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The cold calculus of fighting terrorism

Let's revisit the case of the Brazilian man killed by police on a London subway last night, and apply a little brutal logic to the situation.

Reduced to its simplest factors, there are two possibilities for the suspect -- he is a bomber, or he is not a bomber -- and two options for the police -- shoot, or do not shoot.

First, though, let's look at the "shoot" option. "Shooting for the body" is a bad idea for a suspected suicide bomber. The body is where the bomb would be, and could set it off. "Shooting to wound" is also a bad idea. The chances of missing are much greater, and a wounded terrorist can still set off the bomb. Shooting to kill, with the head as the target, is the best option.

Now, with two possibilities and two reactions, we have four possible scenarios to consider:

1) The suspect is a bomber, and the police kill him. In this scenario, the innocents killed are zero, and the guilty killed is one -- a good outcome.

2) The suspect is a bomber, and the police do not shoot. This results in numerous innocents killed, as well as one guilty person. This is a bad outcome.

3) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police do not shoot. No one is killed.

4) The suspect is not a bomber, and the police kill him. One innocent is killed.

Now, obviously, the third scenario is the ideal one -- no one is killed. But this overlooks a single key element -- the police have absolutely no control over the first factor. They cannot affect whether or not the suspect is a bomber or not.

What they can do, though, is "play the odds" and use their best judgment on whether or not the suspect is a terrorist. They can look at his clothing, his behavior, his conduct, his general mien and use their best professional opinion on whether he is a terrorist or a harried commuter.

This is what used to be known as "good policework," but is now known as "profiling."

That's exactly what happened in London last week. They played the odds, ran the numbers, and chose in instants whether they would risk one dead innocent or countless dead and injured innocents -- and they shot him.

One innocent man is dead, but the message is clear: the police are ready and willing to kill to stop terrorists. And the fact that it took over two weeks for an innocent (or anyone, for that matter) to pass the threshold of "reasonable certainty" and merit shooting gives me faith in the police.

The London police are not crazed, trigger-happy psychos who are gunning down everyone with dark skin who "looks wrong." They are very carefully evaluating and watching and studying people, and in the tens of thousands they've watched, only one person pushed enough buttons to justify their shooting him dead.

As I said before, my heart goes out to Mr. de Menezes' family. But from all I've heard, the he was utterly wrong in how he acted, and the police were utterly right in how they acted. If there's anyone to blame for this, it's the terrorists who decided that they will flout the conventions of civilization and embrace such barbaric tactics as the suicide bomber against innocents.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The cold calculus of fighting terrorism:

» basil's blog linked with Breakfast: 7/25/2005

» Myopic Zeal linked with Calculus of Terrorism

» Danny Carlton: codenamed "Jack Lewis" linked with British police criticized for shooting of suspect

» Guide to Midwestern Culture linked with Why Didn't He Stop, and Why Should We?

» The Unrepentant Individual linked with Various Links...

Comments (42)

How would you have reacted ... (Below threshold)

How would you have reacted if 5 plain-clothed men with guns approach you?

It's very easy to blame the dead man but had you been in his place, you would have ran too.

Also, if he had been a suicide bomber, the policemen would have been dead by now because he had all the time to blow himself up.

Do you really this was "good policework" and not racial profiling? Getting the wrong man can never be called good policework.

If you're trying to find a ... (Below threshold)

If you're trying to find a bright side to this, there is none. They shot an innocent man in the head five times, Jay.

I understand that his behavior was supsicious, but for you to insinuate that his death was a necessary, even good, step in the war on terror, is almost inhumane. You act as if his death is some supreme sacrifice in the name of innocent Londoners.

If you are going to sit back and blame the terrorists for this man's death, and not knee-jerk police work, then guess who has won, Jay? You've basically given carte blanche to police to kill first, ask questions later all in the name of public safety.

That's not how civil societies behave.

Michele, I'm going to steal... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Michele, I'm going to steal a line from Robert Kennedy:
You look at one man, and ask "why?" I look at the hundreds of thousands, nay, millions, and ask "why not?"

One man out of millions who have gone through the London subways has been shot. One case does not a trend make. You cannot extrapolate anything from a single incident. If that was the case, we could look at Ted Kennedy and conclude that all liberals are drunken, irresponsible, lecherous, louts who think nothing of leaving someone to drown in a sunken car while sleeping off a serious drunk.

If there had been several such incidents, I'd be more concerned. But there's been just the one.


From the micro to the macro... (Below threshold)

From the micro to the macrocosm - what about this, inside our own borders: while there's much discussion about Plamegate's uranium minutia, an American Hiroshima is already progress, according to this article of 7/25/05.

From Reuters:Br... (Below threshold)

From Reuters:

British police say more members of the public could be shot in error as they escalate their battle against terrorism and hunt for four men who tried to set off explosions on London's transport system last week.

I can't fathom having such a cavalier attitude about this, nor can I justify or defend a tactic like that, even in the war on terror. Checking my backpack when I get on the LIRR? Fine. Shooting anyone who seems weird and brown in the head five times? No.

I agree, michele, that they... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

I agree, michele, that they shouldn't be "shooting anyone who seems weird and brown in the head five times." And they aren't. And they won't.

This case is, so far, unique. I won't extrapolate from just this one case.


With suicide bombers, a sho... (Below threshold)

With suicide bombers, a shoot to kill policy os required. To treat this as a regular criminal case is both suicidal and against the public's well being. I stand with the police.

But he wasn't a suicide bom... (Below threshold)

But he wasn't a suicide bomber. Do you condone just shooting to kill at anyone they suspect may be a suicide bomber? That doesn't bode well for civilization.

Unfortunate as this situati... (Below threshold)

Unfortunate as this situation turned out, I side with the police and their continued stand. How many other Londoners’, dressed as though it were December instead of July, will run away from the police, through the tube jumping turnstiles?

And as for running from 5-armed plain clothes policemen because you don’t know they are police, who else could they be? England has much tighter gun restriction than we, and only the richest of families’ have them. I for one would have probably froze and p’’’ed my pants.

Everyone who lives, works a... (Below threshold)

Everyone who lives, works and travels in London over the last 18 days is aware of the dominant police presence, especially at tube stations. They also know the best reaction when challenged is to stop and do as instructed, if innocent!

It is sad they killed him but this person in my mind had something significant to hide and decided to take his chances and run.

This will hopefully send a clear message the police are not taking any chances, it would have been a completely different story if they had stopped a suicide bomber. I really hope they do soon!

I hope the UK Mulism population help flush out the terrorists.

I am rather surprised at th... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

I am rather surprised at the cavalier atitude to the recent if not trigger-happy, trigger-first British police effort, and their apologists. "If it looks like a duck" etc.etc as expressed by the moderator on this blog. Surely British soldiers and journalists suffered enough during the Iraqi invasion on the so-called war of terror when they were casualties of Looks like a duck or friendly fire incidents such as this UK soldiers lament" He had absolutely no regard for human life. He was a cowboy out on a jolly," one of the three survivors of yet another friendly attack by an American anti-tank aircraft, told reporters. One British soldier was also killed. " Now that the shoe is on the other foot, shoot to kill,(which was really an execution) five shots to the back of head when someone is lying face down inches away from you.."Hey we make no apologies"..sounds very reminiscent of the hollow condolences to the British families of reporters and soldiers who lost their lives from "looks like a duck" American fire.. Perhaps the rail-roaded and tortured Irish Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 should be grateful this Met policy wasn't in effect in the 70's. They only lost years of their lives.

"That's not how civil socie... (Below threshold)

"That's not how civil societies behave."

How does it behave? Stop! or I'll ask you to stop again. What if he doesn't stop? Or do we raise our children to kill themselves - but thats ok if they take innocents with them. Society has never been civil, and rarely polite. At what point do we hold the needs of a single person at the expense of the entire group.

I remember the advice I told my son when he first started driving. If you get pulled over keep your hands on the wheel where the cops can see them, when they get there ask if you can reach into your pocket for your liscence. Move slowly and deliberately since they are on edge because they dont know who you are or what threat you may be. If you do all this and dont mouth off then 10 to 1 you will also get off a bit lighter. If you are not sure they are cops - then signal that you aknowledge thier presence and move to a lit public area.

Now if you run, try to avoid the book will be thrown at you. The guy ran, the guy looked suspicious. If he had stopped then maybe he would have lived.

The police are in a no win situation. Damned if they are too lenient and wrong or too tough but right. I dont envy them.

I don't fault the police, b... (Below threshold)

I don't fault the police, but you don't get to blame the fact that they killed the guy on the terrorists. They didn't shoot him because of what terrorists have/haven't done. They shot him because of what HE did/didn't do.


shooting anyone who seem... (Below threshold)

shooting anyone who seems weird and brown

I understand you are trying top be edgy, Michele, but this is not an accurate assessment of what happened.

There were four huge red flags here:
(1) the man left a building that was being monitored for suspected terror activity, and followed him to the station;
(2) he was wearing clothing that was inappropriate for the season, which is used for the purpose of concealing explosives;
(3) he jumped a turnstile;
(4) he "challenged police," refused to heed police instructions to stop, but chose to flee instead.

Any one of those is not sufficient to justify a shooting, but in the aggregate, they are extremely strong indicators of an imminent terror threat.

Of course, this is all Monday-morning quarterbacking, and will depend on a detailed examination of all the facts and circumstances to determine whether this shooring was justified or not.

But from what little we already know, these four factors are an ample reason to give the police the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

But he wasn't a suicide ... (Below threshold)

But he wasn't a suicide bomber. Do you condone just shooting to kill at anyone they suspect may be a suicide bomber?

Yes I condone shooting anyone who fits the bomber profile (especially the sex/race/age profile); leaves an apartment complex known to harbor terrorists; is wearing a winter coat in the summer; who runs from police when asked to stop; and enters a train.

Strangely I find myself in ... (Below threshold)

Strangely I find myself in agreement with most of the posts on this story. However as we learn more about this tragedy, apportioning blame is becoming more difficult. For instance the victim Jean Charles de Menezes had a poor command of English and only a couple of weeks prior to his untimely death had been mugged at knife point as reported in the British press over the weekend. Therefore given his inability to understand the instructions from the armed plain clothes police officers, and his mugging experience the previous week it is not too difficult to see why he would choose to run. Perhaps I am wrong

Similarly the police are dealing with a different animal compared to previous terrorist threats and therefore a whole new set of rules are needed. One could argue that the police team who followed the suspected bomber desserve a medal in that they followed the man to the point of killing him from a point blank range risking their own lives in the process.

To castigate the victim for running away or criticise the police for being trigger happy is equally wrong. Sadly both the victim and the police involved thought that they were each working in the best interests for themselves.

michelle, HP and whomever e... (Below threshold)

michelle, HP and whomever else...

They shot the guy multiple times and in an intended lethal method because he was suspected of carrying explosive weapons. If a suspect is alive, he can still detonate the explosives. Thus, the intent is lethal force to stop someone suspected of carrying explosive weapons, at least as I've read as to the U.K. cops.

The suspect was: (1.) seen leaving a known, identified apartment that instructed murderers in the use of explosive weapons; (2.) was wearing a heavy coat in a warm/hot environment, such as also do those carrying explosive weapons -- heavy clothing inappropriate to the climate for an otherwise healthy (running!) individual indicates some other motive as to the choice of clothing; and, (3.) cops yelled to suspect to stop, and did so many times, guy instead of even pausing, took off running, fleeing cops, with cops in pursuit carrying lethal weapons -- there's a reasonable assumption there that someone would flee only as a desperate choice because a reasonable response by nearly anyone under similar circumstances would be to stop and allow the cops to approach, if not fall to the ground and throw your hands up in OBVIOUS display of ceasing when asked to do so by the cops.

It's really tragic that alleged innocent bystanders are killed and this one was, but if you want to blame anyone, blame terrorists who created these terrible social conditions...many thousands of innocecnt bystanders lost their lives on 9/11 and in London two/three weeks earlier.

I think it's commendable that the U.K. cops have taken to carrying weapons and are not hesitating to do what's necessary to stop these loathesome, senseless acts of terrorism. Under the circumstances, there's no way I'd think the U.K. cops acted irregularly -- but the guy who was killed did. He didn't deserve or merit to be killed but he sure did act recklessly, and I think there's reason to suspect that he's not so innocent after all. If he was, rest in peace, but he sure didn't act reasonably and the cops did what they had to do under the circumstances.

For instance the victim ... (Below threshold)

For instance the victim Jean Charles de Menezes had a poor command of English and only a couple of weeks prior to his untimely death had been mugged at knife point as reported in the British press over the weekend. Therefore given his inability to understand the instructions from the armed plain clothes police officers, and his mugging experience the previous week it is not too difficult to see why he would choose to run. Perhaps I am wrong.

Perhaps, but we'll never know. The fact that he had a poor grasp of English doesn't necessarily mean he didn't understand the two words, "Stop" and "Police."

I hate Monday morning quarterbacking by people who weren't there. The police did what they did. The poor guy is dead--and that's a tragedy. Still, under the circumstances, I can't fault the police.


<a href="http://news.bbc.co... (Below threshold)

BBC reports he was an illegal, too.

Its a tough c... (Below threshold)

Its a tough call,but whats not to understand
the command to stop???He runs, jumps over the
gate... Now you tell me!!! 5 men with guns tell
you to stop you had best do it...Face the cold
hard facts he was no longer innocent when he
ran...Stupid is as stupid does...

S, might I correct you on a... (Below threshold)

S, might I correct you on a couple of points please, if I may be so bold. Firstly he was seen leaving a building block, not the apartment itself which was under surveilance. However the fact that he was wearing unseasonal apparel was enough to raise the police's suspicions. One could ask the question as to why the police had allowed him to get so far as the tube station, never mind actually enter the tube?

A read of my previous post will try to explain his reasons for running. Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough. The police were in civillian clothes. They had nothing to distinguish themselves as policemen apart from guns. There instructions were not understood by the victim. Seeing a number of armed men running with guns in a foreign land, would be reason for me to high tail it as well. Well perhaps not, but his fleeing should not be used against him. Without being repetitious, it is a tragedy for all concerned

How would I have acted if f... (Below threshold)

How would I have acted if five nut jobs with guns approached me in broad daylight? I would have dashed into the closest store, office, etc with people & witnesses.

For What it is worth:
Strike One - disobeying police
Strike Two - heavy winter clothing in July after googling "TATP" and reading the need for low-temperatures when making this particular home made explosive
Strike Three - being Brazilian after I googled "Brazil" and "Al Qaida" yielding up articles like this ... http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=43211

Two sides at play. One side (i.e. USA & Co.) actively tries NOT to harm non-combatants while the other side (i.e. the Muslim death cult) tries with all their might and willpower to kill as many non-combatants as possible

Well perhaps not, but hi... (Below threshold)

Well perhaps not, but his fleeing should not be used against him.

Against him? This is not a question of whether the decedant's actions were appropriate. His motiviation for running is entirely irrelevant. The fact that he did run is what matters.

What matters is whether the officers' conduct was objectively reasonable. To answer this question, this event must be analyzed from the officers' perspective.

Running is merely one of the relevant factors. It is objectively reasonable for the police, when deciding whether to shoot, to consider the fact that a suspect runs. Fleeing from the police tends to increase the likelihood that a suspect poses a threat.

The text is logically perfe... (Below threshold)

The text is logically perfect except if the dead man were not either a British citizen or your relative. It is imperative to change the point of view.

Before you state your option is important to highlight the source of information to policeman to take the decision. The sources are not complete then the decision is risky and the chances of bad decision are great.

It is important to note that a bomber would not mind to the message "you're gonna shoot suspect bombers". When someone made up his/her mind of bombing the decision is made. I'm gonna die and I'll try to take others with me. Hence I'm sure the message is effective.

Finally try to figure out the min of Brazilian man when a lot of people is running back you with guns scream things you could not understand. If the he was a bomber he could blast the bomb before he reached the tube.

The lesson is it is necessary to develop new procedures to deal with terrorism. Violence against violence doesn't lead to effective results. Just take a look to the conflict against Palestinians and Israelis.

That's my point of view.


The police should have simp... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

The police should have simply asked the Brazilian to identify himself when he was leaving the block of flats or at the bus stop (if they were really worried he was a suicide bomber, why, would they ride number 2 bus, all the way with him, to the tube and endanger themselves and the bus passsengers in the process?)..The intelligence of this "Swat operation", including the summary killing of an innocent man, might inspire our host to have faith in the police "but I frankly many Londoners (most of whom come from elsewhere) are more sceptical.

Might he have been a useful... (Below threshold)

Might he have been a useful idiot?

As in, "Hey dude! We'll give you $1000 to dress in unseasonably warm clothing and walk into the subway. If anyone tells you to stop, run as fast as you can!"

...all of which would then allow the terrorists who sent him out to "test the waters" a good gauge of current British security practices in the wake of 7/7...

Intelligence gathering is conducted many ways.

Violence against violenc... (Below threshold)

Violence against violence doesn't lead to effective results.

Like hell it doesn't.

"Violence against violence ... (Below threshold)

"Violence against violence doesn't lead to effective results," has given me one of the best laughs I've had in awhile. Had the man had explosives on his person, violence would have effected some excellent results, whereas non-violence wouldn't have. That statement is so laughable that I was expecting to see a tag after it.

One thing that's curious is Michele has removed the post from her main page without explanation.

I can't argue Jay Tea's or ... (Below threshold)

I can't argue Jay Tea's or Phinn's points. The man in question was reasonably suspicious and made all the wrong moves. He may even have been part of a plot we won't know about to carry out a suicide bombing that day. The police behaved reasonably.

The problem is that they reacted, and a man is dead.
1. The police had the building under surveilance, yet had no plan for when someone came out shrouded in a heavy coat and headed for the tube station, other than to follow the person. 2. If the police have a practical way to disarm someone such as tazers without killing them (which may not be the way to go with a person who has a bomb strapped on, but c'mon peeps! this is the 21st frickin' century), they failed to try it at a reasonable time, such as when it was clear he was headed for the tube. 3. They can lock down tube entrances and should be prepared to do so in a short time, but they didn't, allowing the man to go in. It was pretty much all over at that point. Who planned this surveilance, Inspector Clouseau?!? They didn't have cops stationed at the nearby tube entrances who could have been flagged that a terrorist suspect was headed their way? Sheesh.

It's not a matter of the police being fascist or Orwellian; it's simply not the police work that they are capable of, and I know that preparation to become a cop includes a tremendous amount of situation and incident strategizing, along with plenty of history lessons about what doesn't work, and pure reaction doesn't work. Call me a Monday morning QB if you want, but for profiling to be useful, the end result can't be dead suspects.

I think the terror is reach... (Below threshold)

I think the terror is reaching its aim. The British society is scared of everything and everyone. In this moment the civil rights are throwing in the garbage and the best action is to isolate suspicious communities. It means a return 200 years ago. The intelligence is better way to deal with the terror.

"it appears he was here on ... (Below threshold)

"it appears he was here on a student visa, and was working illegally as an electrician."

Mabe this information helps... (Below threshold)

Mabe this information helps to explain why to run after the cops approached him.

It would be premature and u... (Below threshold)

It would be premature and unwise to say that the British people are running scared. After all they have a little more experience when dealing with terrorism. Britain was subjected to a bombing campaign from Dissident Irish republican groups from the 1970s right through to the 1990s. In addition the attitude of most people to the shooting is one of great sadness for all concerned. And lastly the victim's status, as to whether he was legal or not with regards to his residency in the UK is of no consequence. Raising in the issue does not lend credence to the police nor detract from the tragedy of the situation. That is an argument for a moron

From Captains Quarters... (Below threshold)
Sabba Hillel:

From Captains Quarters


Menezes, a Catholic, had legally emigrated to Britain three years earlier and worked as an electrician. He spoke English well and would have understood the commands to stop, and his family says he had no reason to flee from the police -- and yet he did.

Look, it's not even the fac... (Below threshold)

Look, it's not even the fact that he ran that doomed him. It's that he ran into the subway. Given the events of the last month only a fool would run from police and into a subway train. What are the police supposed to do?

And before anyone else raises the same tired point, the police identified themselves as well as they could to a fleeing suspect, and reports are that the man spoke English just fine. If he was indeed running because he was an illegal alien than it's even clearer that he understood that they were police.

Why tail him rather than capture and question him? Probably because they wanted to see if he was acting in concert with anyone else. All of the London attacks so far have been coordinated affairs involving more than one terrorist bomber. If they stopped and questioned the man immediately it might have just signalled someone else to take his place and continue with the attack.

Terrorists blend in with the population for the express purpose of killing and maiming as many innocent people as possible. By diguising themselves as innocents they endanger true innocents and make mistakes like this inevitable. That's the point. This isn't an accidental side effect of their method. It is their method.

Man's mistakes: 1.... (Below threshold)

Man's mistakes:

1. Wearing unseasonal clothing - overcoat. Obviously uncomfortable given that he was healthy enough to run.

2. Jumping turnstile.

3. Running when being ordered to stop. Anyone on the Tube or in stations should know that there are more police around after the attacks, including undercover cops.

Police mistakes:

1. Approached him too late.

2. Not in uniform. He perhaps ran because he thought he was being chased by criminals.

Uniformed officers should have approached the man before he got to the entrance of the Tube station and politely asked for him to remove his coat for inspection/ 5 sec pat-down. After finding nothing, he'd be free to go.

If _I_ am in a civilized country where I can't comprehend the language _at all_, I watch people and observe their behavior for cues. I'm imagining Japan, since I know enough Spanish, Russian, German, Italian etc. to recognize "Police - Stop!!" in those languages, but I know zero words in Japanese. The BBC ran an interview from Menezes' town in Brazil. They knew that England is reasonably civilized, with guns very rarely seen. If I were in a public place like a Tube station, I'd stop if approached by a group of men wielding guns. There are enough locals around to possibly stop a criminal attack. It's not like the men approached the guy in some dark alley at night.

Personally, I don't know wh... (Below threshold)

Personally, I don't know why this guy ran. The suggestion that he didn't understand the language is pretty shallow, especially since "police" doesn't vary much across most european languages.

The "hurrying for a train" argument would hinge upon the timing of his run. Did he break into a run perhaps when he came within sight of the departure board (though that would significantly damage the "language barrier" idea), or did he only begin to run when the police yelled for him to stop (even more damage)? The latter should, in any civilized society, allow police to utilize any force they deem necessary. If you aren't guilty, don't run from the cops. Seems pretty simple.

Also, a bunch of folks are beating the "brown guy" dead horse here. How many Islamist bombers were of the "blonde hair, blue-eyed" persuasion that's been mentioned? None? Hmm . . .

I personally had to go through a pretty extensive search of my belongings when I visited Kennedy Space Center last month. I didn't feel violated, or that my privacy had been invaded. I felt SAFE.

Bryan makes one of the best... (Below threshold)

Bryan makes one of the best points in noting that the police would want not only to stop Menezes, but also any others working in concert.

Bo, in doing my own homework, I read that Menezes and his tail of cops took a bus to the tube, my reaction being, why aren't you guys worried that he'll blow up the bus, if you're that worried?

I stand by my strategy response above. They should have flanked him and prevented him from entering the subway, at which time they should have been able to discern whether there were any attackers elsewhere.

The London Police shot a Br... (Below threshold)

The London Police shot a Brazilian? Damn! Who's gonna cut my grass next week? Oh wait..those are Gautamaleans. Nevermind.

Two points:1. Wh... (Below threshold)

Two points:

1. What if he had had a bomb and the police had done nothing? "Well, we had our guns out and he wouldn't stop, even evaded capture, fit the description, but we didn't feel we had the justification to shoot. We are TERRIBLY sorry that so many people have been killed with his bomb."

2. What if this one incident causes the next policeman faced with the same scenario to hesitate?

It's tragic that someone was killed mistakenly, though not wrongly, still the greater tragedy would have been a bomber that got away.

According to the logic of t... (Below threshold)

According to the logic of the thread. All of us should be shot in the head five times because 1) we might or might not be terrorists about to commit a horrendously violent attack and 2) playing the odds means that more lives will be saved if we just shoot everybody now--guilty or not. The reason we don't play the odds is because police officers have an opportunity and an obligation to consider the totality of the circumstances whenever they use force. When they use deadly force they'd pretty damn well not be playing the odds with my life.

"Stupidity cannot be cured ... (Below threshold)

"Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity." - Robert A. Heinlein






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