Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Democracies and Difficult Decisions

While in America we are struggling to decide when law enforcement should be allowed to tase non-threatening students on campus, in Germany the citizenry is grappling with the legality of the government shooting down hijacked planes.

Germany's defence minister faced calls for his resignation today after he signalled his readiness to shoot down hijacked aircraft at the risk of killing innocent civilians in order to avert a wider disaster....

Germany has been debating the issue for six years, since the attacks of September 11 2001 in the United States. While other countries have formed concrete strategies - in Britain the prime minister has to give his backing to any order to shoot, while in France fighter pilots are able to intervene at short notice without government approval once they have been given an order - Germany has yet to come up with a plan.

The debate has intensified since the arrest on September 4 of three alleged Islamic radicals accused of plotting car bomb attacks at US military bases in Germany. The incident has made many Germans feel that the threat of terrorism is closer to home than they had previously thought and that more specific anti-terrorism laws are needed. |German minister backs downing hijacked planes - Guardian|
Welcome to life in the age of terrorism. There are no easy answers anymore.

It's easy to make the wrong decision without having all the necessary information, but events move too quickly sometimes to wait for more info to arrive.

I often think of a scenario that William Gibson hypothesized in the novel Nueromancer where an installation has a hallucinogenic substance piped into the air supply that makes people act crazy, but doesn't actually make them violent. The terrorist organization, however, calls the police and tells them that the drug they put into the building does make people violent, something like PCP.

The police would really be damned no matter how they handled that situation, but that's why law enforcement is such an exciting job. Unfortunately, in all positions of great power there are grave consequences for making mistakes.

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