I’ve been thinking a lot about the Police’s shoot-to-kill policy for suspected suicide bombers. It’s been stuck in my mind mostly because it just feels wrong. Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite put my finger on a good reason why.
Well, Bruce Schneier - as regularly seems to be the case - has done exactly that. In fact, it’s a reasonably simply critisism, and I’m a bit annoyed that it didn’t occur to me. Oh well:
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.
Bruce is, of course, entirely right. Now, I can call this policy stupid, and have a good supporting argument!
Today, Bruce posted a follow-up in response to the International Association of Chiefs of Police announcing that they support this policy, which is also worth reading. The criteria for identifying a suicide bomber are horribly vague:
The police organization’s behavioral profile says such a person might exhibit “multiple anomalies,” including wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather or carrying a briefcase, duffel bag or backpack with protrusions or visible wires. The person might display nervousness, an unwillingness to make eye contact or excessive sweating. There might be chemical burns on the clothing or stains on the hands. The person might mumble prayers or be “pacing back and forth in front of a venue.”
I find this trend worrying. We’re seeing far too much policy and law around with unclear intent and vague criteria. No politician, to my knowledge, has explained in detail why additional anti-terrorism powers are needed. No one has clearly explained the goals of national identity legislation. No one has yet accounted for the shortcomings of shoot-to-kill policies, or explained the events that led to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. These questions need to be asked, and more importantly, they need to be answered…