The brutal execution of Jean Charles de Menezes on July 22 cannot go
unanswered. We must not allow this atrocity to be swept under the
carpet. This is what the government and the Metropolitan Police are now
trying to do. They must not be allowed to succeed. So far their
attempts to cover up this outrage have been no less bungling,
incompetent and criminal than the killing of Mr de Menezes itself.
However this is about far more than just incompetence. This young,
innocent, Brazilian man – an electrician by trade, just 27 years of age
– is the latest victim of the so-called war on terror that now extends
from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantanamo and all points in between,
including London. He is a victim of the undermining of civil liberties
and the strengthening of the powers of the capitalist state, which
hides behind the cover of that ‘war’, and which has accelerated
dramatically since the appalling bombing of London on July 7th.
immediate response of most people to the news of this shooting was a
profound feeling of shock. Without any previous public discussion or
parliamentary scrutiny, suddenly Britain’s police force was operating a
shoot-to-kill policy. This is unprecedented.
in police custody or during police operations in Britain are not as
rare as one might imagine. Scotsman Harry Stanley, for example, was
killed by police after leaving a London pub in 1999. It was a
particularly controversial case. The police had received reports that
an "Irishman" with a suspicious package that looked very much like a
wrapped-up sawn-off shotgun was on the loose. Mr Stanley was actually
carrying a table leg. He was not black so he was demonised in a
different way – portrayed as a feckless drunk, and worse still,
It was reported that
Stanley was facing an officer with his "gun" – they had no choice, it
was them or him. The entry and exit wounds to Mr Stanley's head later
suggested that this was unlikely.
Mikey Powell, a man without a criminal record, died after police
officers drove their car at him, sprayed him with CS gas and restrained
him. Soon after, an article in a local paper said that the police had
driven their car at him only because he pointed a gun at them. He was
actually holding a belt. When the family complained to West Midlands
police, they were told it had been a mistake made by a source close to
the investigation. By then the damage had been done. In the public
mind, Powell was a crazed gunman.
at the hands of the police have been as clear-cut as that of Jean
Charles de Menezes. None has been as high profile. The subsequent
police distortion follows a familiar pattern, but the introduction of a
shoot-to-kill policy marks a fundamental departure.
Many people in Ireland may well have responded to the news with a nod of recognition.
will have recalled Sean Savage, an unarmed member of the Provisional
IRA, shot 16 times at point-blank range by plain-clothes members of the
SAS in Gibraltar in March 1998 after he had put his hands up in
surrender. The SAS immediately claimed, and most of the media reported
as fact, that they believed he had been about to trigger a bomb. Two
other unarmed Provisional IRA members were gunned down on the same
occasion. Although the European Court of Human Rights later found the
killings unlawful, and despite widespread outrage, no action was ever
taken against the killers.
Jean Charles de
Menezes, however, was shot dead on a tube train, going about his normal
everyday life. The inevitable conclusion drawn by many was ‘it could
have been me.’
However the media coverage of the police account of events quickly acted to link the shooting with the atrocity of July 7th and the aborted bombing just one day before, on July 21st.
We were encouraged by one expert after another to think that, as
disturbing as this shooting was, nevertheless this is the only way to
deal with a suicide bomber. Or, at least, a suspected suicide bomber.
Very quickly this became ‘perhaps not a suicide bomber, but a man
acting suspiciously who ran from the police and had connections with
the suicide bombers’. This soon became an ‘unfortunate but necessary
evil’, and before long ‘a mistake, but an understandable one in these
Since then each
passing hour has produced new, more startling revelations exposing
these fictions and lies. There is a general mood of unease in British
society, particularly in and around London, which is palpable and has
intensified since the appalling events of July 7th. This can
only be compounded by the sense of shock arising from this shoot-to
kill-policy, combined with the bungling incompetence of those charged
with operating it, and the scandal of those in charge of it attempting
to cover up their actions, their lies, their attempts to prevent an
inquiry. Add to this volatile mix a government who continue to claim
there is no link between terrorist attacks on London and the
imperialist occupation of Iraq, and the result is profound instability.
first we were inundated with reports that a man, followed from an
address thought to be linked with the suicide bombers, was chased onto
the underground where he hurdled a barrier, running from the police,
exposing wires hanging out of his padded jacket. One does not have to
be a genius to draw conclusions from this account. The problem is that
it is false from beginning to end. It has since emerged that Mr de
Menezes walked normally into Stockwell tube station in south London,
passed normally through a ticket barrier, and stopped normally to pick
up a free paper. He then ran a few short steps on hearing his train
pull in. All quite normal. The events that followed, however, were not.
de Menezes’ everyday behaviour was apparently recorded by the now
omnipresent CCTV cameras. The recording however is missing! The initial
witness statements described a man wearing a padded jacket vaulting a
barrier chased by the police. It later emerged that the man being
described was in fact one of the police officers giving chase.
new police guidelines called Operation Kratos (after the mythical
enforcer of Zeus in Greek legend), recommend "shooting to kill to
protect" suspected suicide bombers by firing at their heads so that the
bullets will not accidentally detonate explosives strapped around their
However in this case, a surveillance
officer has revealed that he grabbed Mr de Menezes and was holding him
before he was shot. "I heard shouting which included the word 'police'
and turned to face the male in the denim jacket. He [de Menezes]
immediately stood up and advanced towards me and the CO19 officers,"
said the surveillance officer's leaked statement.
grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around
his torso, pinning his arms to his side. I then pushed him back on to
the seat where he had been previously sitting … I then heard a gun
shot very close to my left ear and was dragged away on to the floor of
A soldier staking out Mr de
Menezes’ block of flats had identified him as he left his home as IC1 –
police terminology for ethnic white. Yet the suspected bomber had
already been captured on CCTV and was known not to be white. Why was a
man, looking nothing like any of the suspects, who was clearly not
carrying a bomb, had not run from the police, and had been physically
restrained, still shot eight times?
Menezes ‘crime’, for which he has paid the ultimate price, was to live
in the same block of flats as a man thought to be connected with one of
the suspects in the failed bomb attack of July 21st.
the man the police thought they were following has spoken out. Abdi
Omar, a Somali-born bus driver, was one of two men detectives were
looking for when they began following Mr de Menezes. Mr Omar knows one
of the four suspects, Hussain Osman, and rents a flat above the
apartment where Mr de Menezes was living.
could have been me who got shot that day," Mr Omar said. "I don't know
what to make of all this. I don't know what I should do."
had been watching the block where both men lived, in Scotia Road, Tulse
Hill, because they had discovered Mr Omar's gym membership card in a
rucksack holding the bomb intended to blow up a tube train in
Shepherd's Bush, west London.
Omar says he had lent his membership card to Hussain Osman, a suspect
since arrested in Rome and facing extradition to Britain.
said he was friendly with Osman, an Ethiopian-born British citizen: "I
knew him from the gym, although not well, not 100% … I lent him my
card. But I have no idea why it was in the rucksack."
to members of Mr Omar's family, his mother-in-law was manhandled by
armed police when they raided the home of his estranged wife a few
hours after the death of Mr de Menezes. The family said three
plain-clothes officers with submachine guns surrounded his wife, Aziza
Hassan, the couple's 12-year-old son, and her 74-year-old mother as
they emerged from their home off Harrow Road, west London. "She
suffered a heart attack, and although she is now out of hospital, she
needed heart surgery," said Mr Omar.
Ms Hassan, detectives realised her husband had left the country five
days before the bombing, after telling relatives that he was making a
short trip to Somalia. Apparently, this heightened their suspicions. Mr
Omar denies going to Somalia but says he was abroad on July 21. "I knew
nothing about what was happening until I came back."
says he went to see the police when he returned to London two weeks
ago. "They questioned me like they weren't interested. They asked me:
'Why do you think we are suspecting you?' I said: 'I don't know'. By
this time they knew all about the gym card, and they told my lawyer
later that they were not interested in me.”
the beginning, the most senior police officers and government
ministers, including the Prime Minister, claimed the death of Jean
Charles was an unfortunate incident occurring in the context of an
entirely legitimate, justifiable, lawful and necessary policy.
is an attempt now to present the killing of Mr de Menezes as a tragic
accident arising from a lack of communication. This is no doubt the
direction being pursued by the current inquiry. To whatever degree
criminal incompetence contributed to these events it cannot explain the
subsequent concerted attempt to cover up the facts. This is done in
order to protect a policy.
liberties and democratic rights in Britain, won through many years of
hard struggles, have faced a sustained attack for a period of years.
This process has accelerated during the Blair government and taken on a
full head of steam behind the cover of the ‘war on terror’.
Mr de Menezes’ family are demanding the resignation of Metropolitan
police chief Sir Ian Blair. They also demand a public inquiry, and they
are right not to trust the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission
(IPCC) who are now conducting an ‘investigation’. At first the Met
tried to prevent even this semi-internal inquiry.
Ian Blair wrote to John Gieve, the permanent secretary at the Home
Office, on July 22, the morning Jean Charles de Menezes was shot. The
commissioner argued for an internal inquiry into the killing on the
grounds that the ongoing anti-terrorist investigation took precedence
over any independent look into his death.
to senior police and Whitehall sources, Sir Ian was concerned that an
investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission could
impact on national security and intelligence. He was also understood to
be worried that an outside investigation would damage the morale of
CO19, the elite firearms section. Of course, the morale of the family
of the man they shot dead in cold blood at point blank range is of no
concern to them!
A statement from the Met
has since revealed that despite the agreement to allow in independent
investigators, the IPCC was kept away from Stockwell tube in south
London, the scene of the shooting, for a further three days. This runs
counter to usual practice, where the IPCC would expect to be at the
scene within hours.
According to one
witness giving evidence to the inquiry, the armed police officers fired
at Jean Charles de Menezes for over 30 seconds. The witness says the
shots were fired at intervals of three seconds and that she ran for her
life fearing terrorists had opened fire on commuters.
"I would say there was 10 or 11 shots fired. The shots were… evenly spaced out (timewise)."
says two IPCC investigators who interviewed her were equipped with a
map of Stockwell tube which had key features in the wrong place. This
initially led them wrongly to challenge her account. In an email of
complaint to the IPCC she wrote: "If the people investigating such a
serious matter… can't even get the plan of the station correct for
interviewees to point out where they were, then what chance does the
rest of the case have?"
The labour movement
must back the family’s demand for a public inquiry with action. Even
then we would have to demand that a public inquiry was not simply the
usual board of ex-judges and police chiefs, but comprised community
organisations and trade unions, people the man’s family and the rest of
us could trust. Neither an inquiry that drags on for years, nor one
that scapegoats this or that individual is enough. The task must be to
expose the individuals and the policy to blame for the killing of an
The labour movement, and for
that matter all those who wish to defend democratic rights, must go
further. The latest assault on civil liberties has already killed one
innocent man. Shoot to kill must stop now! The shadowy bodies and
covert operations linked to Operation Kratos must be disbanded.
of the policies now undermining our civil liberties are knee jerk
reactions by a government desperate to be seen to be doing something.
At the same time we must see them in the context of the long-term
process of strengthening the state machinery which exists to protect
the capitalist system and the ruling class, not to combat terrorism.
government has already conceded that Identity Cards will not contribute
to combating the threat of terrorist attacks. After all, they did
nothing to prevent the atrocious bombing of Madrid. Yet they insist on
pursuing this costly measure. Why? Make no mistake all the policies
pushed through now under the guise of fighting terrorism will be used
against the labour movement, against socialists in the future.
anyone is in any doubt about how widespread the use of this legislation
may become, look at the first person to be excluded from entering the
country on grounds of fomenting violence and intolerance. Not an
Islamic fundamentalist preacher but an American professor who speaks
for the Animal Liberation Front.
Best, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso,
had intended to travel to the UK to take part in an event to celebrate
the closure of a farm breeding guinea pigs for research. We are not
defending Dr Best’s views or campaigns, but warning that the law being
used against him can be turned on the labour movement at any time.
new law keeping Dr Best out refers to people who "foment, justify or
glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek
to provoke others to terrorist acts; [or] foment other serious criminal
activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts."
In July Dr Best spoke at an international animal rights conference in England. At that conference, he was quoted by the Daily Telegraph
as saying: "We are not terrorists, but we are a threat. We are a threat
both economically and philosophically. Our power is not in the right to
vote but the power to stop production. We will break the law and
destroy property until we win." According to the newspaper, he added
that activists did not want to "reform" vivisectionists but to "wipe
them off the face of the earth". The Home Office cited these words in a
letter to Dr Best last week banning him from entering the UK.
without juries, the right to hold suspects indefinitely, the imposition
of identity cards on the entire population, and the right to shoot to
kill, none of this will halt terrorism nor make any of us safer. On the
contrary. The combination of demonising a section of the population
with the attacks of new legislation and the continued occupation of
Iraq will only serve as recruitment agents for the terrorists. The
suspect captured in Rome has revealed that he was not lectured on the
need for holy war, but shown videos of atrocities taking place in Iraq.
According to La Repubblica, Osman said, “More than praying we
discussed work, politics, the war in Iraq. We always had films about
the war in Iraq… in which you could see Iraqi women and children who
had been killed by US and UK soldiers.”
pictures of death, destruction and mayhem in Iraq that appear daily on
Western television screens create revulsion in a large and growing
section of the public. Many ordinary people ask themselves why their
governments are supporting an occupation that is causing such havoc and
suffering. Some of the young Muslims are impelled by this to seek more
direct ways of expressing their opposition. Tragically, some of them
will drift into the embraces of the fanatics and fundamentalists and
become potential suicide bombers.
have always opposed individual terrorism, not for sentimental reasons
but because it is useless and counterproductive. Despite the fear it
engenders, terrorism is really an expression of weakness, not strength.
It can never inflict a decisive defeat on imperialism, and in fact
inevitably plays into the hands of the latter. Sooner or later, the
imperialists will have to withdraw from Iraq. But when they do, it will
not be as a result of bombing trains in London, but because of the
insurgency of the Iraqi people and the anti-war movement in Britain,
the USA and the rest of the world.
of individual terrorism only provide a fig leaf behind which new
assaults on democratic rights in general, and laws that can be used
against the labour movement in particular, are introduced. In the USA,
the Patriot Act introduced after September 11th has been widely used
against anti-war protesters. Of the 700 arrested under new laws only 17
have been convicted of any offence, and only three have been convicted
of offences relating to terrorism. In Britain, the use of
counter-terrorism stop and search powers has increased sevenfold since
the July 7 attacks, with Asian people bearing the brunt of the
increase. People of Asian appearance were five times more likely to be
stopped and searched than white people, according to the latest figures
compiled by British Transport police. None of these stops have resulted
in a terrorism charge. According to Home Office statistics only 1% of
those arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were subsequently
convicted of any crime.
If the government
were serious about minimising the risk of future attacks, surely they
would start by supporting the railway workers' union (RMT)'s demands
for increasing the number of staff at stations and reintroducing
Instead, the government is
strengthening repression. It is not just Muslims who will be affected.
Democratic rights, like the right to organise and demonstrate, are
being eroded. The Terrorism Act of 2000 has already been used against
anti-war campaigners, including in relation to protests at military
bases at Fairford and Welford. Blair also threatened to use it to put
protesters at the Gleneagles G8 summit under house arrest.
Blair demands the right to expel anyone who holds ‘extreme views’ not
in line with the traditional British ‘culture of tolerance.’ To talk of
tolerance in this context is an insult. In any case the history of
British imperialism, up to their present actions in Iraq, demonstrates
quite the opposite.
In case the meaning of this threat is too subtle, The Daily Telegraph
helpfully published a list of "10 core values of the British identity"
whose adoption, it argued, would help to prevent another terrorist
attack. These were not values we might choose to embrace, but
"non-negotiable components of our identity". Among them were "the
sovereignty of the crown in parliament" ("the Lords, the Commons and
the monarch constitute the supreme authority in the land"), "private
property", "the family", "history" ("British children inherit … a
stupendous series of national achievements") and "the English-speaking
world" ("the atrocities of September 11, 2001 were not simply an attack
on a foreign nation; they were an attack on the Anglosphere"). These
values can be readily shortened to their more common name – capitalism.
has been a great deal written in the press in recent weeks, even by
supposedly liberal-minded journalists, about the need for a ‘new
patriotism’. Just who are the British, and what are their values? The
‘patriotism’ they propose consists of defending what they see as ‘the
British way of life’ by which they mean the capitalist system. Just who
are the British whose values must be upheld? Evidently they do not mean
British Muslims, but at the same time they do not only mean white
people. In truth, they are not too keen on most young people; they do
not like workers who go on strike; most of them are not overly fond of
northerners, the Welsh, or anyone other than a core of white middle and
upper class people based in the south east of England. This is not a
matter of ‘patriotism’, but a class question. Whose values do they
mean? Not ours, clearly. After all most of us oppose the war in Iraq,
are against privatisation, and do not want this horrendous killing
It is Blair and his government
by their slavish support of US imperialism that has placed the people
of Britain in the line of fire of terrorist attacks like the one that
claimed so many lives on July 7th. The first step to
removing that threat is not to allow our right to protest, to organise,
to fight for a better society to be undermined. It is to withdraw
British troops from Afghanistan and Iraq. Those who claim to be
fighting for democracy abroad seem only too keen to destroy our hard
won democratic rights at home. It now falls to the labour movement to
fight to defend our civil liberties, just as we must fight for our jobs
and our wages and our conditions. None of these are safe in the hands
This system can no longer
afford reforms. Everyday they are clawing back with the right hand what
they were forced, by the struggle of ordinary working people, to give
with the left hand in the past. This is the case with healthcare and
education. It is the same with pensions. They have attacked our trade
union rights, and now they are gunning for our civil liberties and the
limited democratic rights the British working class conquered through
generations of struggle. They must not succeed.
We must protest at the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes.
Build the September 24 demonstration!
No Shoot to kill! Disband covert operations!
Defend democratic rights! No to ID cards and judge-only trials!
Oppose all attacks on our civil liberties!
End the imperialist occupation of Iraq!