“Even a perpetrator of violence has dignity”

In the recent terrorist act in London, police shot the three suspected assailants point blank. Capuchin monk Paulus Terwitte on ethical guidelines for dealing with terrorists.

Interviewer: Was the final rescue shot of the policemen justified?

Paulus Terwitte (media expert and Capuchin monk): I wasn’t there, but the phrase that human lives are to be protected applies. And if those who are in charge realize that the only way to eliminate those people who can threaten and perhaps even kill others is by firing a shot, then they are also obligated to prevent people from causing further evil by using their firearms.

Interviewer: But the explosive vests were only dummies, how do you deal with that?

Terwitte: You can only consult what you really know. Every police officer, I hope, is trained to look a little deeper than others and not just make amptions. But if the probability is very high that everything is real, then you have to act accordingly and take out the attackers. But nobody must be guided by such thoughts as "these are only terrorists and there one may calmly shoot at it". These people also have dignity, and this dignity obligates us to accurately assess the state of affairs.

Interviewer: Is it not an enormous burden for the police officers to decide in a split second about life and death of the terrorists??

Terwitte: This is a huge burden and police officers are also trained not to be guided by emotions. To keep a cool head in such situations, police officers need good training, trust in their employers and in society. I think it’s important that we as a society trust our police officers to be well-trained and not simply endanger human life on suspicion, even the life of a dangerous person.

Interviewer: What are the consequences of such an extreme deployment for police officers??

Terwitte: If it turns out that the killing would not have been necessary, then I think that naturally haunts the police officers. Then they will talk to psychologists and pastors to examine their conscience: did I act out of reasonable motives or was I emotional and somehow wanted to take revenge because of other attacks?? This must be kept well apart, because under certain circumstances something like this can also become punishable.

Interviewer: One of the ten commandments is: Thou shalt not kill. And there are no exemption rules in parentheses either…

Terwitte: The commandment is actually: Thou shalt not murder. And murder is the unjustified killing of a human being. There are differentiated descriptions in the Bible. But the biblical statement is quite clear: no human being can take away his own dignity, not even a perpetrator of violence or an evil person. We must prevent him from doing evil, if need be militarily or with a final saving shot. At the same time, we must always keep in mind that he has his own dignity.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

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