Politics & Policy

Suspicious Behavior

Those who watch for suspicious behavior will want to keep a close eye on House Democratic leaders this week. A House-Senate conference committee is expected to produce the final text of the homeland-security bill, and Democrats want to eliminate a provision that would protect citizens from being sued for reporting possible terrorist activity.

In March, the House adopted that provision — an amendment sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.) — by a margin of 304 to 121. It shields from civil liability not only citizens who report threats in good faith, but transportation employees and organizations that take reasonable actions to mitigate those threats. It is retroactive, in order to cover events that took place on or after November 20, 2006.

That was the date of the “flying imams” incident, which prompted King’s efforts. Six Muslim clerics were removed from a U.S. Airways flight in Minneapolis after fellow passengers reported their suspicious behavior. The men didn’t sit in their assigned seats, asked for seatbelt extenders that they apparently didn’t need, and were overheard making anti-American statements. All were cleared after questioning by the authorities. But, with the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), they filed suit against the airline and the “John Doe” passengers who had called attention to them. Their suit alleges nothing less than a “malicious . . . conspiracy to discriminate.”

Most Democrats are opposed to King’s measure. It was added, over the objections of a majority of House Democrats, to a bill implementing many of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations. When Joe Lieberman sought a similar provision in the Senate, 38 Democrats opposed it, and it failed to receive the 60 votes needed for approval. The Democrats either argue that King’s amendment will promote “ethnic profiling” (in fact, it is necessary precisely because airport screeners do not profile), or they discount the importance of passenger vigilance. House Democrats have tried to strip the amendment from the conference bill, and Lieberman is expected to join King in opposing them.

It is important that Lieberman and King prevail, lest passengers who “see something” decline to “say something” unless they have a good lawyer on retainer. Democratic opposition to the King amendment only underscores how poor their national-security judgment is. They are against using force overseas, against the Patriot Act, against the terrorist-surveillance program, against effective interrogation techniques, and against even the most modest profiling measures. Now they are against concerned citizens, too. Passenger vigilance is an essential component of post-9/11 security efforts, and failure to report suspicious activity could end up costing thousands of lives. Recall what an airline employee who checked in two of the September 11 hijackers told the 9/11 Commission: The pair of hijackers, on one-way, first-class e-tickets, “didn’t act right,” and were selected for secondary screening. But the employee didn’t insist on a more thorough search because he was “worried about being accused of being ‘racist’ and letting ‘prejudice’ get in the way.” If CAIR and the Democrats prevail, how long will it be until another potentially life-saving voice is silenced?

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