Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We Can't Handle The Truth

Oh yeah, you thought Martin Kettle had written a really lousy piece of apologia for Sir Ian Blair? Well I'll see your Martin Kettle and raise you a David Aaronovitch.

Again the message is "the vulnerability, the fallibility", the projection onto the British public of a cowardice we really don't possess. We must ignore people being shot on our trains, because deep down in our hearts, we want the rough men with guns to protect us from the deadly Islamissses terror within. We're all contradictory about this, because we are too soft to face up to the hard realities that Aaro and Kettle (and Ian Blair) deal with every day. Christ, am I really going to have to dig up that Jack Nicholson clip from YouTube?[1]

There is no tradeoff between security and security. Reducing the rate of false positive does not by any means necessary imply increasing the rate of false negatives. You cannot correct for a mistake in letting someone get onto the Tube by increasing the level of violence you authorise once he is down there (by the way, Aaro is dead wrong to say that the Operation Kratos guidelines authorise shooting on suspicion). Finally, of course, I cannot help noting that on not one single instance during the last two years has there been a "true positive" - empirically, the record of Operation Kratos is innocents killed, 1, actual suicide bombers killed zero. The police have saved us from a couple of suicide bomb plots but they haven't done it by shooting people in the head.

Meanwhile, Aaro shows distinct signs of going down the Nick Cohen route of demanding that every film ever made portray the Decent view of the world, and also denying that British jihadism has any cause other than the well-known "miasma of pure evil drifting out from the pages of Sayyid Qutb". Even MI5 itself believes that anti-terrorist legislation runs the risk of contributing to the alienation and radicalisation of Muslim teenagers. I didn't watch "Britz", so it might have been just as bad as he says, but his track record on these things isn't great.

Of course, the man I really blame for this column is Simon Jenkins. If he hadn't gone into semi-retirement at the Guardian, there wouldn't be a space on the Times op-ed page for Aaro in the first place.

[1]Note, by the way, that Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men" is full of shit too. For one thing, the action in the film took place in Guantanamo Bay, pre-9/11 but after the collapse of Communism. The idea that the Nicholson's garrison was the only thing standing between the US civilian population and totalitarianism was ludicrous. For another, the actual charge that Nicholson is facing in this court-martial is that he allowed one of his own men to be beaten to death in a bullying episode that went wrong. It just isn't true that bullying your own recruits to death is necessary in order to safeguard a free society, which is kind of why he was being court martialled in the first place - Nicholson's character actually claims that "Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives", but he obviously doesn't explain how the hell this might be, because it's utter bullshit. I don't know if it's a tribute to Nicholson as an actor or to the filmgoing public as morons that nobody seems to notice this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, beat me to it. I liked this bit best:

"That’s why the man who really caused the death of Jean Charles de Menezes was not the policeman who put the bullets in the poor Brazilian’s head but an Ethiopian called Hussein Osman."

So, inter alia, the US brought 9/11 on itself! What amazes me though is that Hussein Osman was such a terrorist mastermind that he could not only cause the Met to screw up but could cause them to screw up in all of the 19 specific ways identified by the court in the operation that led to the shooting of Jean Paul de Menezes. And yet he couldn't even successfully blow up a tube train. Truly a mysterious paradox.

11/06/2007 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"nobody seems to notice this" -- this claim is a bit a of cohenism* isn't it? i've never seen "can't handle the truth" quoted except as an absurdist joke!**

*or shd it be "cohenasm"? ie like pleonasm

11/06/2007 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

even worse than misunderstanding Kratos, didn't the health and safety court case discover that Kratos wasn't even in place when de Menezes was shot?

11/06/2007 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember kids, when the goodies kill someone, we've got to look at the root causes, not blame the killers. When the baddies kill someone, looking at the root causes and thus failing to blame the killers is the act of craven maniacs. Clear?

Chris Williams

11/06/2007 04:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Nicholson is supposed to be full of shit in 'A Few Good Men'. Aaron Sorkin doesn't really do debate. If that speech had been delivered less well, the counterpoint to Tom Cruise and Demi Moore's principled lawyering would have been laughable.

That is a very poor article and argument by DA. The police (to use DA's examples) made two poor choices: not detaining de Menezes before he got on a bus (did no one in the Met think of liaising with London Transport and being able to close Tube stations at will or tell buses not to pick up passengers?) and then, rather than trying to arrest him, shooting him seven times in the head. Their reasons for suspecting him were somewhat weak as well: he wasn't dressed like a bomber (and we know that bombers have to carry bombs - he plainly wasn't). They should not have believed he was a bomber by the time they caught up with him.

I don't remember either Kettle or Aaro ever mentioning PC Stephen Oake who was murdered "by al-Qaeda suspect Kamel Bourgass in Manchester in 2003." Bourgass, despite being armed and extremely dangerous, was detained without being shot. They can do it in Manchester. Why not the Met?

11/06/2007 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Yes, I don't think we're invited to agree with Jack Nicholson, any more than we necessarily agree with Danny De Vito in other People's Money (where his speech blows the better-known "greed is good" speech from Wall Street totally offstage). But they're superb and accurate renderings of genuinely-held points of view.

Which I wonder is not part of the problem here, and it's a problem of courtierdom: if you spend most of your life in the company of the powerful, the decision-makers, you end up seeing things entirely from their genuinely-held point of view. Now of course it's valuable to be aware of that point of view, to walk around in Ian Blair's shoes before condemning him: but it's a bloody sight short of deciding that because these are honourable* people taking difficult decisions, somehow they should not be called to account when there are fatal shootings due to incompetence, lest it make their job allegedly harder.

There are many reasons why not, but one of them is perhaps that there are other genuinely-held points of view: there are those of us, for instance, who might look at the shooting in the light of having many times taken the Tulse Hull bus, many times had to reboard at Brixton because the Tube was closed and many, many times (my chess club used to be in Stockwell) having got off the bus again where De Menezes did. The law is not supposed to look at events purely through the eyes of the law enforceers, and there are terms for what happens when it does.

(Incidentally, I'll be a bore and repeat what I said before, that in order for what Aaro and Kettle said to pass muster, martial law would have had to have been in operation. Mind you, perhaps I should say it less since I do sometimes wonder whether these gentlemen might not like a State of Emergency to be declared. With regrets and reservations, naturally.)

[* = if we ignore the evidence that suggests otherwise]

11/06/2007 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

(did no one in the Met think of liaising with London Transport and being able to close Tube stations at will or tell buses not to pick up passengers?)

Very, very good question.

11/06/2007 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

god, all these people who immediately realised that you aren't meant to support Jack Nicholson really need to get out and about into the moronsphere much more. I swear to you that 99% of people who watched that film were rooting for the fascists.

11/06/2007 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

That was surely the worst Aaro piece yet.

"We are in a strange condition not to have noticed that the two main criticisms of the Met in the de Menezes case are — more or less — incompatible. The one case is that, for whatever reason, the officers involved acted with appalling and undue violence, as a result of which an ordinary member of the public was left with seven dum-dum bullets inside him, and there but for the grace of God die we. The other is that the police, believing Mr de Menezes to be a 21/7 bomber returning to public transport to fulfil the jihadi duty that he’d flunked the day before, allowed him to board a bus and then a train, without intercepting him. You can try and evade the choice, but it is really one or the other"

This isn't at all the main criticism, is it? That might be the main criticisms if they had shot a terrorist (but I suspect they would have been rather less of them).

The main criticism is that they shot dead an innnocent man, through mistakes of identification that any competent organisation would have avoided.

11/06/2007 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well actually Aaro, a main criticism is precisely that the two positions are incompatible, which is why it is really fucking hard to see why the chap was so harmless allowed to board the bus unmolested at Tulse Hill and yet a couple of miles further on at Stockwell he was so dangerous he needed seven bullets put in his brain. Unless, that is, the cops has ballsed up somewhere along the line. As indeed they did.

Notice the dishonest way in which Aaro depicts his opponents' position as "the police, believing Mr de Menezes to be a 21/7 bomber" which I should think is the position of absolutely nobody at all.

My dear good God.

11/06/2007 06:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

note that "Brownie" of Harry's Place has taken this one a lap further, saying not only "I have no tine for posting right now, but that doesn’t matter because David Aaronovitch in his Times column says most of what I would be saying. "

which is about right but not in the way he thinks, but:

"And as the brickbats fly, so let it be remembered that we are talking about officers who, whatever culpability they share, ran towards a man they believed on the cusp of detonating a bomb that would have sent them and any passengers in the vicinity to an early grave"

Which, of course, is not true of either Sir Ian Blair or Cressida Dick.

11/06/2007 09:46:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Or indeed of the officers who were incompetent in all sorts of ways prior to and during De Menezes' journey.

Note that when he says "culpability", it doesn't actually mean that that culpability should have any legal meaning.

11/07/2007 08:27:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Which, of course, is not true of either Sir Ian Blair or Cressida Dick.

"Upbraid my falsehood! when they've said 'as false
As air, as water, wind, or sandy earth,
As fox to lamb, as wolf to heifer's calf,
Pard to the hind, or stepdame to her son,'
'Yea,' let them say, to stick the heart of falsehood, 'As false as Cressid.'"

11/07/2007 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few quick points.

1. As EJH says, the main criticism of the Police is precisely that there are two positions that are incompatible. If de Menezes was allowed to get on two buses and get into Brixton town centre and into Stockwell station it is very hard to see how he could have been thought to be a suicide bomber on active duty who had to be blown away by a hit-squad.

2) This problem of two incompatible positions became clear when the prosecution made its opening statement. This was the first time that someone presented a clear narrative of what happened on that day. Up to that time the air had been thick with innuendo and spin, most of it generated by the police. As soon as the story was told in court the problem became clear (which is essential in a democratic society but clearly makes the police feel very uncomfortable).

3) Aaro is an intelligent guy. He must know that what he is writing is nonsense. He must know that it is the police that are saying incompatible things and not their critics. What does he feel about being part of this tidal wave of nonsense that we've been subject to for the last few years? Is he happy to be a kind of official urinal (as EP Thompson said of Chapman Pincher) where the police line up to leak?

11/07/2007 01:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Stockwell One report is well worth reading as it gives a clear account of the sequence of events and was clearly the basis of the prosecution opening statement at the H+S trial. You will also see how mangled many of the accounts of the events in the press over the last two years have been.

Why do the press highlight among the recommendations the one that says the police radios should work underground? Is it because the press are steered towards this recommendation and away from the other ones? Is it because journalists can only deal with this kind of technical recommendation, and cannot deal with ones about the competence of the police?

Aaro's assertion that it was Osman who was responsible for de Menezes' death seems laughable after you read the IPCC report. If the police are going to act like this every time there is a possible terrorist alert, we had all better stay at home and lock the doors.

One of the shocking things in the report is that Sir Ian Blair tried to block or delay the IPCC involvement in investigating the case even though it is mandatory in cases where there has been death or serious injury during a policing incident. And the then Prime Minister supported him: quelle surprise?

11/09/2007 10:22:00 AM  

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