Accidents Will Happen; Punishments Should
When a Fairfax County police SWAT team swooped in on Sal Culosi in January, they weren't meaning to kill the 37-year-old optometrist. They thought Culosi was a bookmaker and they wanted to arrest him. But somehow, Officer Deval Bullock's finger made contact with the trigger on his .45-caliber handgun. Officer Bullock shouted the word "police" at Culosi. "Right after "police,' " said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., "it went pow." Culosi was killed almost instantly.
Yesterday Horan said Bullock will not be charged with a crime. Bullock did not intend to kill Culosi, so no crime was committed. It was a tragedy, but it was an accident, says Horan. That's very likely true. But it's also true that Bullock made a terrible error, an error that cost a man his life. No matter Bullock's intent on that January night, the consequence of his actions should be that he never carries a gun again.
That's a harsh punishment for a police officer, I know. But it seems we have gotten away from the notion that people should be punished for their actions, even when inadvertent. We believe in redemption and second chances. That's all well and good, but sometimes an old-fashioned punishment is what's called for.
My father is a retired military officer. I remember how delicate was the calculus that determined how far someone's career could go in the armed forces. The shortcomings of people under your command reflected on you. An accident on your watch, a collision at sea, an embarrassing incident--these were things that were understand to end whatever forward momentum your career once possessed. I used to think that was rather harsh, unfair. But I see now that there's a reason for it. When the stakes are high, we want only the best.
Which brings me to Iraq and President Bush. Let's give the president and his advisors the benefit of the doubt. Let's assume that everything they did and are doing--quickly moving the fight-against-terrorism battlefield from Afghanistan to Iraq, misunderstanding the WMD intelligence, not having an adequate post-invasion plan in place, authorizing interrogation methods that border on torture, instituting domestic eavesdropping--they did for the most honorable of reasons: to protect Americans. But the best of intentions can't alter the reality. And the reality is that by any yardstick, they've made a total botch of the war. The plan was poorly conceived, poorly executed, and for three years Americans and Iraqis have been living, and dying, with the consequences.
Just as I'm sure Officer Bullock did not intend to kill Sal Culosi, so I'm sure President Bush didn't intend to mire us in a tragic war. I feel sorry for him, just as I feel sorry for Bullock. So, what now? A censure at the hands of Congress? That probably won't help much. An apology? That doesn't seem very likely. I think the only thing we can hope for is that the American people, when given the chance, will not support those politicians who refuse to see that even if a crime wasn't committed, an accident happened. Now it's time for the punishment.
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