry be painstaking and rigourous. This is a clear case if ever there was one that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. I suggest that in the light of all the above the scope of the inquiry now needs to be extended to include an evaluation of how the police communicate sensitive and delicate information to the general public in difficult circumstances. What we don’t need is spin, or a drip feed.

Update: This situation, especially with the images now appearing is terribly moving and most distressing. AP have an up to date summary, and the Times have published – without comment – the full text of a statement from the de Menezes family lawyers, I think I can fully understand why.

Torture does not pay

As you consider the ongoing saga of US treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, spare a thought for Wolfgang Daschner. As I wrote in an earlier post, Daschner, Frankfurt’s former deputy police commissioner, faced trial for threatening one Magnus G?fgen with torture. G?fgen had kidnapped young Jakob von Metzler, and the police were trying desperately to find the boy. What they didn’t know at the time was that G?fgen had murdered him very shortly after the abduction and disposed of his body in a lake.

Daschner struck me as a model of the “well-meaning torturer”. He couldn’t have known that Metzler was already dead, and was frantic to find him. But when G?fgen kept shtum, Daschner decided to use torture as an ultima ratio. Well, he didn’t actually use it; but he threatened it, and that was enough both to make G?fgen talk and to make Daschner face criminal charges. In my earlier post, I had said that, if the court found Daschner guilty,

he should be punished. I would hope that the court, in meting out a punishment, would take into account the inhumanly impossible position Daschner found himself in (and the Criminal Code does allow for significantly milder penalties for criminal coercion than a three-year prison term)…. But I cannot accept that his deed be dismissed … because he was acting in good faith and sought to achieve a desirable result.

As the S?ddeutsche reports (in German, alas), the State Court in Frankfurt has now found Daschner guilty. His punishment, though, is mild indeed.
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