The news about the shooting of an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, on the London Underground just gets worse. We’ll have to wait for the results of the current inquiry, and possibly longer before any firm conclusions can be reached (many recent inquiries in Britain have been politicised to the point of whitewash, so there are no guarantees here). Still, it’s hard to conceive of any explanation that doesn’t involve serious stuffups and multiple layers of coverup, going up as far as Metropolitan Police Chief Ian Blair.
One point that hasn’t been mentioned or not much is the implications of this tragedy for any assessment of the anti-terrorism effort. In a case as public as this one, and with a victim as obviously innocent as Mr de Menezes, it was impossible to keep the truth from coming out sooner or later, but it still took nearly a month. Suppose that the victim had been a Muslim – it seems certain that he would have been labelled a terrorist, at least by the method of undenied leaks used to accuse de Menezes of being responsible for his own death.
And for those prone to argue that we shouldn’t be so concerned about a single death in a situation where terrorists have killed dozens, what about failures in the opposite direction? Suppose that in the course of recent operations, mistakes were made that allowed accomplices or masterminds of the bomb plots to escape. How likely is that such things would ever come to light, given the culture of coverup that has been revealed here? And if failures don’t come to light, they won’t be corrected.