Airport Detainees Cleared
September 14, 2001 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Airport Detainees Cleared At least 10 travelers of Middle Eastern descent who were detained at two New York airports have been cleared of any connection with Tuesday's terrorist attacks, Sen. Joseph Biden said Friday.

"Anyone with dark skin or who spoke with an accent was taken aside and searched," passenger Mike Glass of Seattle told the Times. "And then they went to any male with too much facial hair."

Isn't this going too far? >more<
posted by metrocake (20 comments total)
Apparantly, everything they detained them for turned out to be "coincidental." Ooooo-kaaaay. While I understand nerves are jumpy, this is beginning to head more and more into "police state" territory for me.

With all of their sources, you'd think they'd at least know there was a Boeing conference on.
posted by metrocake at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2001

This will be the test. Civil Liberties are not absolute. We assume they are. The principles of "liberty" and "saftey" need to be balanced. Best wishes to all.
posted by anathema at 12:33 PM on September 14, 2001

posted by anathema at 12:34 PM on September 14, 2001

Ok. I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this.

(1) This was a case of racial profiling. However under the circumstances, without any easy way for us to identify our enemy (i.e., he is wearing a special uniform with a badge saying ‘terrorist’), we have to figure it out ourselves. Since these terrorists do share a common ancestry and appearance, this is one clue.

(2) The suspects were detained, then subsequently cleared of all charges. They were not taken hostage, tortured, or publicly executed. What we did to them may have been incorrect, but we played by the rules.

(3) If I were ever caught ‘accidentally’ carrying two different IDs, I'm pretty sure there would be questioning, and very likely detainment.

It is a bad thing to harrass good people. But we need to find a balance between trust (and therefore, i hate to say it, freedom) and letting people kill us. This IS life and death we're talking about here.
posted by kd at 12:38 PM on September 14, 2001

too far?

there is no too far, at least not yet, and probably not for awhile.
posted by dcgartn at 12:42 PM on September 14, 2001

Hmmm... the members of ZZ Top speak with a Texas accent and have a lot of facial hair...
posted by nathan_teske at 12:45 PM on September 14, 2001

Not going too far...more like closing the barn door after the horse is gone.
posted by username at 12:50 PM on September 14, 2001

There are plenty more horses where that one came from.
posted by kd at 12:51 PM on September 14, 2001

When this situation was going down last night, it was explained by the news media that this group also had knives, flight training certificates from the same school as the others, and other coincidences. When I heard that many had been released this morning, my question was how much the news media had pumped up the initial news and how much I should trust them in the future.

It's actually been one of many situations in the past couple days that news items have been retracted or even completely forgotten at a later date. Granted, I want to know what's happening as soon as possible, but I'd rather get it slower and accurate than fast and half-baked. I'm not the only one.
posted by almostcool at 12:54 PM on September 14, 2001

If the FBI happens upon ZZTop, I think they should feel free to arrest them. I mean, did you ever actually listen to Afterburner?
posted by jpoulos at 12:55 PM on September 14, 2001

I'm with almostcool -- I heard all those detailed reports: plastic knives like the ones used in the hijackings, trained at that flight school -- and for some reason I believed the media, even though there have been nearly as many retractions as there have been stories. There are no standards of journalism at work here - even the most reputable news sources have turned into glossy, slickly produced rumor mills.

I think from this point on I'm going to question the veracity of all breaking news for a period of not less than -- what sounds good, 12 hours? 24? I've been carried away with hope of miraculous rescues, terrified by reports of further terrorist activities, and generally jerked around to the point, I just don't trust anyone anymore.
posted by kd at 1:06 PM on September 14, 2001

I don't think the civil liberties road is a one-way street. I don't have a problem with temporarily giving up some freedom while the dust settles. It might not be politically correct, but the hijackers were middle-eastern. If I was middle-eastern, I'd make sure my shit was in order before getting on a plane for a while. Of course I do that anyway. That doesn't seem completely fair and it isn't something that should go on forever nor is it a reason to avoid a plane just because some darker skinned person is on it. Until we're reasonably certain the threat is over, This sort of thing doesn't bother me as long as, like kd said, they were let go once the mistake was realized and not tortured et cetera.
posted by srw12 at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2001

Racial profiling is real. Blacks have been complaining about it. They say they dont do it.. but yes they do.

I have a personal experience. I was born in Pakistan. I and a friend of mine were coming to the states from Pakistan. We have travelled alot of times. When we landed in Cincinatti coming from London. Out of nearly 250 passengers, Only two of us were sent to the customs table. Majority of the pessengers were white. We were the only Asians.

CHILLING : When we got to the custom table, the custom officer already, ALREADY knew our last names.

Racial Profiling.. Proved.
posted by adnanbwp at 1:25 PM on September 14, 2001

Yes. Racial profiling is real, and in many cases it is wrong. It is wrong to pull over a black man in a bad neighborhood because you think he might be selling crack. However, as I commented earlier, there IS a racial profile that fits these terrorists, and it is one of our ONLY clues.

Civil Liberties are not absolute. We assume they are. The principles of "liberty" and "saftey" need to be balanced.

On the one hand, you have the inconveniencing of people who fit a particular ethnic profile. On the other hand, you have five thousand people, dead.
posted by kd at 2:07 PM on September 14, 2001

It's about more than "inconveniencing" them. It's about treating them as criminal suspects, based on no evidence besides the color of their skin. That goes against some of the basic tenets of this country.

I agree with what you're saying in spirit, kd, especially in this extremely extraordinary circumstance, but racial profiling is much more serious than you make it out to be.
posted by jpoulos at 2:21 PM on September 14, 2001

On the one hand, you have the inconveniencing of people who fit a particular ethnic profile. On the other hand, you have five thousand people, dead.

If it is important enough to inconvenience some people maybe it is important enough to inconvenience everybody. I wonder if profiling will just become the next weak link to be exploited.
posted by eckeric at 2:29 PM on September 14, 2001

exactly what i was thinking, eckeric. remember that there are also WHITE, american born and raised people out there who want to screw this country over, too. Timothy McVeigh, for one. perhaps one, or a few, of them will be able to launch their own attacks because security is too busy with a person who just happens to be dark-skinned to notice that the white people are bringing tools of terror onto the plane.

it seems like, since everyone's saying that we can't be too careful, everyone, regardless of race or origin, should be subject to the same standards of security precautions.
posted by surblimity at 4:58 PM on September 14, 2001

No one's talking about a policy to keep in place forever. There's a good chance that some of the terrorists who may have failed to pull off their plot on Tuesday were eager for the chance to get back in the planes and finish the job.

Are any of you telling me that, if you were airport security guards at this moment you wouldn't pay extra attention to Middle Easterners at the moment?
posted by argybarg at 6:02 PM on September 14, 2001

I think it's ridiculous that people object to the authorities taking a closer look at Middle Eastern-appearing people during this investigation. What are they supposed to do, ignore what they know thus far? That's not how "investigating" works. If it were discovered that all of the known hijackers for some bizarre reason shared the last name "Rush," and I had also flown that day, I would be most happy to oblige any investigator who wanted to speak with me, because I would understand and approve his purpose in doing so.

Racial profile is objectionable when you assume someone is guilty of something (or likely to be) because of his race alone, with no additional considerations. In an investigation, race (like height, weight, hair color) can be one very good identifier in a search for a particular individual. It is, however much some might prefer it weren't, a distinguishing characteristic.
posted by rushmc at 6:32 PM on September 14, 2001

'If it is important enough to inconvenience some people maybe it is important enough to inconvenience everybody'

'everyone, regardless of race or origin, should be subject to the same standards of security precautions

It's always the case that certain demographics are more suspect than others in security sensitive environments. Things don't have to be ALL or NOTHING. In fact - it's counter productive for them to be - it weakens the effectiveness of specialist resources through misplaced application. If somethings justify an action it doesn't mean everything does; The chances that a suicide bomber hijacking and flying a plane into an American building WILL be of Arabic descent is extraordinarily high right now - substantially higher than that of them not being. This is a time of deep crisis and high-alert. There is a very real threat of more catastrophic devastation from wannabe-Allah-pleasers. Therefore, any extra attention people who display physical characteristics of those from Arabic nations receive whilst using the U.S air transport system is understandably different from those who appear to be Joe Schmo's from Idaho's.

It may not be too politically correct to talk that way but that doesn't stop it being true. And such thinking isn't any sign whatsoever of racism - to paint it as such, especially if the media happened to do so, would be to cause unnecessary problems for those responsible for the nations security and serve only to potentially put many lives at risk. So get some perspective. To slander the precautions that are being taken by harping on about impossible approach's to security that would stretch resources to invisible proportions and be unimplementable whilst more-or-less yelling 'exploitation' serves to just hinder matters and complicate the task at hand with no benefits whatsoever. All it does, by implication, is accuse those selfless professional individuals working hard for everybodys benefit of having less than decent intent and now is not the time to insult such people.

Everybody is and should be subject to more rigorous scrutiny from a security perspective in US airports but in light of recent events and the current climate Arabic nationals are naturally more of a risk than anyone else so they are treated as such. There will always be other risks but this is all about priorities. Many countries would have put a block on all flight privileges for people from Arabic nations - America hasn't. To check out such people and [gosh!] inconvenience those who appear to be to see if they are amounts not to an overreaction but to an essential and valid precaution. Just to remind you "There is reason to believe not all the perpetrators are dead or in jail," one official was today reported as stating and CNN went on to report that 'U.S. officials said there are still would-be terrorists inside the United States who they believe may try additional attack targets in this country'. Ashcroft has said that the FBI today issued a watch list of 100 people that 'could assist in the investigation by law enforcement agencies across the U.S. along with the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines, U.S. Customs and the Border Patrol' and FBI officials stated that, if located, such people would be 'detained for questioning'. Whose to say that doesn't amount to a hardcore set of 100 very desperate and dangerous people? perhaps the tip of an iceberg? who knows. In the past 6 months ALONE 5000 Afghans have entered Britain and not returned (and who can blame them). It's good to know we can help these people escape persecution and draconian hell but if Afghans suddenly started killing thousands of random innocent individuals i know for a fact that whilst everything was on high alert racial profiling would be used in security sensitive areas. To not do so would be irresponsible.

'I wonder if profiling will just become the next weak link to be exploited'

For the time being, in America, anyone of middle-Eastern nationality should be tracked from the moment they are discovered in an airport to the moment they reach their destination. As we speak there are 'FBI deployed teams of agents in major airports to quickly resolve questions about passengers trying buy an airline ticket or board a plane' but there should be a central team of specialists dedicated to such tasks - highly trained agents in a dedicated environment with access to all kinds of databases who run checks on i.d's and info piped through from terminals. At the moment such people would be doing their deepest, most rigorous checks on those with identities of Arabic origin. That's just a plain fact. Call it racial profiling - call it what you like. Islamic fundamentalism is the main source of intended danger to innocent passengers and people in American cities from hijacked planes today. It's common sense to pay more attention to people from Islamic nations, or those who appear to be, before and during flight (and possibly even afterwards); Arab terrorists have just hijacked 4 planes simultaneously less than 4 days ago before smashing 3 of them into heavily populated targets causing massive casualties. Why does this shit even need to be said!? There is no problem whatsoever in the points kc brought into the debate on that topic. Like it or not - Arab terrorists do look Arabic.

As for the remarks about recent reportage fiascoes kc - It's unfortunate what's happened with regards false alarms and stories of saved people and such but many different levels of media exist and often on the same platform. The best journalists can report any nugget of information in the correct way (even if that nugget turns out to be false). I think as long as it's presented properly an unsubstantiated developing story should be reported, but very carefully with the right tone in the right setting - making it clear that it's just a lead. Even the fact that there's a chance it could be true is news; The fact it's a rumour is news. I myself prefer and highly value us having both access to the rumour mill approach -- where info is pooled, and then gradually substantiated -- and what i suppose could be termed 'the BBC approach' - where you know that as far as possible in a breaking news environment every step has been taken to confirm a story before it is unleashed. It's just so unfortunite that sometimes it builds peoples hopes up in these desperate situations, or strikes fear into them at the other end of the scale. Both types of reporting in my opinion are valid and useful as long as it's made clear that unsubstantiated stories should be taken as such. Having to wait for the go ahead on everything would give official bodies far too much control over news. Some things are impossible to prove without official statements and to have to always wait for the nod could get dangerous. Often official reactions to rumours shed light on deeper issues which is an important mechanism for the pressurized flow of demanding information.

I think the largest problems occur when it isn't clearly flagged which of these approach's a broadcast/story/lead is taking or, if it is, the Chinese whisper effect and peoples perceptions then removes the indicators either in the public word of mouth process or when other media outlets wrongly relay the info secondhand as fact. That's when i think sloppy journalism and/or the effects of it leading to hurt feelings, mistrust and outrage most often occur.

'..ZZ top..'

Being culturally (and geographically) a zillion-billion miles removed from ZZ Tops reign of terror (!), i can only look back and conclude that they must have inspired ugly fat bald guys everywhere into thinking they too had the potential to bag themselves a pair of all American, 6 ft, blue eyed, fine arsed, star-spangled-bikini wearing, bordering-on-lip-stick-lesbian looking, blondes. Or indeed, if in their heart of hearts they just *knew* they had NO chance, they could just boom the records at full blast allowing them to fully indulge in the bliss of temporary denial. Go get 'em girls; Shaggable pollution rides a chopper and strums its way to heaven on a V shaped gee-tar.
posted by Kino at 8:37 PM on September 14, 2001

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