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Monday, March 07, 2005

Is Airline Security Their Objective Or Their Cover?

7 March 2005

Check out James Bovard's excellent article on who and how guards us up in the air. Basically, here's the story:
After the pervasive failure of airport security on 9/11, the Air Line Pilots Association sought federal permission for pilots to carry handguns to defeat hijackers. Capt. Steve Luckey, chairman of the association’s flight-security committee, explained, “The only reason we want lethal force in the cockpit is to provide an opportunity to get the aircraft on the ground. We don’t have 911. We can’t pull over.”

The Bush administration rejected the request, preferring instead to rely on jet fighters to shoot down hijacked civilian planes. U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta declared on March 4, 2002, “I don’t feel we should have lethal weapons in the cockpit” — as if airplanes themselves were not among the most deadly lethal weapons.

Congress eventually trumped the administration, passing a law in September 2002 to create a program to train pilots to use firearms to defend their planes. (The Transportation Security Administration — TSA — effectively buried the program with red tape, ensuring that only 48 pilots would be permitted to carry guns in early 2003.)

Former TSA chief John Magaw was the administration’s point person in the fight against permitting pilots to be armed. Magaw announced, “The use of firearms aboard a U.S. aircraft must be limited to those thoroughly trained members of law enforcement.” The federal air-marshal program was touted as a silver bullet against hijacking threats. A White House statement on aviation safety in the wake of 9/11 declared, “The requirements and qualifications of Federal Air Marshals are among the most stringent of any U.S. federal law enforcement agency.”

The TSA was determined to quickly expand the number of marshals from a few hundred to more than six thousand. However, most of the applicants failed the marksmanship test. The TSA solved that problem by dropping the marksmanship test for new applicants — even though the ability to shoot accurately in a plane cabin is widely considered a crucial part of a marshal’s job.

So, a government agency seeks monopoly on a certain task (providing armed guards on commercial flights), fails at it, but instead of fixing the problem rewrites the requirements of the task so as to conceal the issue. Given that the issue is directly related to national security I think it would not be entirely unfair to refer to such behavior as sabotage. And last time I checked sabotage was a criminal offense.

As I have already mentioned, the TSA is quite aggressive in its ways and views intimidation as an important part of its mission. Given how little it seems to care about what is apparently its main objective - the safety of the traveling public - it almost appears that intimidation of the said traveling public may be a goal in itself.

The powers TSA is appropriating seem to go beyond merely harassing airline passengers and extend as far as censoring the airline pilots not in agreement with the "party line".
Brian Darling of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations condemned the TSA’s slant: “They should not be trotting out federal flight-deck officers to say good things about the program while muzzling pilots who are critical of the program.” After grumbling about TSA’s policies on armed pilots spilled into the media, a TSA official sent an e-mail warning to all pilots authorized to carry guns prohibiting them even from communicating to their congressmen about their concerns about the program.

In 2002 Bush bragged that the law creating the TSA “greatly enhanced the protections for America’s passengers and goods.” Rather than making Americans safe from terrorists, the TSA has made them prey to federal agents. There is no reason to expect the agency to turn over a new leaf. And there is no reason to expect a small army of undercover federal agents flying on planes to make Americans safe.

To summarize this, let me just state that I am beyond believing that the TSA is trying to do a job but failing. I believe they are using their task as a pretext for something else. Most likely, it is just a pretext for maintaining a large team of armed federal agents. The governments throughout history have used danger, real or perceived, as an excuse for beefing up the "palace guard" - and they can be viewed as that of sorts. The worst case scenario might be that they are intended as a clandestine internal intelligence service of sorts.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Isolated Lawsuits Are Not Enough

7 August 2004

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo prisoner, has filed a lawsuit against the US Government alleging torture at the hands of his American captors and challenging the constitutionality of the military tribunals for those captured in the "war on terror". The fact that a US Federal Court is now hearing the case is an important step forward for the rule of law, and a significant defeat for the Administration who claimed that it had a right to operate outside the oversight of the legal system in Guantanamo.

However, while I wish Mr Hamdan every bit of luck in obtaining the justice for himself,- that justice being his right to be tried in a court of law with the full protections granted to a defendant as opposed to a military tribunal, as well as getting those who violated his human rights prosecuted,- I believe that such isolated trials are not enough, even if the plaintiffs obtain justice there. I believe we as a society, all of us who adhere to the principles of Constitution regardless of their other beliefs, must state unequivocally that the Administration's attempts to operate outside of the law will not stand. We should write to the public figures, hold demonstrations in the streets, publish our views on the web and in the print media,- in other words, make it heard loud and clear that we demand that all laws of the land as well as international laws our country has ratified be respected by all executive officials.

And if you think that doing so may be tantamount to defending the people possibly involved in terror,- think of it differently. Our laws are not lenient when it comes to terrorism,- our courts can mete out a punishment severe enough to match the crime. Timothy McVeigh was executed for blowing up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Those responsible for the 1993 attack on the WTC are jailed for life. Thus we need not worry about the guilty not being punished. That may happen,- but anyone can be fooled, military authorities included.

And it is your own safety you are protecting by demanding that all executive authorities operate within the scope of the law. It is for your own sake that you are making sure that no government agents will take you away and lock you up in a prison brig as "enemy combatant". I grew up in a country where a whole generation of people lived through years when every family feared a knock on the door at night, where those lead away in the early morning hours often just vanished, leaving their families to tend for themselves as outcasts and pariahs. May no one have to live through that horror and learn what they had learned about what unconstrained government agents with a vengeance can do!

Originally published here.

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