Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have repeatedly been told to stay vigilant and report any and all suspicious activity to the proper authorities. But Congress inexplicably refuses to providelegal immunity for anybody who sounds the alarm.
That’s why passengers who boarded a US Airways flight in Minneapolis last fall and expressed concerns about the provocative behavior of six “flying imams” now find themselves being sued in federal court. According to witnesses, the imams’ behavior included anti-American statements, loud praying and chanting, requests for unnecessary seat-belt extenders, leaving their assigned seats — which in and of itself is a violation of federal aviation rules — and refusing the pilot’s order to disembark.
The six imams — who were forcibly removed from the plane by police, questioned and then released — claim their civil rights were violated. They are now suing the airline, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission and John Does — who may later be identified as air marshals or passengers. In an ironic twist, Omar T. Mohammedi, the imams’ New York attorney who is attempting to publicly expose the identify of the complaining passengers, requested that the federal judge hearing the case bar the news media from court proceedings. She refused.
On March 27, the House overwhelmingly passed an amendment to protect people who “do their patriotic duty and come forward” to report specific threats to transportation systems or possible acts of terrorism, as recommended by the 9/11 commission.
But protection for such John Does was not included in the final homeland security legislation written by a House/Senate conference committee, and a similar amendment offered by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, was rejected.
This means that anybody who follows the Department of Homeland Security’s own guidelines and voluntarily reports unusual or suspicious behavior remains at personal risk for what Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., called “the threat of endless litigation.” The fear of legal retaliation will no doubt keep many people from reporting imminent dangers they observe. And if an impending terrorist attack is not reported, it can’t be stopped.
Congress’ failure to provide legal immunity for good-faith efforts by citizens to avert catastrophe represents an almost complete breakdown of diplomatic relations with reality and common sense. Yet many denizens of Capitol Hill still wonder why their approval ratings have now sunk to the lowest level in American history.