Wednesday, November 10, 2004


All that airline security hassle is for nothing. It's just an act

Public-policy obsession with avoiding any possible charge of racism was the luxury of an age that believed that the United States faced no greater danger than the bigotry of its own people. Though such thinking should have been cast aside after 9/11, it has not been. The incoherence that existed at the origin of CAPPS I plagues anti-terrorism efforts today. In 1997, the government recognized the reality of Islamic terrorism by building some Islamic-centric features into the program while simultaneously repudiating the consequences of that reality-stricter scrutiny for Muslims. Currently, from immigration enforcement to intelligence gathering, government officials continue to compromise national security in order to avoid accusations of "racial profiling"-and in order to avoid publicly acknowledging what the 9/11 Commission finally said: that the "enemy is not just `terrorism,' [but] Islamist terrorism." This blind anti-discrimination reflex is all the more worrying since radical Islam continues to seek adherents and plan attacks in the United States.

The anti-discrimination hammer has hit the airline industry most severely-and with gruesome inappropriateness, given the realities of 9/11 and the Islamists' enduring obsession with airplanes. Department of Transportation lawyers have extracted millions in settlements from four major carriers for alleged discrimination after 9/11, and they have undermined one of the most crucial elements of air safety: a pilot's responsibility for his flight. Because the charges against the airlines were specious but successful, every pilot must worry that his good-faith effort to protect his passengers will trigger federal retaliation.

The DoT action against American Airlines was typical. In the last four months of 2001, American carried 23 million passengers and asked ten of them (.00004 percent of the total) not to board because they raised security concerns that could not be resolved in time for departure. For those ten interventions (and an 11th in 2002), DoT declared American a civil rights pariah, whose discriminatory conduct would "result in irreparable harm to the public" if not stopped.

On its face, the government's charge that American was engaged in a pattern of discriminatory conduct was absurd, given how few passenger removals occurred. But the racism allegation looks all the more unreasonable when put in the context of the government's own actions. Three times between 9/11 and the end of 2001, public officials warned of an imminent terror attack. Transportation officials urged the airlines to be especially vigilant. In such an environment, pilots would have been derelict not to resolve security questions in favor of caution.

Somehow, DoT lawyers failed to include in their complaint one further passenger whom American asked not to board in 2001. On December 22, airline personnel in Paris kept Richard Reid off a flight to Miami. The next day, French authorities insisted that he be cleared to board. During the flight, Reid tried to set off a bomb in his shoe, but a stewardess and passengers foiled him. Had he been kept from flying on both days, he too might have ended up on the government's roster of discrimination victims.

In application, the government's "but-for" test reduces to a "never-ever" rule: ethnic heritage, religion, or national origin may play no role in evaluating risk. But when the threat at issue is Islamic terrorism, it is reckless to ask officials to disregard the sole ironclad prerequisite for being an Islamic terrorist: Muslim identity. American officials may still be terrified about naming the threat, but a few Arab commentators are willing to say what the Bush administration will not: "It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims," wrote Abdel Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of the influential Al Arabiya television station, after the school massacre in Beslan, Russia...

Years of government lawsuits over specious employment-discrimination claims have made the airlines gun-shy over "bias" issues. But American Airlines did contest DoT's discrimination action because so much was at stake. Federal law vests final responsibility for flight safety with the pilot. For a passel of discrimination lawyers, months after the fact, to question a pilot's good-faith judgment-made with incomplete information under great time pressure-violates a crucial principle of secure aviation. American's defense pointed out the behavioral warning signs that had led to the 11 removals. But fighting the government civil rights complex is futile; in February 2004, the airline, while vehemently denying guilt, settled the action for $1.5 million, to be spent on yet more "sensitivity training" for its employees. American's pilots were outraged. "Pilots felt: `How dare they second-guess our decision?'" says Denis Breslin, a pilots' union official. "We just shake our heads in shame: `How could the government be so wrong?'"

In addition to individual discrimination suits, the government has continued to sic "disparate impact" analysis on anti-terror measures. One of the most destructive innovations of the rights lobby, such analysis-which assigns bigotry to neutral policies if they affect different demographic groups differently-is suicidal in a war-fighting situation. It rules out every security procedure that might actually be useful in combating Muslim terrorists, since a screening device for Muslim terrorists cannot by definition have the same effect on non-Muslims.

More here

No comments: