James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

How would you handle a terrorist?

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What is the ethical way to treat a terrorist, and when innocents are killed in stopping terrorists, who is responsible? I have a set of hypotheticals that I use to address the question.

The basic situation is this: A man is shooting into a crowd. He is using another person as a shield. You have a gun. What do you do? Assume you cannot kill the terrorist with certainty AND avoid killing the human shield with certainty.

Minor modifications to the question make it suited to any real world situation. Does it matter if the human shield is there willingly? What if the shield is a child of the shooter? An accomplice of the shooter? An innocent bystander?

What if the shooter has bad aim – most of his shots hit no one and most of the hits only cause casualties but not deaths? What if you expect that waiting will increase your chances of a “clean” kill where the human shield escapes unharmed? How long would you wait? How many people would you let get maimed or killed before shooting the shooter (and putting his human shield at risk)?

So imagine you shoot, kill the shooter, and maim or kill his human shield? Who is morally responsible for that person’s death? Does it matter if the human shield was a willing accomplice?

Personally, I would not hesitate to shoot. I would disable the murderer before he had an opportunity to kill again. If he was obviously a very bad shot, and there was little risk to his targets, I might pause for a better shot that would be less likely to harm the human shield. But such pause would have to come with a significant expectation that it would save lives on net. If the human shield were a willing accomplice I would not hesitate. In any event, any harm to the human shield would be a moral burden to the one using him or her as such. I would have sorrow if I killed either the shooter or the human shield, but the moral guilt would not be mine.

In the Israeli-Arab conflict – particularly in Gaza – this is the moral dilemma. The shooters are Palestinian Arab terrorists and their sponsoring organizations. The human shields are Palestinian Arab civilians, many of whom are, sadly, willing accomplices. The crowd is the Jewish people – the vast majority of them are innocent Jews. When I look at Palestinian Arab terrorists and the frequent hesitation of the Israeli government, I can easily put Israel in the moral right. I would rarely hesitate half as long.

Some will say that my hypothetical does not consider the oppression Palestinian Arabs suffer. Palestinian Arabs indeed suffer under Israeli security measures. But, think back to the hypothetical. Do you really care about the grievances of the shooter? He is shooting into a crowd of innocents. A motive may explain how a heinous act happened, but it cannot excuse it.


Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Posted in israel

Tagged with , ,

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