Posts filed under Proportionality

Street Thugs

From England:

So far, police have arrested more than 1,700 suspects. About 1,000 of those have been charged. Of those convicted some are receiving what seem to be tough sentences.

Take Anderson Fernandes. He faces possible jail time for stealing two scoops of ice cream during a Manchester riot. There are other cases involving petty theft like stealing a bottle of water, a cake and chewing gum.

. . . Politicians and the public [sic] have demanded tough sentences.

And that may explain what seem to be particularly harsh sentences for Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenen. They each got four years in prison for using Facebook to incite a riot, or rather failing to incite a riot.

Both invited their Facebook friends to join in the looting with a “smash down” at an appointed place and time. No one showed up, however, except for police who promptly arrested them.

. . .

But many also feel that harsh punishments are necessary to let offenders know the riots were not a free-for-all without consequences.

Riots and looters trashed the pretty and normally placid suburb of Ealing, west London last week. The day after, I stood in the riot debris and an elderly woman stopped for a chat.

She lamented the state of Britain’s youth and suggested one way to deal with it. They should bring back … execution, she said grimly, drawing a finger across her throat.

— Atika Shubert, CNN World (2011-08-17): Riot sentences stir backlash in UK

I’m reminded of the time that Lyndon Johnson took a brief break from napalming Vietnamese children to get on the TV in July 1967, in order to speak out on the riots in Detroit, and to declare that We will not endure violence. It matters not by whom it is done or under what slogan or banner. It will not be tolerated. Which is why — under the slogan of public order and the banner of the United States government — he sent tanks and soldiers down Woodward Avenue, so that they could massacre unarmed teenagers at the Algiers Hotel, and join the local police in gunning down looters and curfew violators.

Military targets

The news has been full of headlines about the United States killing Osama bin Laden. I don’t have anything in particular to add to what’s already been said on that. But what you may have missed in the rush is that last weekend they actually went for a twofer and tried to kill Muammar Gadhafi too. They didn’t manage to do that, but they did kill his 29 year old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi. They did this by having NATO war-planes fire two missiles into a family home. This is what all the news stories talk about.[1] They also killed three of his grandchildren. This is almost never put in the headlines and almost always tacked on as a single sentence with an Also, by the way…. It took about half an hour of searching, but the one story I found with anything to say about the grandchildren — the majority of the victims of this strike — is this article by Richard Boudreaux from the Wall Street Journal. Two of the grandchildren they killed were toddlers, a two-year-old girl, and a two-year-old boy. The other was a baby girl only 5 months old.

Libyan officials called the airstrikes an assassination attempt on Col. Gadhafi, who they said was in the compound but escaped harm, and an attack on a residential neighborhood of Tripoli. The leader’s 29-year-old son, Saif al-Arab Gadhafi, was reported killed while hosting a family gathering. Two of his nieces, aged 5 months and 2 years; a 2-year-old nephew, and an adult friend also died in the blasts, the officials said.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard, Commander of NATO’s Military Operations, Said In A Statement that All NATO’s are military in nature. He said that NATO is fulfilling its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent attacks against civilians with precision and care. He said that We regret all loss of life, especially the innocent civilians being harmed as a result of this ongoing conflict.

Here is the military target that Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard had blown up with a missile.

Neighbors said the bombed compound, across town from the Libyan leader’s main residential complex at Bab al-Aziziya, has belonged to the Gadhafi family for decades. Saif al-Arab, the sixth of the colonel’s seven sons, lived there, but it was also used by his parents and other relatives, neighbors said. Its walled grounds encompass two residences; two other buildings, one used as a den and the other as a kitchen; and an empty stable.

Two missiles struck the compound, one stopping the kitchen clock 45 seconds after 8:08 p.m. Several pots of food—pasta, rice, fish, stuffed peppers—had been cooking on an electric stove.

— Richard Boudreaux, Gadhafi Strikes Port After Kin Killed, in the Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2011

The target was a family home in a residential neighborhood. One member of the family happens to be a thug and a mass murderer, and if he died, it’d be as righteous a kill as any in this world. But 2 year olds and babies being set down to dinner have nothing to do with that. But they, not he were the ones who died, in the infinite precision of blowing up houses with air-to-surface missiles, so that NATO could fulfil its U.N. mandate to stop and prevent systematic attacks on the Libyan population and populated areas.

They said that was a precision strike against a known command and control building. They said that they intend to step up strikes against broadcasting facilities and command centers in the capital. They are so sorry, they regret so much, and they are going to do it again, and again, and again.

Somewhere out there, at the bottom of the chain of command, there is a soldier from America or Europe who pulled the trigger and fired a missile into a house full of people on the off chance that it might kill a politically-significant target. He killed a baby and two toddlers instead. He must be so proud.

When he comes back home, people will clap him on the back and tell him Thank you for your service and those of us who suggest that there is nothing noble or courageous about shooting missiles into residential neighborhoods and murdering babies will be told what a bunch of naifs, or ingrates, or wretches we are if we blame those who were just following orders, instead of supporting the troops.

Meanwhile, at the top of the chain of command, there is an immensely powerful gang of generals and heads of state, calling the shots and signing off on the plans to launch missiles on mission after mission like this one, knowing perfectly well that these kinds of aerial assaults, the policy and the tactics that they have chosen to prosecute their chosen wars, constantly and predictably mean killing many times more civilians, families, and children than people allegedly targeted by the mission. They call for this over and over again, in the off chance that one day the massacre will also manage to kill off somebody who matters. All so that that Progressive President Barack Obama can give a press conference and pound a podium and say My fellow Americans to announce another landmark triumph for Justice and American Forces. Those of us who mention all the friends and kinfolks and babies and bystanders they killed in this cynical policy of massacres are accused of being sensationalists, perhaps not even engaged in adult conversation. Those of us who say that governments shouldn’t be launching this kind of aerial assault, given how many innocents it inevitably kills, will be told that we just don’t care enough to try and stop a repressive regime from slaughtering Libyan civilians.

It took me a while to write about this because everything about it it makes me so angry, and so miserable.

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  1. [1] Cf. CNN: One of Gadhafi’s sons killed in NATO airstrike, BBC: Nato strike “kills Saif al-Arab Gaddafi,” Libya says, AP: Libyan spokesman says Moammar Gadhafi survives NATO missile strike that kills his youngest son, etc.

The Police Beat: The first sign of a sociopath is torturing animals

Patrolman Terry Lowther. Lakewood Division of Police. Lakewood, Ohio. Otis, a white boxer, got loose from his owner’s house in Lakewood, Ohio early in the morning about a month ago. Now a loose dog can be a problem — for the owner, for the dog, and for innocent bystanders. So when responsible people see a loose dog in their neighborhood, they’ll usually keep their distance, try to keep an eye on it, keep it out of the road, shoo it away from anyone who passes by, and, while they have an eye on it, find the owner to get them to bring the dog to heel and take it back to its home.

Unfortunately for Otis, the first people to encounter him were not responsible people but rather a couple of heavily-armed police officers working for the Lakewood city government, who had made their way into the neighborhood on an unrelated call. So, instead of trying to keep anyone from getting hurt, the cops decided that the situation needed controllin’. They surrounded the dog and started yelling at it and waving their weapons around. After being surrounded by these complete strangers barging into his neighborhood, Otis started barking and backing up defensively. A couple times he tried to run off. The dog posed a threat to exactly nobody, but since it wouldn’t stop barking, and since twitchy government cops have been trained not to consider themselves safe as long as anyone or anything in the vicinity is moving without their permission, rather than waiting the literal 90 seconds that it took for the dog’s owner to get out there, they decided instead to close in on the dog and try to get a noose around its neck. When the dog barked and bristled at the complete strangers moving in to grab it, Patrolman Terry Lowther decided to blast Otis with a 50,000-volt electrical charge from his taser. After the dog tried to stagger to its feet — while it already had a noose around its neck — they blasted him again with a second 50,000-volt electrical charge. Just to be sure, I guess. Then they dragged the senseless dog along the ground over to their patrol car.

Trigger warning. Graphic footage of a dog being tortured and dragged by police officers.

When Otis’s owner showed up — a whole 90 seconds or so after the first taser blast — they hollered at him and gave him a citation for having a dangerous animal and for letting the dog run loose. I guess he’s lucky they just tortured his dog instead of killing it; according to the police report, the only reason consummate professional Patrolman Terry P. Lowther Jr. didn’t just whip out his handgun and shoot Otis dead is that he was afraid that the bullet might ricochet off the blacktop and harm a bystander.

When the story hit the local news, the cops tried to defend this electrical torture of a helpless animal that was already surrounded, did nothing more than bark, and posed no physical danger to anyone, in two ways. First, they made up lies about the dog’s breed — first they claimed it was a pit bull; when the owner contradicted their claim and put out photos of the dog, they claimed that it kinda looked like a pit bull and musta had some pit bull in ’im. Then they tried to spin the story back their way by releasing the video from Patrolman Terry Lowther’s taser-cam — video which they claimed showed the dog acting aggressively and threatening the cops. This seems to have been a serious miscalculation on the city government’s part — since the ideas that twitchy government cops have about what counts as aggressive and threatening is very different from the ideas that civilized people have, and the video didn’t show the dog doing much of anything more than barking. Also, presumably, since most people react poorly to hearing a helpless animal howl in agony and seeing it writhe on the ground while a cop shocks it twice in rapid succession. After the police released the film, it quickly spread through the Internet, and public outrage over the case intensified rather than petering out.

In any case, the city government responded to the situation by using the vicious animal charges to exile Otis and his owner, Daniel Kier, from the city: the city agreed to drop the utterly bogus vicious animal charges against Kier only in exchange for an agreement that he would not sue the Lakewood city government for torturing his dog, and that he would move with Otis out of the city limits (to the city of Cleveland, as it happens). None of the news stories I’ve read on this case have mentioned it, but the vicious animal charge is just a misdemeanor rap for Kier; but since the same law also provides for the impounded vicious animal to be humanely destroyed, I suspect that the reason he was so ready to get it dropped, even if it meant moving out of the city, is because the city government was effectively threatening to kill his dog if he didn’t shut up and accept their terms.

So who are the real vicious animals running loose here? I’m pretty sure it’s not the poor son of a bitch that got tasered.

(Via Brad Taylor 2009-08-04.)

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13 shots to kill a puppy

(Via a private correspondent.)

A couple weeks ago, a government gang in Youngstown, Ohio were chasing some freelance competitors. The suspect young men got out of their car and ran away on foot. One of them ran into Moses and Darcel Gilmore’s house (not, actually, his house, or his family’s; just a nearby house he could get into) and then he ran down into the basement. Three cops charged into the house after him without knocking and without a warrant. When they tried to charge down into basement after him, a 42 pound Akita puppy named Diva, who belonged to the owners of the house, came on up the stairs. (It was trained to expect to be let outside when the basement door opened.) Officer Ryan Laatsch decided to take this as being approached … in an aggressive manner. You might think, especially given that the teenager they were chasing was trapped in a basement and not going anywhere, that three heavily armed, professionally-trained grown-ass men might figure out a way to get around or to calm or to restrain or just to back away from a 42 pound 7 month old puppy so that nobody gets hurt. But, well, Officer Ryan Laatsch was already waving his gun around at the time, so instead he fired off 12 shots into the dog’s body. Then, apparently, he got up close and fired a 13th shot into the dog’s head at point blank range, in order to confirm the kill.

The teenager ran down the basement stairs to hide. When officers opened the basement door from the kitchen, the dog approached Officer [Ryan] Laatsch in an aggressive manner, the police report states.

There were three officers in the house.

Officer Laatsch, who already had service weapon drawn due to the circumstances of the situation, shot approximately five to six times striking the dog … then shot the dog approximately five to six more times …then shot the dog one more time directly in the top of his head from only a few inches away, the report stated.

— Katie Seminara, The Vindicator (2009-04-14): Youngstown police shoot aggressive dog 13 times

Police Chief Jimmy Hughes has defended this on the grounds that Officer Ryan Laatsch fired until the dog ceased to attack (it never started) and in fear for his life and the lives of the other officers (apparently not so afraid that it kept him from getting up close enough to shoot the puppy in the head at point-blank range after he’d already emptied 12 rounds into her body). Police Chief Jimmy Hughes also [doesn’t] know if restitution is in order at this time, because, after all, if the Servants and Protectors were busy saving their own skins from a 7 month old puppy, expecting even an Oops, our bad would really be a bit much.

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In which commentary becomes copy-and-paste

The Israeli government’s military began heavy artillery shelling of civilian targets in Gaza this weekend. The idea was that by besieging Gaza, and then firing heavy artillery down into one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas — along with a continued barrage of aerial bombardment, which has been blowing the hell out of universities, mosques, residential neighborhoods, and other civilian targets for the past several days — the Israeli government’s military might be able to somewhat reduce the number of its professional soldiers killed in combat during a ground invasion.

Israel unleashed an artillery bombardment on Gaza today for the first time in its week-long offensive, prompting increased speculation that a ground invasion is about to begin.

Palestinian medical officials also said that an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza mosque had killed 10 people and wounded dozens more. Al Jazeera quoted witnesses as saying there were at least 200 people at prayer inside the Ibrahim al-Maqadna mosque in northern Gaza when the missile struck.

The Israeli TV station Channel 10 said the entire length of the Gaza Strip was under attack. Palestinian witnesses told Reuters the shelling had caused a large explosion in Gaza City and there were a series of blasts close to the frontier with Israel. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israeli TV commentators said shelling could be used to clear Hamas-laid minefields ahead of a possible ground invasion. Israeli troops are massed on the border waiting for orders to go in.

. . .

More than 400 Palestinians and at least four Israelis have been killed since Israel launched its offensive last Saturday. The UN estimated yesterday that a quarter of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

— Matthew Weaver, The Guardian (2009-01-03): Israel fires artillery shells into Gaza

Then the Israeli government’s military began its ground assault — that is, sending in infantry and armored divisions to invade and occupy Gaza, with the usual imposition of martial law and military curfews and more-or-less shoot-on-sight procedures, the blockading of roads and bridges, the house to house operations of storming, searching, and commandeering civilian homes en masse, and all the rest involved in exerting military command-and-control over a large, besieged city.

Israel has said that its offensive in Gaza could take many long days as its troops moved deeper into the Palestinian territory in the second day of its ground attack.

Troops backed by air and naval power surrounded Gaza City and in effect sliced the territory in two.

An Israeli air strike hit two ambulances in Gaza on Sunday, killing four paramedics as they tried to reach those injured in the offensive.

Israeli government officials say they are not targeting civilians, only trying to stop rockets by the Palestinian Hamas movement governing Gaza, which are still being fired into southern Israel.

Civilian injuries and casualties in Gaza continue to mount and the death toll now stands at 521, with at least 64 people killed since the ground offensive began, according to Palestinian medical authorities. Some 2,450 have been injured.

Among the latest victims were a mother and her four young children, killed in an Israeli air strike on their home in Gaza.

Four Israeli civilians have been killed and two injured by Palestinian rocket attacks.

Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

According to Shimon Peres, arbitrary President over the territory of Israel, the idea is to teach a lesson to Hamas.

We don’t intend neither to occupy Gaza nor to crush Hamas, but to crush terror. And Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it.

Shimon Peres, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Somewhere above 100 civilians have been murdered in the process of delivering this lesson to unrelated third parties. Ehud Barak, arbitrary Minister of Defense over the territory of Israel, tells us (from his perch in a comfortable government meeting room) that this is because War is not a picnic.

The operation will be expanded and intensified as much as necessary. War is not a picnic.

Ehud Barak, quoted in Al-Jazeera (2009-01-05): Israel [sic] intensifies assault on Gaza

Indeed; but for whom?

So, anyway, to review, in Israel, four civilians have been murdered, two have been injured, and some other residents of towns near the Gaza strip have suffered some fright and some property damage from poorly-aimed rocket attacks launched by Hamas, the quasi-governmental terrorist faction that claims a right to rule over the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. In the process of retaliating against these attacks, the Israeli government’s military has locked down those 1.5 million people — the primary victims of Hamas — under a state of siege and bombarded their homes, their schools, their roads, their houses of worship, and the ambulances that tried to come to their rescue. They have killed more than 100 times as many Palestinians as Hamas has killed Israelis, and injured more than 1,000 times as many. More than 100 of those killed in the massive indiscriminate bombardment (that is, at least 25 times the number killed in Israel) are known to have been civilians, who had nothing in particular to do with the poorly-aimed rocket attacks that the Israeli government’s military claims to be trying to stop. Many of those killed have been children. The Israeli government’s military has also deliberately stormed houses, bombed bridges, destroyed school buildings, cut electrical lines, and blockaded land crossings and sea lanes so that not even emergency relief NGOs can reach the people being maimed and killed by the bombardment. They show no signs of letting up: this death and destruction is only the beginning.

The official reaction from most of the rest of the world — which is the dignified term that the press uses to describe the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority sitting in comfortable government offices far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments — has been to call for moderation. We will be told that both sides in this conflict have made moral and strategic blunders, that the best thing to do is to take a soft touch and to try to convince the belligerent states and quasi-states involved to tone things down and come to the bargaining table in some sort of diplomatic negotiation process. The problem is that there are not two sides in this war; like any other war, there are three sides — or, more properly, millions of tiny, individual sides — because in any war there are not only two states fighting each other, but also everybody else, the millions of people caught in between. Besides the belligerent states and quasi-states facing off against each other, in any war there are also the millions of people held hostage by one or both of the belligerent powers and coldly shoved into the crossfire by the usurpers who style themselves their leaders, and by the rival usurpers who are the enemies of their self-styled leaders; millions of people who have nothing at all to do with any casus belli or with any of the political maneuvers that led up to the onslaught; millions of people who were just trying to live their lives, and, for doing nothing worse than existing in the wrong place at the wrong time, will be hurt or maimed or bereaved or killed themselves — all in the name of the ranting power-trips of a tiny, parasitic minority who sit in comfortable government offices or heavily-fortified bunkers far away from the millions of people upon whose lives and livelihoods they constantly render their sanctimonious opinions and summary judgments. Of course news coverage never discusses this other side — that is, our side — those of us who do not sit in the halls of power and do not have our fingers on the triggers. Government diplomats care nothing about the interests our side and nobody ever consults us or considers whether we have legitimate interests worth respecting. Instead this is presented as a fight between Israel and Gaza — all of them, apparently, all at once — because it’s necessary to talk about it that way in order to obscure the question of who is really dying, and how many, and where, and for what. I should like to say something more about this, but what more can I really say? I say it again, and again, and again, and it doesn’t make a bit of difference but it remains no less true. There is a point at which no more commentary is possible; there is only copy-and-paste. Thus:

The murder of civilians by Palestinian . . . terrorists is criminal, and those who committed the murders can be stopped from committing further crimes through the use of violence, if necessary. But the right to use force against someone does not mean the right to use any amount of force necessary against anyone at all in the process of stopping her. It’s true that if you really are willing to do everything in retaliation for the kidnapping of a soldier, or attacks on your forces, or attacks on civilians, then this is included. Any atrocity at all is included in doing everything, and that is precisely why the willingness to do everything in retaliation for an attack, no matter what the cost to innocent third parties, is a moral crime of the first order. Destroying the lives and livelihoods of scores of innocent people in the process of trying to stop the murder of one or two other innocents is criminal.

— GT 2006-07-13: Proportionality

And doing so to hundreds of civilians in the name of reducing military casualties in an invasion, or in the name of teaching a lesson to unrelated third parties — as if these hundreds of civilians were just so many Post-It notes, on which the Harrow of the State can write its little messages for the edification of rival state powers — is nothing less than an atrocity.

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