Is there a justifiable shoot-to-kill policy?

In Bob Brecher, Mark Devenney & Aaron Winter (eds.), Discourses and Practices of Terrorism. Routledge (2010)
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I begin by contending that an absolute prohibition to avoid resorting to shoot-to-kill, under any circumstances, does not adequately address the considerable negative consequences that could follow. In opening up the question for debate, I seek to alert us to the risks of moral corruption in both thought and practice, but I do not take these to be unassailable. Next, I pose a set of questions in order to interrogate unsafe assumptions and to disambiguate critical language in the shoot-to-kill scenario. (1) How might shoot-to-kill be analogous to self-defence? (2) Should we not distinguish between reasons which could explain from those which do not justify why a suicide bomber acted as they did? (3) Must we avoid entertaining any charges of complicity on the suicide bombers’ behalf? (4) How, if at all, does racial profiling adulterate the grounds for police suspicion? (5) Does “reasonability” differ from “absolute necessity” as a precondition for enacting shoot-to-kill? And, (6), prompted by the injustice of the Jean Charles de Menezes case, can we assess the moral consequences of relocating the moment of decision from the firearms officer to their operational commander? After taking stock of the results of these enquiries, I conclude that resort to 'Kratos' rules of engagement unjustifiably raises the risk of shooting dead an innocent person, compared to the risk from harm that the general population may be reasonably expected to shoulder.



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Shahrar Ali
University College London

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