What we lost on 9/11

The damage al-Qaeda did to us that day can’t possibly match the damage we’ve done to ourselves since. I’m not just talking about silly rituals like taking your shoes off at the airport; I’m talking about a whole “1% principle” way of thinking.

Consider, for example the case of Shoshana Hebshi (American citizen, Saudi father, Jewish mother) who flew from Denver to Detroit on Sunday. She was seated in a row with two Indian men, strangers to her, and with whom she exchanged no words on the flight. But some bigoted moron decided that three people deficient in melanin deficiency seated together on an airplane on the anniversary of 9/11 constituted “suspicious activity,” and that moronic call was enough to trigger a fighter escort, an armed descent on the airplane after it landed, questioning at a police station for all the passengers, and handcuffing, hours in a cell, strip-searching, and of course utter terror for the three innocent people singled out for no good reason whatever.

What’s even worse than the hyper-reactivity of the system is the quote attributed to the FBI flack: “Due to the anniversary of Sept. 11, all precautions were taken, and any slight inconsistency was taken seriously. The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not.”

But of course, if you’re part of a government that has officially adopted the Big-Brotherish slogan “If you see something, say something,” you’re not likely to make the appropriate remark in this case: “We profoundly apologize to the three innocent people whose lives were disrupted by what turned out to be a false alarm. We do our best to balance safety against everyone’s right to travel unmolested; we don’t always get that balance right.”

The only good news in the case is that the actual officers involved seem to have acted with reasonable civility. One of them told Ms. Hebshi, correctly, that people had been “seeing ghosts” that day; apparently the Detroit non-incident was one of fifty nationwide.

Maybe if our security forces spent a little bit more time asking questions of the people who call in their random fantasies, they could spend less time questioning innocuous travelers. In the meantime, if you see something, make sure you’re really seeing something. Otherwise, do everyone a favor and STFU.

Note to the White House: Three phone calls from the President would take a total of fifteen minutes. Time well spent, it seems to me.

[h/t James Fallows]

Comments

  1. RickG says

    Perhaps the US should have followed that time honored corporate tradition, and used Sunday night to announce a chapter 11 filing for our civil liberties. Maybe we should have had some remembrances our how we used to live.

    Hell, it isn’t enough to harass the hell out of people getting on the planes, we do this when they land! I guess TSA has a lot of confidence in all their super duper, x-ray vision scanners!

    We’ve made these folks and hundreds of thousands of others capable of inflicting mass indignity on citizens of the US and the world, and placed them beyond scrutiny and any form of accountability.

    I made a decision in 2008, after I relocated to the East Coast not to fly again as long as the TSA reign of terror continues. I urge others to do likewise!

  2. NCG says

    What a nightmare for those poor people. If they were strip-searched, I hope they sue and win big. A U.S. citizen flying between domestic airports in no way undertakes such a risk. (And I feel bad for the two men too, whether they’re citizens or not.)

  3. Gus diZerega says

    Home of the brave and land of the free? Not!

    In more and more cases home of the cowardly and land of the subservient.

  4. matt wilbert says

    The whole thing is ridiculous, but what danger did they pose AFTER they landed? We’ve become the land of the brain-free, if you ask me.

  5. RickM says

    WT: I’m using that, with attribution, of course!

    I have tried to make the argument to the denizens of the Red State in which I find myself that we have hurt ourselves more than the “terrorists” ever have. No takers no matter how civil the argument. Sad, really.

  6. NCG says

    Well, I find a few glimmers of hope for intelligent life on the right. Conor Friedersdorf (hope I spelled that right) doesn’t seem to like the naked scanners (and presumably, the gropers).

    Also, there are some on the right who think the eminent domain situation is a bit out of hand. Which it sometimes is. (Don’t get me started on the RDAs.)

    And, let’s not forget, some of the first people to blow a whistle on some of these civil rights/torture issues were military lawyers defending detainees. Presumably Republicans. I mean, they protested within the military anyhow. Where’s their parade, I’d like to know.

  7. says

    … enough to trigger a fighter escort, an armed descent on the airplane after it landed, questioning at a police station for all the passengers, and handcuffing, hours in a cell, strip-searching, and of course utter terror for the three innocent people singled out for no good reason whatever.

    I wonder how much this episode of brown ghostbusting cost the taxpayer?
    My guess is half a million. Er hang on…
    Just read Shoshana’s account and the other link:

    Two F-16s, bomb squads, sniffer dogs, Swat team, the whole costly shebang…
    Got to be at least a million…

  8. DCA says

    Assuming that Frontier has assigned seating, this is beyond moronic. Given all the $$ spent, what could have
    happened was:

    Passenger to attendent: I think the people in row 12 are suspicious.
    Attendent (appropriate response: none, but assuming the worst): inform pilot of the same.
    Pilot to ground: check who is in row 12
    Ground to TSA: please check these names from this flight
    (remember that we all fill out stuff that the airlines send to the TSA)
    TSA: three unconnected passengers, no flags on their names, people are seeing ghosts.
    Ground to aircraft: nothing to worry about.

    Or, just to “be safe”: after landing, ask these three people to step aside, verify who
    they are, and let them go. Once they are OFF the plane, what is the danger? All this stuff
    with machine guns is witless. The best cure for this kind of thing will be (I wish!) for
    the supervisor of the person who made the decision on the ground, to make it cleat that
    it was a bad decision. Unfortunately, I don’t see any chance of being able to find out
    how the decision was made.

    I will also remember “land of the bray…”

  9. SP says

    “See something, say something” drives me insane. Every half hour they play the announcement in stations in the MBTA, and it includes the line, “Now, more than ever, it is important to be alert, be aware, and be ready to report any suspicious activity or suspicious behavior. Blah blah blah, see something, say something.” Are they trying for parody?
    Also as part of the campaign they have enormous backpacks and packages with signs saying, “It’s never this obvious. Report unattended bags.” I’m really tempted to call in and report the 12 foot tall backpack they set up in Harvard station, but I suspect they wouldn’t take the joke well.

  10. Jamie says

    Time for civil obedience.

    Everyone who rides the MTA, MBTA, Bart, whatever they call Washington’s tube, etc. should report, report, report.

    You see something all the time, right? Say something!

    I’m joking, of course. We don’t want to disrupt legitimate law enforcement investigations.

  11. Ed Whitney says

    Time well spent, especially when Limbaugh and Fox start in on “Obama is apologizing for fighting terrorism.” Then there needs to be a strong counterattack asking what these guys have against Jews and against India, which has also been attacked by the Taliban. Is Rush a Taliban sympathizer? Hmmm? Hmmmmm?

  12. Kenneth Almquist says

    “The public would rather us err on the side of caution than not”

    I really dislike that construction. Are people like myself (including, it would seem, every commentator here) not part of the public?

  13. Maynard Handley says

    “Note to the White House: Three phone calls from the President would take a total of fifteen minutes. ”

    And would do what? The Cossacks work the Czar. Certainly I’m not interested in hearing Obama apologize to me after DHS have just treated me like a criminal — though I might relish the opportunity to ask why, if he cares so much about due process, Bradley Manning remains in torture.
    Are we supposed to imagine that Shoshana Hebshi is a simple-minded peasant who is thrilled and awed by the idea of the POTUS taking time out to talk to little old her? So much for “all men created equal”.

    The larger point, of course, is that Mark continues to worry mainly about the OPTICS of Obama’s behavior, while some of us rather more about the ACTUAL behavior.