The Execution of Jean Charles de Menezes

In the aftermath of the murder, a cascade of misinformation and lies from the very top down. From Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair to the trigger-happy plain-clothes shooters identified only as "carrying a long-barrelled weapon", the actions that day have been exposed as a cover-up of the events that resulted in the extra-judicial execution of an innocent man.

The Execution of Jean Charles de Menezes

Joined: May 7 2006, 11:31 PM

Aug 21 2006, 11:37 PM #1

Crime and protection
by James K Galbraith ... arles.html

James K Galbraith holds the Lloyd M Bentsen Jr chair of government/business relations at the Lyndon B Johnson school of public affairs, the University of Texas at Austin, and a professorship in government. He is a senior scholar with the Levy Economics Institute, and chair of the board of Economists for Peace and Security, an international association of professional economists.

Those who established the shoot-to-kill policy are responsible for the execution of Jean Charles de Menezes.

On this first anniversary of the event, let us review what happened in London a year ago.

On July 22, 2005, a 27 year-old Brazilian electrician from Minas Gerais, Jean Charles de Menezes, left his flat, wearing jeans and a light denim jacket. He was on his way to a job, but not carrying any tools as they were already at his destination. He walked to the bus, caught the bus to the Stockwell undergound station, walked into the station picking up a newspaper, passed through the turnstiles in the usual way, and then sprinted to catch a departing train. Once on board, he took a seat.

Presumably unbeknownst to de Menezes, the apartment house in which he lived had figured (it was later said) in the address book of one of the July 21 bombers, who had been arrested. It was under surveillance. Mr de Menezes was followed on and off the bus to the underground by a surveillance team. Coordinating between several teams, they allowed him to enter the station, and then the train. When he took a seat one of the officers grabbed him and pinned his arms. Officers in plain clothes surrounded him, and in slow motion several of them fired their service weapons into his head. Witnesses, including one professional journalist, recalled hearing shot after shot, spaced many seconds apart, as they fled from the scene. Eight bullets hit de Menezes, seven of them in the head.

All this emerged from investigation but the initial story was quite different. According to those first reports from the police, de Menezes was a suspicious character. He was wearing a bulky coat on a hot day. He was carrying a bag. He jumped the turnstile. He refused to stop when ordered. Once in the train, he looked like a "cornered fox." He tripped and fell. Officers had reason to fear that he was a suicide bomber about to detonate his charge. They thus took the correct steps under the "shoot-to-kill policy" that had been activated on July 7. Indeed they were heroes, endangering their own lives to protect the public in a situation of crisis.

Yet every detail of this original official story was false. The Independent on July 26, 2005, ran a small section headlined "How the Story Has Changed," listing how various elements had already unraveled. Nothing stated officially in the case of de Menezes could be taken on faith.

The conduct of the surveillance officers made clear that they did not consider de Menezes to have been a terrorist threat. Otherwise, why follow him on and off a bus? Why allow him to enter the underground station? Why not approach him, or even kill him, in the open air where less damage would be done if the bomb did turn out to be detonated by a "dead man's switch" - such as a hand grenade with the pin pulled? On August 21, The Observer reported that the police themselves admitted they had not thought de Menezes was a risk.

Now we have an official report, in the form of a letter to the bereaved family. It confirms that the surveillance teams knew that de Menezes was not a threat. It holds that there was no motive; that the entire episode was a tragedy of mis-communication, with orders to "stop" de Menezes interpreted as orders to shoot him dead. Those orders were carried out, it is said, by a firearms team rushing belatedly onto the scene, unaware of what fellow-officers already knew.

For the purposes of argument, let's accept all of the current, revised, official story. So far as we know, the facts are not in dispute. Let's take them as stipulated. Where do they lead?

To this distant observer, it seems that there were three possibilities, of which two can now be ruled out.

The first is that the firearms officers acted on their own, without orders, against protocols. In that case, the killing alone would be enough to establish a crime. The manner of the deed and the identity of the officers are, as of now, undisputed. The unauthorized execution of a detained person might be manslaughter or even murder, depending on the conditions at the scene. Either way, it would have to be considered a very serious offence. But this possibility is out. No charges will be filed against the officers who executed Jean Charles de Menezes.

A second possibility would place blame on the designated senior officer, Commander Cressida Dick. According to the Times, this is still under internal investigation. But in what world can a police officer, on her own authority, order the execution of a person already detained? It is obvious that what is not permitted for the firearms officers, acting on their own, could not be permitted to their commander, acting on her own. Commander Dick could have acted only to invoke a protocol, previously established. The Guardian puts this precisely: "Commander Cressida Dick was designated as the officer who would decide whether the suspect was so dangerous that a shoot-to-kill policy should apply."

The remaining possibility is that the blame lies with the "shoot-to-kill policy." It is that superior authorities had previously established protocols, which could have been interpreted by firearms officers as demanding the summary execution, on orders, of a man already being pinned down. That is the possibility left open by the exculpation of the firearms officers. Their mistake, it is said, lay in misunderstanding certain words, which in their minds triggered an unintended, but otherwise legitimate order. This appears to be the only possibility left open. In fact, it appears to be the official explanation for this incident.

If such protocols truly exist in this form, they are a crime. They are a crime for which those who established the shoot-to-kill orders, rather than their subordinates, bear responsibility. And for which, in a just world, they would be charged.

They won't be, of course. The shoot-to-kill policy is protected - as was Guantanamo over here - by the woolly bromides of the "war on terror." And those, of course, cannot be questioned.

Rest in peace, Jean Charles de Menezes.