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The ACLU's War Against National Security By: John Perazzo
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Early on the morning of 9-11, while the ten hijackers who would soon crash two airliners into the World Trade Center were boarding their flights at Boston’s Logan Airport, several airport employees sensed that something about several of those men seemed amiss. But being the good Americans that they were, the employees dutifully suppressed their gut feelings – having been well indoctrinated with the message that such hunches were tantamount to bigotry that could trigger costly discrimination lawsuits against their employers. Thus the al-Qaeda contingent took their seats unimpeded, and prepared to destroy the Twin Towers and thousands of American lives. The squeamishness that underlay the airport workers’ failure to carefully investigate the suspicious looking men is directly attributable to the longstanding efforts of the anti-American left – which has, for decades, worked feverishly to punish and humiliate any individual or corporation brazen enough to develop, on the basis of physical or personal characteristics, even the mildest misgivings about a particular suspect’s intentions. In the vanguard of this leftist crusade has been the American Civil Liberties Union.

As the 9-11 hijackers passed through the security checkpoints at Logan, the airlines’ Computer-Assisted Passenger Profiling System, or CAPPS, actually singled out six of them for extra baggage screening because they had purchased one-way tickets with cash – two criteria that triggered red flags in the CAPPS system. CAPPS was also designed to check whether passengers were frequent or irregular fliers, and how far in advance they had purchased their tickets – other details that have historically been correlated with terrorist motives.

But CAPPS was not designed to do “human profiling” – the consideration of key indicators like national origin, ethnicity, religion, sex, and language. As one Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official explains, “CAPPS was developed because the airline industry didn’t want to do human profiling,” which is “the single biggest deterrent against terrorism in the aviation industry.” “If human profiling was conducted on the terrorists who were made ‘selectees’ that day,” he added, “then maybe some or all of this nefarious plot could have been avoided.” But several years ago, the so-called “Gore Commission” on aviation security prohibited such “discriminatory” profiling.  Thus the hijackers faced no greater inconvenience than having their checked luggage inspected. The men themselves were neither questioned nor searched. 

In conjunction with the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the ACLU has lobbied hard against Arab-profiling at airports for years. “Profiles are notoriously under-inclusive,” says ACLU legislative counsel Gregory Nojeim. “Who knows who the next terrorist will appear as? It could be a grandmother. It could be a student. We just don’t know.” In their crusade to ban profiling, the ACLU and CAIR have enlisted the support of Democratic lawmakers like David Bonior, who represents a heavily Arab district in Michigan – and who, in turn, has lobbied FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. The airlines, which handle security at airport terminals, have consequently been reluctant to profile Arabs. This reluctance to appear “discriminatory” is the root cause of the many anecdotes we hear about elderly, frail, or handicapped passengers being subjected to needless security searches – all so airlines can avoid accusations of being especially wary of Middle Eastern-looking men. In fact, the CAPPS system was designed to select a certain number of passengers randomly – so as to show “even-handedness” and thereby derail potential discrimination lawsuits.

The airline industry’s fear of such lawsuits is based on solid historical precedent. In 1993, for instance, the ACLU joined forces with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) to sue Pan American World Airways for having detained a man of Iranian descent during the first Persian Gulf War. “I was humiliated and felt that I had been stripped of all my rights as a citizen and was left with nothing,” said the plaintiff. “No amount of monetary damages can compensate for ethnic stereotyping that deprives individuals of their basic civil rights,” explained Lucas Guttentag, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Condemning the airline’s “harassment” of Middle Easterners, the lawsuit contended that Pan Am had often subjected travelers of Arab appearance to greater scrutiny than others. “Arab Americans will not tolerate such blatant acts of corporate discrimination which unfairly treat us as a suspect class of criminals and terrorists,” said ADC President Albert Mokhiber.

 In late 1997, when the CAPPS system was first set to be put in place, the ACLU set up a special online complaint form to collect information on incidents of discrimination and mistreatment by airport security personnel. As Gregory Nojeim explained, his organization was “concerned that the CAPPS system will have a unequal impact on some passengers, resulting in their being selected for treatment as potential terrorists based on their race, religion or national origin.”

In 1999, the federal government pressured Argenbright Security Inc., the nation’s largest airport security firm, to rehire seven Arab workers it had recently fired. All seven were female non-citizens hailing from Sudan, Egypt, and Afghanistan. In the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, United had received numerous complaints from passengers nervous about Middle Eastern Muslims overseeing airport security. The women were fired for refusing to remove their headscarves – the wearing of which they said was required by the Koran – while screening passengers. In response, they filed a religion-bias complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Representative David Bonior joined their cause, piously lecturing Americans about “widespread and systematic discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans in airports all across the country.”

As a result of the EEOC settlement, the women not only got their jobs back, but were given back pay as well. All Argenbright employees were required to take Muslim-sensitivity training classes, and the company issued a written apology. Some of the plaintiffs felt that the settlement was inadequate, and actually wanted to make Argenbright apologize on television.

One would think that the events of 9-11 might have made American corporations and government agencies less inclined to grovel at the feet of potential litigants, but no such change occurred. A mere ten days after the horrors of 9-11, and again a month after that, the Department of Transportation (DOT) sent memoranda to all airlines – cautioning them not to “rely on generalized stereotypes or attitudes or beliefs about the propensity of members of any racial, ethnic, religious or national origin group to engage in unlawful activity.”

But of course, no matter how carefully the airlines might tread, there were inevitably cases where some passengers’ feelings got bruised – at which point the ACLU eagerly jumped into the fray. In June 2002 the ACLU filed lawsuits on behalf of five men of Middle Eastern and Asian extraction – each of whom had been escorted off their scheduled flights by airline security agents between October and December 2001. “In ejecting our clients from their flights, the airlines were indulging in discrimination, not enforcing security, and that is both shameful and unlawful,” said Reginald Shuford, an ACLU national staff attorney.

The plaintiffs expressed both anger and extreme distress over having been removed from their flights. One attributed his removal to the fact that “someone didn’t like the color of my skin.” Another lamented how “exhausted and depressed” the experience had made him, leaving him “with a bitter taste that lingers in my soul to this day.” “I will never again feel free to travel in the future,” he elaborated. “My basic right to travel free from discrimination has been violated.”

Airline officials rushed to reassure the public that they pure-heartedly rejected human profiling of any kind in their security procedures. Continental Airlines spokesman Rahsaan Johnson, for instance, crowed about his company’s “strong policy against discrimination in any form.” Similarly, an American Airlines official proudly stated that his company no longer used a security manual that advised employees to carefully scrutinize travelers born in any of 27 Middle Eastern cities, as well as those with Arab-sounding names who didn’t carry American passports. Presumably we are to think that such security policies would be unenlightened and shameful.

After 9-11, the ACLU and its leftist cohorts spearheaded a movement to depict the US in general – and the airline industry in particular – as a snake pit of bigoted vipers eager to abuse and humiliate Muslims and Middle Easterners. The statistics, however, tell quite another story. During the nine months immediately following 9-11, the ADC received a mere 60 reports of incidents where airline security personnel prevented “Arab-looking” male passengers from flying as scheduled. While this may have been an annoying inconvenience for those affected, six or seven complaints per month is hardly an epidemic – particularly in light of the fact that the most devastating attack in American history had just been carried out by nineteen men of virtually identical physical, ethnic, and religious characteristics.

From 9-11 to the present day, the ACLU has vigorously opposed every governmental attempt to more effectively protect the American people’s security. It sued, for example, to prevent the implementation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which was passed in November 2001 and included a citizenship requirement for airport screeners. It organized protests against a “discriminatory” Justice Department and INS registration system requiring male “temporary visitors” to the US from 25 Arab and Muslim nations to register with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. It condemned the FBI’s “discriminatory” plan to count and document every mosque in the US. It protested when FBI and Homeland Security agents recently tried to track down illegal Iraqi immigrants they deemed dangerous. In Illinois, the ACLU actually set up a hotline designed to give free legal advice to undocumented Iraqis facing deportation. Former ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser casually dismissed Americans’ concerns about illegal immigration, chalking such sentiments up to a “wave of anti-immigrant hysteria.”

The ACLU further claims that the Patriot Act has created an Orwellian big government of unprecedented proportions. “Under the new Ashcroft guidelines,” reads one of its disingenuous press releases, “the FBI can freely infiltrate mosques, churches and synagogues and other houses of worship, listen in on online chat rooms and read message boards even if it has no evidence that a crime might be committed.” Curiously, the ACLU does not mention that the FBI already had the authority to take these measures long before the Bush administration took power. Nor does the ACLU point out that the FBI can wiretap only after showing a court that the suspect is affiliated with a foreign terrorist group or government – the very same requirement instituted 25 years ago by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

What the ACLU is actually rebelling against is the Justice Department’s recent removal of Clinton-era intelligence-gathering restrictions that had crippled the government’s ability to fight terrorism. These restrictions prohibited intelligence investigators from conferring and sharing information with criminal investigators, even if they were both trailing the very same suspect who was plotting a terrorist act. On August 29, 2001, for instance, an FBI investigator in New York desperately pleaded for permission to initiate an intensive manhunt for al-Qaeda operative Khalid Almihdar, who was known to be planning something big. The Justice Department and the FBI deputy general counsel’s office both denied the request, explaining that because the evidence linking Almihdar to terrorism had been obtained through intelligence channels, it could not legally be used to justify or aid an FBI agent’s criminal investigation; in short, it would constitute a violation of Almihdar’s “civil rights.” “Someday, someone will die,” the agent wrote to his FBI superiors, “and the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain problems.” Thirteen days later, Almihdar took over the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon.

John Perazzo is the Managing Editor of DiscoverTheNetworks and is the author of The Myths That Divide Us: How Lies Have Poisoned American Race Relations. For more information on his book, click here. E-mail him at WorldStudiesBooks@gmail.com

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