Friday, July 20, 2007

Bennie Thompson: Unwitting Friend of Terrorists?

This should outrage every American. Republicans in the House tried to pass legislation that would protect tipsters from nuisance lawsuits by terrorists. The Washington Times reported:
Mr. King and Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, sponsored the provision after a group of Muslim imams filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against US Airways and unknown "John Doe" passengers. The imams were removed from US Airways Flight 300 on Nov. 20 after fellow passengers on the Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight complained about the imams' suspicious behavior.

The Washington Times also reported that Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, initially opposed the legislation, expressing concern that it would lead to racial profiling.

In further commentary on Congressman Thomposon's actions, Debra Burlingame of The New York Post reported that:Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, took the floor to oppose King's motion - and to defend the lawsuit against John Does. "We should be tolerant," he argued; people shouldn't be singled out because they "look different."

Mr. Thompson is either stupid or is being disingenious. Passengers are not being reported based upon how they look but for what they are doing. If these Imans had simply acted normally, there would have been no problem. However, they did not just go to their seats and enjoy the flight. "In fact, the flying imams triggered concerns by a variety of unusual actions, as well as words that roused the concern of another Arabic-speaking passenger. Witnesses say that House members started booing Thompson. " (Note: Debra Burlingame is sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed at the Pentagon on 9/11.)

Congressman Thompson was militant as always. "Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, opposed the motion over loud objections from colleagues on the House floor, forcing several calls to order from the chair.
Absolutely they should have the ability to seek redress in a court of law,” said Mr. Thompson, who suggested that protecting passengers from a lawsuit would encourage racial profiling."

So because Mr. Thompson has memories of the Klan from the 1960's, he opposes protecting Americans from terrorists? If an American sees suspicious activity (like terrorists practicing a "dry run" to determine what the security measures are) and reports it, he is currently at risk of being sued by the terrorists for doing his duty as a law-abiding citizen. This evil use of our laws must be stopped.

CAIR (Council of American-Islamic Relations with ties to terrorists and their supporters) has made it clear it supports such efforts to intimidate Americans from reporting suspicious activity as noted by Ms. Burlingame: "The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will certainly push for that. After all, the radical "civil rights" group - which supports the terrorists of Hamas and has received millions in funding from Saudi Arabia - is paying the lawyers in the "Flying Imams" lawsuit.
Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, defends the suit's targeting of ordinary citizens. The clerics, he explains, will only sue passengers who made false reports or acted in bad faith. But the suit cites an "elderly couple" who watched the imams in the gate area and then made a cellphone call. How will CAIR determine who the couple called and whether anything they did was intended to discriminate against the imams, without first finding out their names and forcing them to defend against the charge? What about their civil rights?"

In Minnesota, the Imans that were removed from an airplane in the well-publicized incident last fall after behaving very suspiciously. In true American fashion, the Imans decided to sue the airlines and would not preclude a lawsuit against the passengers who reported the activity.

The Imans made the passengers nervous because: "Other passengers had gotten nervous when the men were seen praying and chanting in Arabic as they waited to board. Some passengers also said that the men spoke of Saddam Hussein and cursed the United States; that they requested seat belt extenders with heavy buckles and stowed them under their seats; that they were moving about and conferring with each other during boarding; and that they sat separately in seats scattered through the cabin.

As MSNBC reported, "Billie Vincent, a former director of security for the Federal Aviation Administration, said he is troubled by the mere attempt to identify the passengers who raised concerns.
Airline passengers “are your eyes and your ears,” said Vincent, who now owns an aviation security company. “If attorneys can get those names and sue them, you put a chilling effect on the whole system.”

Recently terrorists have plotted to attack Fort Dix, blow up the fuel lines at an airport, bomb London nightclubs, and commit other atrocities. All too often the first line of defense is citizens notifying law enforcement of suspicious activity such as the brave Circuit City employee who reported the photos he saw in the course of his job. Americans should not have to worry about spending thousands of dollars on lawsuits from terrorists who twist our laws to help them kill more Americans.

One hopes that Congressman Thompson takes the security of all Americans seriously. It is clear that when it comes to the protection of terrorists versus the protection of law-abiding American citizens who only wish to stop terrorism, Mr. Thompson is more concerned with the protection of terrorists. Bennie Thompson, who has made a career out of racial politics, is more worried about rednecks in white hoods than bomb-throwing terrorists in black masks.

Note: No mention in The Jackson Free Press or The Clarion-Ledger of Congressman Thompson's comments.


Tom Head said...

(a) Religious and ethnic profiling is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, so Thompson is correct as a matter of law--"of course" victims of same should be able to sue, though the more understandable the discrimination was, the harder it will be to get damages ;

(b) "The Washington Times reports..." is an oxymoron. Both the Times and Post are unabashedly right-wing publications that will not use the word "gay" without air quotes, for example, because they consider it offensively inclusive. Their analysis of legislation is about as useful as that of DailyKos.



Kingfish said...

The passengers complained about the ACTIONS of the Imans, not how they looked. Their actions were very similar to that of terrorists who have conducted successful operations.

Your analysis fails on another point. The passenger has no authority to do anything to the suspect. He is still reporting the actions to law enforcement or airline authorities who thus have more training and can make a more informed decision.

HOWEVER, a passenger should not have to worry at all about being sued for reporting suspicious activity and your comment does not address that problem.

Do you really want a passenger to not notify somone of suspicious behavior because of a threat of a lawsuit only to have the threat become real when the plane explodes or is hijacked?

As I said, there is nothing the authorities can do based on looks or religion anyway. However, behavior should be a factor for probably cause.

Thompson deserves criticism. Even his own party was telling him to shut up.

Anonymous said...

This case is about profiling, but profiling behavior. Sitting in a terrorist pattern, requesting seat belt extensions, yet not being overweight, then placing them at your feet, etc, etc.

Isreal has had quite a bit of sucess with this behavior centered profiling. Can you really tell me what 'suspicious looking' means? Maybe, but suspicious actions are easier to put your finger on.

Tom Head said...

Behavioral profiling is not sufficient grounds for a civil rights lawsuit to begin with, so it would not be impacted by this legislation. I also question whether the passengers can be sued--an issue that a court ordinarily addresses.

I didn't see Congress get together and write a piece of legislation just to address the $57M pants lawsuit, and it shouldn't do so here, either. Let the courts do their job--and then if there's a case where passengers obviously are maliciously profiling on racial grounds and screwing up life for air travelers, we won't wish this legislation hadn't been passed.



Kingfish said...

again you miss the point.

You are in favor of letting a court decide if a passenger was profiling. that means the passenger has to worry about even tipping off the proper authorities because that will mean a lawsuit, thousands of dollars spent, harrassment, not to mention true terrorist sympathizers and nuts who will seek vengeance on the tipster.

No one is talking about protecting people acting in their official capacities. It is about protecting innocent civilians who report suspicious behavior. Your concerns ignore reality.

In New Orleans one of the major reasons crime is unreported is because the police have a policy that if someone calls 911, a car is sent to the address of the person that called even if not involved. Well, if you are reporting a murder you saw, that just got you fingered as a snitch and retaliation is all but certain.

Apply it to terrorists and sympathetic groups and you can see where it will lead.

Tom Head said...

Fair point. I'll read up on this and see what I can find.



Brian Johnson said...

Kingfish, it really goes too far to write that Thompson "opposes protecting Americans from terrorists" because he opposes this legislation. You can strongly disagree with him without engaging in that kind of hyperbole. I mean, do you think Tom "opposes protecting Americans from terrorists" because he questions the legislation? That sort of overheated rhetoric is getting rather tiresome.

I believe that part of why the Republican Party is going down in flames is because of comments like yours and this from Rep. Steve Pearce: "[Democrats made their choice as to] whether they are going to side with the American people or with the terrorists."

Thankfully, the American people are starting to figure out that this sort of language does not help us make intelligent decisions about security. Reasonable people can disagree about important matters without one side being traitors.

Do you think, for instance, that a libertarian like Rep. Ron Paul, who opposed the Patriot Act because he believed it was an un-American insult to the Constitution, opposes protecting the American people from terrorists, even if he happens to be wrong?

There is also a rhetorical flaw in your argument: It's not terrorists who would sue citizens. If you stop and think about it, that's giggle-worthy. It's ordinary citizens who were falsely accused that might sue. Terrorists might benefit from such lawsuits if they discouraged people to report suspicious activity, but they wouldn't actually be the ones to sue. (If you want to argue the point, I'll simply shake my head and say that if we can tie al Qaeda operatives up in civil litigation, bring on the lawsuits! Unfortunately, such operatives are doubtless too busy planning attacks to bother with such trivialities.)

Beyond that, I agree with Tom: Let the courts do their job. What we have now is one lawsuit. The specter of rich Saudis funding spurious lawsuits against citizens to dampen reporting is, so far, nothing but a paranoid fantasy.

By the way, Tom is also right about citing the Washington Times, which has one of the worst reputations in journalism. Personally, I would be embarrassed to quote from Rev. Sun Myung Moon's vanity rag.

Kingfish said...

oh goody, just like the days of the Jackson Free Press when we had fun on there. Let the games begin.

Will write more later but Brian, you ask how terrorists would benefit from it.

Simple. Suppose they are making a dry run to test security which they do. They could then sue citizens who tipped off the authorities as well as the airlines. People become fearful of lawsuits and it discourages people from sueing. They have a nice front group, CAIR, which is very good about doing such things. Under current law, a terrorist could run such an exercise, be noticed by a passenger who reports what he sses, then sue the airline and passenger after being detained, kicked off the airplane etc. Meanwhile, a plot could continue on by the same terrorists who are usually VERY compartmentalized. I don't want that citizen having to worry about being sued. period. will wrote more later.

Meanwhile, check out new link on right Under Iraq stuff at the bottom of the list. Its a study I think you will find VERY interesting.

I don't like Patriot Act either but there are some good things about it as well. am going back to bed. more later.

Kingfish said...

You also need to read some of the tactics discussed by Al Qaida. Several of them include using lawsuits and similar means to intimidate potential enemies into silence.

As for the Patriot Act, there is part of it I don't like. However, some of it is needed. The Patriot Act dissolved the wall between law enforcement and the intelligence community, one of the reasons why 9/11 was not detected. The Brooklyn Bridge plot was stopped because the intelligence community was able to notify the NYPD about the plot and all the intel it had, which it could not have done due to the Gorelick memo.

As for going too far, I'm sick of it. I'm sick of bumbling Bush. I'm sick of Democrats who through ignorance or deliberate intent, act in ways that help the enemy when they should know better. I'm reading Fiasco by Ricks right now and am very angry with the arrogance of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz in their planning and conduct of the Iraq war and how they have hurt the fight against terrorism with their mistakes.
I'm also mad as hell when I see Senators saying we have lost while hwe have troops in the field and we definitely have not lost and there are ALOT of good Iraqis who have relied on us and will be butchered if we just abandon them.

I'm tired of politicians who don't take terrorism seriously and think that it is just another issue to be managed in Washington, something for the spin games, something for the talking points when they go on the cable tv circuses, and not taking our security seriously.

Thompson fought to sink a bill strengthening homeland security in the ports because of the unions. He fights against protecting citizens who report suspicious behavior to the authorities from harassment lawsuits. I'm calling a spade a spade and its about time he started taking reponsibility for his actions and politlcal stands. When it helps the enemy, I'm going to start calling him on it. I've critizied Bush in other posts and am not going to be a hack for either side. I don't mind criticizing Thompson and calling him out when I am starting to see a pattern of behavior in him.

Brian Johnson said...

Kingfish, I didn't ask how this would benefit al Qaeda because that seems obvious, if there are enough lawsuits that it actually has a dampening effect. That's a big 'if' at this point. I remain utterly unconvinced that al Qaeda itself would expend resources suing.

There is absolutely no indication that the imams in this case were terrorists, or that they were making a dry run. The 'suspicious behavior' cited by the WT is far, far from being a smoking gun. The imams a) spoke in Arabic, b) prayed, c) talked to each other before boarding, d) asked for fancy seat belts that they apparently did not use, e) sat separately, f) mentioned Saddam Hussein, g) said something mean about the U.S.

Yes, that could be a dry run, but statistically speaking, it's far likelier to be a group of imams flying to Phoenix. After all, sometimes people flying together do not sit together. That does not a dry run make.

Furthermore, I have no doubt that the FBI and the CIA will take a long, hard look at anyone who tries to sue on these matters. Al Qaeda would then expose one of its operatives by suing, for nothing but rhetorical gain. If there was any indication, however flimsy, that someone suing was al Qaeda, I have little doubt that their suit would quietly disappear, along with them, into a military brig.

It just doesn't make any sense that terrorists would sue.

You completely skipped over my point about rhetoric with some fancy footwork worthy of Glenn Beck. I am glad that you are sick of the Republicans and Democrats alike, but that's not what I was talking about.

I was talking about accusing political opponents of being traitors. You may think Thompson is wrong, and you make think that he is foolish. But when you cross that line and accuse him of deliberately working to strengthen the enemy, you reinforce the fascist rhetoric that Bush has used for six years to push his corrupt (and failed) agenda.

In the case of this legislation, it seems like political showboating rather than serious security legislation. Effective security screening is far more important than jittery reports from passengers. If I were to adopt your rhetorical strategy, I would accuse the Republicans of aiding the enemy by gunking up our legislative process with political pandering while they scuttle real legislation to protect our ports, which they've failed to do for the last six years. This thing was tacked onto a security bill that expands funding for such security measures, after all, which are much more effective and important than some guy from Benoit getting nervous about imams.

Kingfish said...

Al Qaida wouldn't expend resources. However, CAIR and similar groups that received Saudi funding, which is Wahhabist oriented would. All it takes is a couple of high profile lawsuits, and there will be a higher chance of people not wanting to get involved.

think about it for a second. If you get sued, that means you are spending thousands in defense EVEN IF YOU WIN!!! Then you go through discovery. They'll ask for your financial records, medical records, and delve into your personal life as much as possible.

Then there is the real threat of some Islamic nut retaliating against you after all this information is obtained. If they'll murder people over films and cartoons, they will murder people who they see as denying them their precious jihad.

As for traitors, I have changed my title. I think unwitting more than fits after his record on this issue, fighting background checks for port workers, and trying to unionize TSA employees.

Once again, keep in mind, that the passenger has no authority to detain any other passenger. All hle is doing is reporting what he sees to the authorities. Liability should rest with them as they are the ones who act on the information. You can have the most evil Klansman turning in tips to the authorities but if there is nothing to the tips, they should be able to determine that is the case.

Incidentally, the passengers on that plane had every reason to be nervous. They were changing seats, praising Saddam and Osama, asking for extra large seatbelts with heavy buckles, meeting in a group, etc. I would say that is suspicious behavior.

Anonymous said...

my my my
how things have changed
ole Bennie and the Heads of the world are sure big law and order folks on the federal level now that mandates, Russian collussion, and insurrectionisty stuff are concerned.
Speaking of Bennie, that John Solomon Just the News piece is actually addressing things many here in the 'Sip have said in secret.
Wonder if any of the local news will pick it up?

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