FBI Declines to Release Hijack Flight Cockpit Tape
December 21, 2001 8:43 PM   Subscribe

FBI Declines to Release Hijack Flight Cockpit Tape "While we empathize with the grieving families, we do not believe that the horror captured on the cockpit voice recording will console them in any way,'' [an FBI spokesman] said. While the FBI claims they need to keep the information secret due to a criminal investigation, partial transcripts of the tape have shown up in Newsweek. If the FBI can leak to Newsweek, surely they could get the family members to sign a confidentiality agreement and let them in on the secret too, no?
posted by hitsman (75 comments total)
If one of your loved ones had been on that flight would you:
A) Ask the FBI to let you hear the tape?
B) Read everything you could in Newsweek and other sources?
C) Do your best to avoid learning about any of the details of the tragedy, for fear of creating more bad visions in your head?
posted by hitsman at 8:57 PM on December 21, 2001

Maybe someone can do us all a favor and pull the cockpit quotes out of that horrendously long and rambling article.
posted by fleener at 9:09 PM on December 21, 2001

I would vote (A), and not only would I want to hear it, but I would want it released to the public.

(B) requires that I trust the sources of the news periodicals, which unfortunately I usually do not.

(C) is irrelevant, since the bad visions in my head are usually far worse than anything that could happen in real life.

If the tapes are in the possession of any branch of the government, then I believe they belong to we, the people, and should be released.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:11 PM on December 21, 2001

". . . we hope that they will take comfort in knowing that all of America embraces the passengers and flight crew of Flight 93 as heroes.''

I agree (for once), regardless of whether or not the passengers had any positive role in bringing down the plane, or who led them, seal the tapes. Let our heroes live in our memories.

Just don't tell us that there is no Santa.
posted by DBAPaul at 9:18 PM on December 21, 2001

I too would ask for the tape to be released publicly. Depending on the circumstances, I might not want to hear the tape myself for a while, but recordings of events like these belong to the public.

I don't understand how anyone could want a record of an important event like 911 to be barred from public view. A misguided attempt at sensitivity at best, and an obstruction of history at worst.
posted by Potsy at 9:21 PM on December 21, 2001

I should also point out that I don't really think it should be up to the FBI to "decline" to release the tape. That recording should already be in the general public's hands.

Besides, the quotes from that Yahoo article make it sound as though they think the only reason for releasing the tape would be to console the families of the victims. They don't seem to understand the implications of holding back relevant information from public view.
posted by Potsy at 9:26 PM on December 21, 2001

If the FBI can leak to Newsweek, surely they could get the family members to sign a confidentiality agreement and let them in on the secret too, no?

If a dog is a cow, then surely a fox is a banana.
posted by HTuttle at 9:30 PM on December 21, 2001 [1 favorite]

I should also point out that I don't really think it should be up to the FBI to "decline" to release the tape. That recording should already be in the general public's hands.

Besides, the quotes from that Yahoo article make it sound as though they think the only reason for releasing the tape would be to console the families of the victims. They don't seem to understand the implications of holding back relevant information from public view.
--- by Potsy

Begging your pardon...
All of the information gathered by the CVR and data tapes is, in fact, crucial evidence in a criminal investigation and not subject to disclosure prior to formal proceedings.
You (the public) don't need to know, in excruciating detail, exactly how the takeover of those aircrafts happened; you may want to know, but you don't need it.

I rather think observing those last moments of the respective flightcrews' dignity is a damned fine idea. As an aircraft mechanic and long-time ground handler prior to, I have known many, many pilots. Trust me when I tell you that they absolutely, positively died to keep control of their aircraft. That is all you (the public) really need to know.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 10:02 PM on December 21, 2001

Tiger_Lily, that's the most arrogant, condescending load of bullshit I've ever read on MetaFilter.
posted by jpoulos at 10:09 PM on December 21, 2001

Tiger_Lily, you are correct about it being a criminal investigation, but begging your pardon, it sounds like you've got an agenda to push when you say "That is all you (the public) really need to know." That's exactly why that recording should be made public. So no one can put their spin or slant on it.

I don't need to give a reason. All information surrounding a major historical event like this should be made public unless there is a reason not to. Those wishing to withhold information are the ones who have to give reasons, and they better be good ones. A desire to build a hero myth around those who died is not good enough.
posted by Potsy at 10:23 PM on December 21, 2001

FWIW, the government hasn't been doing a good job of telling the truth lately.

Also, we've discussed flight 93 conspiracies before. But this is icky.
posted by joemaller at 10:58 PM on December 21, 2001

Tiger_Lily, that's the most arrogant, condescending load of bullshit I've ever read on MetaFilter.

Oh, look -- it's jpoulos starting shit with another MeFi poster for (at least) the second day in a row.

You are such an insufferable bore.
posted by KLAX at 11:19 PM on December 21, 2001

"You are such an insufferable bore."

Wow, that's one step above insulting jpoulos in "fakespeare."

I am, however, going to disagree with jpoulos. As the guy who stocks the peanuts and hand paints the evacuation instructions on all major airlines, I think that you all, you silly little people, have no right to know anything that went on September 11th. As anyone can see from watching CNN, the attacks are being dealt with exactly like any other criminal investigation. There is no reason for the filthy, ignorant public to have any facts relating to this criminal investigation. We professionals will deal with it how we see fit, and that's all you NEED to know.
posted by Doug at 11:35 PM on December 21, 2001

The public has the right to know. However there is a criminal investigation, and of course a war, going on presently. The FBI will probably release the information after it's no longer considered a issue of national security.

And no. Of course the fall of Flight 93 itself is not an issue of national security but it's part of a bigger issue that is still under investigation. Anyone who's lived in America for any length of time should probably have picked up by now that the FBI doesn't wantonly make everything available for the public at the drop of a hat. Does it suck? Yes. They feel it's necessary and we are in no place presently to stop that. Argue and bitch all you want; it won't change a thing.

Besides, give it a few few months to a year and you'll be able to see the TV movie on a cable network somewhere. I would be surprised if Hollywood doesn't already have people working on it - probably involving Oliver Stone in some capacity. So relax and we'll all see the Dramatic Adaptation with keen neato special effects and a theme song by Destiny's Child about Flight 93 soon enough. Perhaps staring Jodie Foster and one of the Baldwin brothers as passengers and Gary Oldman as one of the hijackers. Probably a VERY watered down version of the truth, but I've come to expect nothing less from my friendly neighborhood national government. Or Hollywood.

And Jpoulos I take personal offense to your statement. I'm sure I've said much more arrogant, condescending loads of bullshit in here than Tiger Lily could ever cook up. How dare you slight me. *smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 11:56 PM on December 21, 2001

imho, i think since the flight 93 survivors --like all of america-- have been unable to escape the whining drone of neil young's "let's roll" [an uninspiring, garage band-ish, hungover slap-together of bowie's "fame" rhythm & pink floyd's "young lust" structure], then releasing the actual cockpit recording should be a painless no-brainer.
posted by blackholebrain at 12:07 AM on December 22, 2001

I happen to like Neil Young
posted by ZachsMind at 12:22 AM on December 22, 2001

i like neil young... but not *that* song
posted by blackholebrain at 12:24 AM on December 22, 2001

Will releasing the tape - clearing up wether or not the passengers got into the cockpit or where fighting the terrorists from outside - have any bearing on their hero-status.

To spare the public from the truth... Give the public a chance to decide for them selves.

Release the tapes. Make the movie. Write history. Get to terms with the tragedy.
posted by FidelDonson at 2:46 AM on December 22, 2001

I have no agenda. The facts are these: a) it is evidence in a criminal investigation. b) in spite of your morbid curiosity--you do not have the right to see it unless/until it is revealed during trial.

I don't give a damn if you think it's condescending bullshit for me to think it's a fine thing to preserve their dignity in those final moments.
You want to plod around in that gore--not to satisfy any blazing issues about whether or not these men did their best to maintain control of those aircraft--you want to read/hear it so you can soak yourself in the tragedy, immerse your pathetic fucking spirit in the death of other human beings waging a futile fight.
And that, my insufferably fucking rude commrade... that is just low-rent, self-involved, painfully unevolved bullshit in the extreme.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 3:26 AM on December 22, 2001

Is something burning?
posted by dlewis at 4:01 AM on December 22, 2001

posted by dataport72 at 4:06 AM on December 22, 2001

Flight 93 cockpit tape: [FBI spokesman John Collingwood stated:] "Furthermore, the voices are, for the most part, indistinguishable.''

Osama bin Laden tape: "[Department of Defense spokeswoman Victoria] Clarke said Friday that it was not surprising to find more information with a more in-depth study of the conversation, considering the poor quality of the sound on the tape."

Seems like a pattern to me!
posted by Carol Anne at 4:42 AM on December 22, 2001

Casting slit-eyed skepticism on the FBI--mmmhhhhmmm--tres avant garde...

The FBI makes for a convenient and over-simplified target for all you "black helicopters are following me" types; get a grip on reality for krissakes.
There's nothing to conceal here. There are only details pertinent to a criminal investigation and the dignity of men blinking out of their final moments.

Why in the bloody hell must every damned thing become so sinister? What makes any of you think, for even one fleeting moment, that your morbid curiosity superceedes the right of those men to have their last moments in existence remain private matter? Have you no damned shame left in those hollow carcasses you're dragging around? Are you so intellectually and spiritually lame that you can't possibly fathom the breadth and scope of this tragedy unless you hear a man gurggle and choke to death on his own blood? Are you so devoid of imagination that you can't simply empathize on the thought of what it must have been like alone? Have you lost your collective ever-loving mind?
posted by Tiger_Lily at 5:29 AM on December 22, 2001

The flight was likely shot down by a jet fighter that was nearby.

Probably, that is the reason the tape was not released--the tape probably gives some hint of the presence of te jet or shows some other evidence to that effect.

Also, there is an even more embarrassing possibility--the tape will show that the passengers managed to defeat t hijackers or were in the process of doing so and then were shot down.
Remember, people, CorpGovMedia does not own this country--WE own this country. It is time we start like owners instead of acting like sheep on CorpGovMedia's private ranch....
posted by cryofan at 5:33 AM on December 22, 2001

Can we all just take a deep breath.....

I think that eventually the relatives should get to listen to the tape. The rest of us should shut up and read a transcript-eventually....

We can all second guess our government up one side and down the other-but that day was a day from Hell and I know I cannot take an auditory replay of that or any other part of it.

Besides, do we really want to give our enemies any handy dandy little tips in how to put down any more passenger uprisings should this ever happen again? Hmm???

People , in our sometimes warranted paranoia please let us not lose sight of the fact that sometimes it IS in our best interests to keep something quiet for awhile....
posted by bunnyfire at 5:57 AM on December 22, 2001

Tiger_Lilly: those are good, caring, human reasons that you detail. But be honest with yourself, would a newspaper or a TV station show as much concern for the dignity of the dead as you obviously do? Would a battle hardened FBI boss? Take the emotional argument out of the question - it doesn't play any part in their reasoning. There may be a million reasons the FBI aren't releasing the tapes, and I'm positive they're all perfectly legitimate, but fear of causing emotional distress to the families is not one of them.

Now, considering that America a nation that has just been attacked in a most spectacular fashion by what is essentially the unknown, can you understand why information is a comfort to most people? And why lack of information, or worse - perceived hiding of information - creates anxiety? People are scared. They have a primal need to know what threatens them. I appreciate your points, but I'm going to have to add my voice to the majority of others in this discussion.

In the words of Mr Burns, "Release the sounds."
posted by dlewis at 6:01 AM on December 22, 2001

Failure to disclose the information on the tapes just further supports my belief that that airplane was shot out of the sky by our boys in uniform. I completely and totally agree with cryofan. In fact, I was so positive that the plane was shot down at the time that I went hunting for eyewitness reports in the news articles to see what people had to say. One article mentioned that debris was found MILES away from the area where the plane went down, something an analyst said was consistent with being shot down. The "official" response was that there was strong wind. Several other people reported seeing jet fighters in the vicinity of the airplane. Etc.

Even if it turned out that the heroes of that flight failed only because the military shot them down, would that make them any less heroic?

Release the tapes I say. I want to know the truth, no matter how ugly.
posted by xyzzy at 6:22 AM on December 22, 2001

Please excuse my passion on the matter--this one 's sensitive, on a lot of levels.
Actually, law enforcement agencies are no strangers to preserving the dignity of the dead. My granddad was the Agent in Charge of the FBI's Denver field office, so I've been privy to the motivations and procedures of the FBI (and law enforcement agencies in general) since I was knee high to a June bug. Many a LEO has done things for victim and survivor alike, in the name of preserving a sense of honor for one or the other.

I will readily confess to my disgust with the public's interest in the gory details of peoples' deaths---as though having the misfortune of dying in public somehow makes you a public figure in the traditional sense... There is precious little respect for private moments in any man's life anymore and that--admittedly--sticks in my craw.
But this one strikes close to the bone on another count. I know the training that these pilots have received and it makes my stomache turn to think of them faced with the predicament of dying to maintain control of their aircraft.
These aren't just names and faces to me; some of them are men that I've passed on the concourse, and all of them are representational of people I work with every day, and respect to the marrow in my bones for their willingness and ability to accept the responsibilties that go along with flying the heavies.

As for the aircraft having been shot down--it's a distinct posibility. Nevertheless, you don't need the CVR to help construct a credile theory--the data tapes are more than sufficient (and more credible) that the CVR in determining that matter. The CVR can be used to enhhance the theory but there's still no need to listen to people die, in order to confirm simultaneous ambient noise while the aircraft is behaving abnormally.
posted by Tiger_Lily at 6:55 AM on December 22, 2001

A number of posts seem to be on target here. First, note that the relase of the info was requested by Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher (Dem-Ca) and the answer was that it would be emotionally damaging to hear the voice box. Emotionally damaging? Well hell, they had all the cell phone conversations so how could the voice box thing be even more damaging?
If one assume the plane was in fact shot down, then the mistake was to have assumed the public ought not know: we would have respected both the heroism of the passengers and the need to stop a plane that seemed heading toward either the White House or Camp David. But, assuming the govt mistakenly covered up, at this point they would not want their lie to come out.
Does our govt do such things? Well they sure as hell edited the Bin Laden tape. Can not call this a goof. The left out the names of the perps because one a highlyplaced Saudi official who was named in the tape.
Without meaning to be self serving, and I know I will be accused of this anyhow, I deal with this flight issue and the timeline etc in my posting for today and yesterday:
posted by Postroad at 7:53 AM on December 22, 2001

First you establish a policy of secrecy for seemingly acute, practical and reasonable reasons.

Then you scale up the secrecy where it is not strictly speaking necessary, in order to accustom people to it. A few will protest this, but can be safely ignored--in fact, they are likely to be shouted down by fearmongerers and authoritarian-lovers among their peers.

By stage 3, when secrecy dominates, public knowledge is minimal and granted (directed), and a serious general outcry can be predicted, you have inculcated the culture of secrecy deeply enough to successfully defend it. He who has the knowledge has the power; he who does not, lacks even understanding.
posted by rushmc at 8:47 AM on December 22, 2001

Personally, I wouldn't want to hear the tapes. I think only a true sicko would fight this. It bothered me watching the people jump from the buildings, and this would bother me some more. Just an opinion.
posted by Katy Action at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2001

If the White House has admitted that it would have shot the plane down if it could have, what would be the point of a cover-up?

Also -- think of all the people/organizations that would have to be involved in the conspiracy:

(1) National Guard and Air Force people;
(2) United personnel, who would have been in contact with the feds during the hijacking and would receive access to the voice and data recorders;
(3) Boeing, who would also likely receive access to the voice and data recorders;
(4) NTSB investigators, who would have worked the crash site and would presumably know what a "normal" plane crash looks like versus a plane blown up by a missile;
(5) Local law enforcement in Pa., who would have been the first responders on the scene and would have interviewed the eyewitnesses.

And, what, I suppose the media (local in Pa. and national) are complicit in all of this? Because they are all owned by the "CorpGovMedia"? Some enterprising young reporter would not jump all over this is there were any hint of a cover-up?

I swear, this is like the FreeRepublic for disaffected hipsters. If the government said Flight 93 was downed by the Michigan Militia, the Freepers would scream and yell about the black helicopters. But if the government says Flight 93 was downed by a bunch of jock-like American Hero-types who beat up computer guys in high-school, why, its the black helicopters again!
posted by Mid at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2001

rushmc is righton, and might I add:The conspiracy theorists have reached cult-like status, usually blown off as fringe elements of the right wing; often, their theories are built on crippled logic, but just as often they are born and survive on suppressed information. When the government makes a habit of this it creates distrust. Information 40, 50, and 60 yeas old is still being withheld. Some are apt to feel that witholding equals concealment, and that a government that conceals information about the Kennedy/King assasinations (as one example among many) cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2001

As Tiger_Lily has pointed out:

The public does not have a "right" to hear those tapes. Perhaps I'm reading a different Constitution or Bill of Rights than you are but I don't see anything about the right to hear cockpit voice recordings. Maybe it was because there were no airplanes when the founding fathers wrote these documents, but more likely it's because it's none of your damn business unless you happen to be on a jury and the cockpit voice recordings are being introduced into evidence (at which point they are entered into the public domain).

And for rushmc and all the others who want to make this into a case of the government trying to keep the public in the dark, please tell me what the legitimate need for this information is? Barring the black helicoptorish claims of the plane being shot down (which as someone else pointed out, that theory is better proved with the data tapes not the voice recordings), I have yet to hear anybody give a legitimate reason why they need to have this information. No, you don't have a right to it so you must have a reason for it and I don't hear any good ones other than to satisfy your own morbid curiosity. In the thousands and thousands of criminal investigations conducted by law enforcement every year, in how many instances can Joe Public walk into the police station and ask to see the crime scene photos just because he's curious? How about NONE. So why would you think this is any different? See, I have this strange feeling that if the government took the leading sceptic and let that person hear the tapes as long as they did not discuss the content, you still wouldn't be happy. You wouldn't be happy because you don't want the information, you want to hear the gory details. Yours is not a quest for truth but an attempt to ratchet up the level of drama in your own mind. So until there's a good reason, the rights of the people on that airplane far outweigh your right to hear them die.

And lastly, to address the government shot down the plane theorists, so what? Even if it came out that US fighters took her down:

a) The actions would have been proper on the part of the jetfighter given all of the circumstances.

b) It would not have made the actions of the passengers and crew who decided to fight back any less heroic.
posted by billman at 10:58 AM on December 22, 2001

KLAX: MetaTalk

Zachsmind: Forgive me. No one could challenge your crown, my friend.

Tiger_Lily: I don't object to your opinion on the matter. If you feel that it is in the public interest to keep the facts of this incident hidden, you're entitled to feel that way. I only object to the tone with which you presented it ("you (the public)...", "trust me when I say...", etc.). To suggest that because you're an aircraft mechanic, you're the guardian of pilots' dignity is ridiculous and offensive. I'm truly sorry if 9/11 hit you especially hard, but spare us the histrionics.
posted by jpoulos at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2001

All of the information gathered by the CVR and data tapes is, in fact, crucial evidence in a criminal investigation and not subject to disclosure prior to formal proceedings.
and how long have you had your lips superglued to herr bush and herr ashcroft's asscheeks? evidence in a criminal investigation in which all the perpetrators and victims have been vaporized? i suppose in thier last moments the hijackers were screaming out the names of thier superiors who planned the crimes? give me a break. you remember that amendment, um the one about keeping and bearing arms in case the government goes south on us? i think we are going to be needing that amendment, sooner rather than later...
posted by quonsar at 12:37 PM on December 22, 2001

an uninspiring, garage band-ish, hungover slap-together
that could be any of neil young's "material"!
posted by quonsar at 12:41 PM on December 22, 2001

[In the thousands and thousands of criminal investigations conducted by law enforcement every year, in how many instances can Joe Public walk into the police station and ask to see the crime scene photos just because he's curious? How about NONE.]
I'm not weighing in on the tape's release, but I'd point out that this statement is false. Public information laws covering such information differ from state to state. But in Florida and New York, the two states where I have direct knowledge, the law says crime scene photos are public records once the case is closed by investigators.
posted by sacre_bleu at 12:49 PM on December 22, 2001

sacre bleu, you've just proven that the public can not see the tapes. AFAIK, the 9/11 case is not closed yet.
posted by michel v at 12:55 PM on December 22, 2001

Shrug. People can point at me and scream "dirty-conspiracy-theorist-hippie-freak-liberal-SETI@Home-user" all they want. I don't care. The media have played more emotionally damaging material than this. Their reasons are crock, and I want to know what the real reason is.

As for already admitting they WOULD have shot down the plane if they could.. there's a world of difference between saying "we would" and "we did."
posted by xyzzy at 1:10 PM on December 22, 2001

Mid: If the White House has admitted that it would have shot the plane down if it could have, what would be the point of a cover-up?

The theory, as explained to me by a friend, goes something like this:

1. UA 93 was an hour behind the other flights and thus the Air Force had plenty of time to scramble jets to its location.

2. US Air Force shoots the plane out of the sky.

3. Situation Room at the white house decides that the American public needs to be "warmed up" to accepting what has happen. Everyone in the government agrees that they have to tell the truth, they just are afraid to tell it so quickly in the face of everything else that has happened already.

2. So, Bush starts telling everyone, "We would have shot them down if we had too, but fortunately, it looks like we didn't. Just get used to the idea that we might have to shoot down planes if this happens again. It's more important to shoot them down before they reach they're targets. I know it's terrible that we might have to do this, but it's just the fact. Remember, we might have to shoot down planes, I know it's tough, but we might have to do it. Shoot down the planes that is. Strong possibility."

3. Ari Fleischer writes this great speech for a few days later about how, as it turns out, the Air Force shot down the plane because, "just as Mr. Bush said, this is a tragedy the likes of which this nation has never before faced, and in times of crisis, we must be prepared to make the decisions that no man should be forced to make. If we cannot, then the terrorists have already won, and we begin the journey to total destruction."

4. Reports start to break in the media that there were heroic folks aboard that were storming the cockpit and might have stopped the plane from reaching it's destination even if it hadn't been shot down.

5. Ari shreds his speech. The coverup begins.

So, what do I believe? I imagine it doesn't matter. Oliver Stone will make a movie for me all about this and tell me what to believe.
posted by Swifty at 2:22 PM on December 22, 2001

Swifty, to some extent I agree. So what? Is the government trying to cover up wrong doing? Is it trying to cover up something that actually means anything? No. If indeed there is a cover up, it doesn't matter either way. Again, even if the conspiracy theories are true, this isn't exactly Watergate. This is an administration not releasing all of the facts in order to give the American public a much needed morale boost after having received the most brutal sucker-punch it has ever seen.

The people on that aircraft still tried to fight back. They were still heroes. Whether or not they crashed the plane themselves or a fighter blew it out of the sky is of no consequence. Wanting to know exactly how it happened, when there is nothing to gain and when even if there is a cover up by your own theory there is no malice in the government's intent, serves no useful purpose.

And, just to add my normal polarizing comment here, it strikes me as odd that the same left that claimed it was none of the public's business whether or not the president was having an affair are the same people who are now claiming it is the public's business to hear the last few minutes of someone's life. (BTW, I didn't think Clinton's actions were the public's business (well until he committed perjury at least) and I don't think this is either. Hate my views, but at least they're congruent).
posted by billman at 3:01 PM on December 22, 2001

sacre_bleu, just to echo michel v's comments, this is still an open case so again, the public has no "right" to those tapes. And again, I'm stressing the term "right" because there seems to be some confusion by others posting on this subject as to what a right is. Your rights are what are spelled out in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Because the state of NY happens to feel that the public should have access to certain documents doesn't make it a right.

Now, as was pointed out in a recent thread here on MeFi, Congress does have the right to conduct an investigation and the president would be compelled to cooperate. But, the results of that investigation do not have to be made public. The public has no right to that information. That's how a representative democracy works. You elect officials to represent you (as the public) and they have a right to review the data but you as an individual do not. In this particular case, a Congress member "asked" for the tapes. They were not subpoenaed so the president can elect to offer them over or not. In this case he said he didn't feel it the proper thing to do. Congress can still subpoena the tapes but it would be highly unlikely since most Americans, I'm guessing, feel that they would like to remember the passengers and crew of UA 93 as heroes and any attempt to discredit them would probably not be taken to very kindly in the upcoming elections. Of course, I'm speculating on public reaction but whether or not Congress tries to force Bush's hand on this will be based almost solely on that factor.
posted by billman at 3:17 PM on December 22, 2001

"Whether or not they crashed the plane themselves or a fighter blew it out of the sky is of no consequence."

You don't honestly believe that, do you? I would think to the families of the passengers on that flight, it's an unbelievably huge difference.

"If indeed there is a cover up, it doesn't matter either way."

Glad you cleared that up for me. I was under the impression that government officials covering things up was bad. Nice to see that I can just sit back and accept whatever I'm told, since it doesn't matter.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:30 PM on December 22, 2001

billman: when there is nothing to gain and when even if there is a cover up by your own theory there is no malice in the government's intent, serves no useful purpose.

Bill, you are exactly right. 100%, and I'm not being sarcastic. I completely support shoot downs in this situation. The American public would have undoubtedly understood the justification for doing so.

However, they have done this sort of thing before. In fact, it happened on September 11th. Remember the "Air Force One is a target" thing? A complete fabrication by Fleischer in the hopes of keeping President Bush from looking like a ninny, even when he really was in no danger of looking like a ninny.

Why did they make up that story? Everyone would have understood the justification for Bush not returning to Washington--yet they lied just for the sake of lying, nonetheless.
posted by Swifty at 3:36 PM on December 22, 2001

claimed it was none of the public's business whether or not the president was having an affair are the same people who are now claiming it is the public's business to hear the last few minutes of someone's life.

Clinton's infidelity was an occurrence between him and a woman. the act itself affected no one but him, the woman and his family.

the crash of that flight was part of large scale terrorist attack on this country in which more than 3000 people lost their lives and affected the way 280 million people in this country live their lives . big difference.

as for 'having no right' to the information, the federal government is not some monolithic overlord who's looking out for our best interests. the government must be watched and policed. we can't trust it to do that itself (foxes and henhouses, and all that), so we have to do it by examining everything it does.

most would concede that the needs of national security outweigh the public's right to know. also, i'd concede that information in criminal investigations in which the alleged criminal may flee or, upon discovering that he or she is being investigated, destroy evidence of the crime and other participants warrants secrecy. however, the dead perpetrators of that highjacking won't be doing either. therefore, unless the federal government can provide a damned good reason for suppressing the information (which it hasn't --"we do not believe that any of the victim's families would find comfort in the recording"), it shouldn't be withholding any information from the public.

Is it trying to cover up something that actually means anything? No. If indeed there is a cover up, it doesn't matter either way

it does matter. if it is trying to cover up something that doesn't matter, then what does it do when something is important and has grave consequences, something illegal or unethical? the government shouldn't be saying 'Trust us, it's not important.'
posted by tolkhan at 3:42 PM on December 22, 2001

The media have played more emotionally damaging material than this. Their reasons are crock, and I want to know what the real reason is.

I agree and this whole thing almost looks like a cover-up.

Remember the feel-good story about the girl at Columbine that said she asked the assassin that was about to shoot her if he believed in God, he said no, and then he murdered her while she prayed?...or something like that..

Well, that story was just too perfect as far as the media were concerned and they broadcast it widely without even looking for a witness to the incident.The 700 Club crowd really ran with it.There was a Christian girl murdered at point-blank range but no one ever came forward to back up the claimed story.

It turns out the incident never happened and the media let that little fact fade away quietly.That is, unless something or someone popped up supporting the story since then and I have missed it.The last I heard about it though, it was being called a total fabrication as far as the conversation goes.

The point is, this "fighting the highjackers" story was also a perfect piece of media theater.I long ago lost count of how many times I've heard and read this story. It just sounds too manufactured to be totally true.How could so many people be so sure of what happened when there are no witnesses and only a few Feds have heard the tape?

....Many of the details are missing; many questions remain. But informed sources described in detail to NEWSWEEK the words and sounds picked up by the cockpit voice recorder on Flight 93,..

Newsweek has not heard the tape, they had it "described" to them by the Feds.Look at the "perhaps", "maybe", "believe", "may", "apparently" in the article.

I'm not saying no one fought the highjackers or that this story isn't true.I have no idea what happened, but it's probable that the media have really embellished the story with all the "struggle" and "hero" talk.Certain politicians have certainly used it for propaganda purposes.

How possible is it that the Feds see the embellished story as a terrific rallying tool?They also think that to let the public hear the actual tape now would be somehow counterproductive to the support of the war effort?Not to mention, embarrassing to the Feds.

It’s not known who led the charge, or how many followed. When NEWSWEEK interviewed the families and friends of the passengers of Flight 93, they all imagined their loved one in the hero’s role..

Well, of course.The media have elavated these people to superhero status.

They could put all of this speculation to rest very easily by letting people hear the actual tape.My guess is that we would hear a bunch of yelling and screaming and the actual existence of a "heroic struggle" would be inconclusive.I think most people expect to hear a real Chuck Norris-type ass-kicking event and they're going to be disappointed.

The only people that really know what happened are gone.
posted by BarneyFifesBullet at 3:52 PM on December 22, 2001

tolkhan & mr_crash_davis: I notice neither of you has addressed the fact that you have no "right" to that information. I've explained how a representative democracy works and you've responded with the usual "the government can't be trusted" rhetoric but I'm still waiting for somebody to show me where there is a right to such information. If the case is still open, as in, they have not closed the case (remember, we're still hunting down terrorists in Afghanistan and trying one of the planners who was arrested before Sept. 11 [Zacarias Moussaoui]), then it is more than common for law enforcement not to release evidence.
posted by billman at 4:39 PM on December 22, 2001

billman, you mentioned the Constitution, not anyone else. I am not talking about a legal right, I am talking about a moral right.

Ever since 911, I've been watching my freedom get whittled away by people who mention "the tragic events on Sept. 11" every other word as though it were some sort of justification. When decisions are being made that affect my life, I have a moral right to know the facts surrounding them.

Take another look at that Newsweek article. It's an attempt to spin a myth around those who died. The only thing missing are halos around the heads of everyone in that illustration. The only way to prevent such myth-making is to release the tape so people can get the facts for themselves.

How about this quote: "When NEWSWEEK interviewed the families and friends of the passengers of Flight 93, they all imagined their loved one in the hero’s role..." Right now, everyone, not just the friends and families, is imagining that sort of thing. Should people's imaginations continue to have to fill in the details, or should they have access to the facts?

This is something I've been thinking about for a while, and I've decided that I'm going to put a clause in my will that states, if I am ever involved in some sort of public event like this, and there is a recording of my last moments, my last wish will be for the recording to be released to the public. I have no illusions about the effectiveness of such a clause in getting information released, but at least no one can step in, claiming to speak for me, and say the tape should be sealed in some misguided effort to "preserve dignity".
posted by Potsy at 5:05 PM on December 22, 2001


In a criminal proceeding, the Freedom of Information Act excludes only:

"(7) records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a State, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual; "

In addition, the FBI has the right to refuse the release of such records:

"(3) Whenever a request is made which involves access to records maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation pertaining to foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism, and the existence of the records is classified information as provided in subsection (b)(1)*

It is my contention that, since none of the conditions in section (a) paragraph (7) apply, and President Bush has not issued an Executive order classifying said records as required in subsection (b)(1):

"(b) This section does not apply to matters that are--

(1)(A) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order;"

that they are subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act. (Feel free to use this link to dispute my opinion.)

I suggest that this establishes the "right" to this information.

Of course, since my legal training consists solely of reading John Grisham novels and watching "Matlock" and "Perry Mason", I could be wrong. In any case, I eagerly await your response.

*emphasis mine
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:34 PM on December 22, 2001

I am not talking about a legal right, I am talking about a moral right.

Since when does morality have anything to do with a legal right to access evidence used in court ?
Please, show me your Bill of Moral Rights, I'm very interested.

mr_crash_davis, please tell us how, without hearing the actual tape, you can be sure it meets none of the requirements you listed. In that too, I'm interested.

Time to work on my mind reading and divination skillz, I have a lot to catch up with you guys :) (I could also call Miss Cleo and ask what the tape says, I can't believe nobody thought about doing it)
posted by michel v at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2001

michel v:

Of course I cannot know, without hearing the tape, whether or not it meets the requirements I listed. However, the burden is not on me to prove it does not, the burden is on the government to prove that it does.

If President Bush decides to classify the tape based on an Executive order, then he has fulfilled the law. Until and unless he does, it is my contention that the law has not been fulfilled, and the law requires the release of the tape.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:02 PM on December 22, 2001

The newsweek article made it seem to me extremely unlikely that the voice recorder had evidence of the passengers having any success in their attempted bravery - sounds like it was an unorganized, frightened, desperate, very human contingent, nothing like the movie we would (will) write about it.

Maybe the gov is just trying to preserve the myth of heroism a bit longer - what good would it really do to hear their dying screams, etc? On the other hand, maybe it's treating us like children to expect that we couldn't accept it if the passengers turned out to be merely human.
posted by mdn at 6:23 PM on December 22, 2001

Ok, once again I have to agree with michel v on this one. There is an assumption on some people's part that they know what is or is not on the tape and speculation alone should be enough to warrant accusations.

mr_crash_davis: Like you, I am not an attorney but here is my understanding of what you posted and why I believe your interpretation to be incorrect:

1. I'm really not sure how you don't see section C as being applicable here:

(C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy

Uh, I think hearing your last dying moments without any legal cause for such information to be released might be construed as being an issue of personal privacy and the public simply wanting to know I would file under unwarranted.

2. My reading of the story that was posted by hitsman does not lead me to believe that the request was made under the FOIA. It was simply a request by a Congress member on behalf of SOME of the family members. Neither the president, nor the FBI have to justify themselves in a case of "Hey, it would be really cool if you could give us those tapes" type request. They can respond "No" and then it is up to the families or whoever to file a claim under the FOIA.

Potsy: I mentioned the Constitution because there was a claim that the public had the "right" to hear those tapes. As I pointed out, there is no "right" granted under the Constitution which of course is why you have now termed it a moral right. Sorry. Doesn't work that way. The law is the law regardless of morals. Also, I'm not quite clear on how you're making a connection between a group of people being "spun" as heroes and watching your freedom get whittled away. How is your freedom being jeopardized by whether or not these people crashed the plane into the ground or it was shot down by jet fighters? I hate making a personal accusation but your post, to me, conveys more jealousy than solid reasoning. You seem to hate the fact that these people are being made into heroes. Why? Why do you feel it so necessary to tear down something which is of no real consequence to you? Does the passengers and crew of UA 93 being made into heroes somehow affect your ability to exercise your rights? I'm sorry I just don't understand why you are so bent out of shape regarding how Newsweek has portrayed these people. Can't we just have our heroes? Can't we just think of these group of people bravely deciding not to qo without a fight? Wouldn't it be nice for people to have positive role models that are just normal Joe's? I'm not sure I see any harm in any of this . . . and that's assuming that they weren't. Just today a terrorist attempted to ignite a bomb on a flight from Paris to the US. Passengers and crew took this guy down. I would like to think it is in part due to the example set by the people on UA 93. If that's a bad thing, I'm living in the wrong country.
posted by billman at 12:15 AM on December 23, 2001

I would be interested in hearing the recording, or reading a transcript of the tape. I appreciate that there may be material that is sensitive to national security, and to an ongoing criminal investigation. There are also probably painful moments in this recording of the last moments of many peoples' lives.

The events recorded on the tape have had a profound impact on the shape of our society, and our lives. It is possible that some of the requests were made under the Freedom of Information Act. The Yahoo story doesn't include that information, but the fact that reasons were given for not disseminating the tape or an edited transcript at this time is consistent with the standard format for an FOIA response.

A Sample FOIA Request Letter published by the US Government includes the following:

If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your refusal to release the information and notify me of appeal procedures available under the law.

If you've ever made a state or federal FOIA request, you may have seen a couple of responses. The first will tell you whether or not your request has been granted (and copy fees, if applicable). If your request was granted, the second response will consist of the information requested, though it might be edited in some manner.
posted by bragadocchio at 1:46 AM on December 23, 2001

billman: Laws can be immoral. Would you still simply say "the law is the law" when confronted with one?
posted by Potsy at 3:59 AM on December 23, 2001

Potsy: When confronted with any law, one has one of two choices:

1. Comply with the law.

2. Change the law.

Notice complaining about the law is not included as an option because complaining about a law has no direct impact on the law.

Now, again, I'm not 100% sure I'm following you because you started off as this being a moral right. I happen to believe that there is a difference between a moral right and a moral law but I won't go into that.

So just to clarify a bit, a moral right is a type of obligation. For instance, you have a moral right to receive the truth. Now, if someone lies to you, there is very little legal recourse unless that lie also happens to violate a law (fraud for instance). You and I have many, many moral rights as human beings but moral rights are not enforceable under the law. One of the reasons is that morality is different from one person to the next. While I may believe it's a moral obligation of every person to make a contribution to society, it is not illegal for someone to sit around and waste their life away because they may not feel the same moral obligation.

And yes, laws can be immoral, but they are still laws and one must still suffer the consequences for violating a law, immoral or not. Now, personally, I don't believe you have a moral right to hear those tapes. I believe the families should be allowed to hear the tapes under very controlled and highly restrictive circumstances. For instance, it is my opinion that if the families want to hear the tapes, they should sign a waiver that states they forfeit all aid or settlements if they divulge any of the information they hear to a third party. Because the other family members and the individuals on the tape have a right to privacy. So this is an issue where you must balance the privacy concerns of the families who do not want the tapes made public with those who want to hear the tapes. The public, in my opinion, has no right to hear those tapes. There is no legal, or in my opinion moral, reason for the public to hear the last screams of the crew and passengers. Since we don't know what is on the tape, it may also include the sounds of passengers and crew being killed or injured before the crash. These are not things that should be opened up to the media circus. So while you feel you have a moral right to the information, I feel the government has a moral obligation to protect the privacy of the passengers and crew.
posted by billman at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2001

billman...I respect your point of view. Preserving the dignity of those who suffered in this tragedy is something to be respected.

My view differs, and I don't think it is any less moral. I feel that government has a moral obligation to let the people who give it the responsibility to govern the choice to make up their own minds. Our government governs at our consent. Too many decisions regarding the future of our lives, the lives (and deaths) of people from other lands, and the future of the United States have been made based upon what is on that tape to deny us the right to listen. If this were just a terrible tragedy, I would agree with you completely. The government isn't our guardian. They are our representatives. Just as they have a responsibility to represent us to the best of their abilities, we have a responsibility to ourselves to make certain that they are.
posted by bragadocchio at 12:34 PM on December 23, 2001

responded with the usual "the government can't be trusted" rhetoric

you're being dismissive by labeling it as such. there's a reason the Constitution limits the powers of the federal government, and states that any power not specifically given to the federal government is reserved to the states or the people.

so the question isn't whether we have a right to know but whether the government has a right to keep the information from us.
posted by tolkhan at 12:52 PM on December 23, 2001

bragadocchio: While I agree with your feelings, I differ with you on the interpretation. The people on that flight have a "right" to privacy. A right that is protected under the law. You have a "right" to know what is on that tape (actually, you don't have a "right" but I think I've already covered that). So, what the government has been doing is balancing the rights of one group against those of another group. Since you are in the wanting to hear the tape group, you obviously feel that your rights are more important. However, if we walk in the shoes of your counterpart, would you feel it was the business of the US public to hear the final gasps and screams of your significant other? How about your mother or father? What if there were cameras in the operating room where a family member was having an operation and happened to die? Should the world be able to witness the death? Is there not a "right" to privacy in these circumstances?

See, I also disagree with you on another point which is why I believe the administration is making the correct decision on this. I disagree that your statement that "and the future of the United States have been made based upon what is on that tape". I feel that is inaccurate. The decisions are being based on two planes being slammed into the WTC and one into the Pentagon. The cockpit voice recordings have not played any part in US policy since the attack that I'm aware of. I would be cusious to hear how you think US policy would be significantly different had we not been able to recover the cockpit voice recorders. If you can't make a good case, then there's a good chance your statment, and the basis of your argument, is not valid.

While I don't direct this next section at you personally, I find it somewhat ironic (as I do with many of the views of those who think of themselves as liberals) that out of one side of a person's mouth they rail against restrictions on their civil liberties as a result of Sept. 11 while at the same time, they think it's perfectly ok to strip people of their right to privacy to satisfy their own personal curiosity. You either believe in the right to privacy or you don't. If you do, then the privacy of the passengers and crew should be respected. If you don't then quit ranting about the invasion of your privacy in the name of security.
posted by billman at 1:10 PM on December 23, 2001

tolkhan: You are correct. I am being dismissive of your argument. Partly because whether or not you trust the government has nothing to do with this. The argument is in and of itself fallacious so I won't dwell on that. Now, on to your second statement as to whether the government has a right to keep the information from us, I believe I can't cover the issue of the right to privacy for the passengers and crew any more without being redundant. Please refer to my previous posts in this thread on the subject and if you have any material arguments with what I said, then we can debate those.
posted by billman at 1:34 PM on December 23, 2001

I did some searching this morning (well, late this morning/early afternoon since I was up all night debating with you fine people), and came upon an interesting item from The White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.

The link is here and it spells out how cockpit voice recordings are handled by the NTSB (note: only the NTSB) and how the task force appointed by the above commission thinks they should be handled.

Very compelling reading, for a task force report. Note that these are only recommendations at this point.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:02 PM on December 23, 2001

It bothered me watching the people jump from the buildings, and this would bother me some more.

If you are too sensitive to expose yourself to certain aspects of reality, that is perfectly fine. But your right to shield doesn't extend past yourself.
posted by rushmc at 3:33 PM on December 23, 2001

billman, your concern with the right to privacy might be more compelling (and credible) were it not so selective (you dismiss this concern, I believe, when applied to email and file encryption, for example). In any case, I don't see the application here. We're not asking for the tax and financial records of the deceased to be published on the front page of the Times; merely for facts concerning an attack/act of war (and the responsive actions of our own government) to be made public record. If you got drunk and drove your car down Canal Street during Mardi Gras, killing a hundred people, would you seriously argue that your "right to privacy" trumped the public's right to know what had happened?
posted by rushmc at 3:38 PM on December 23, 2001

rushmc: Not sure where you get such ideas about my views on email and file encryption. I have been involved with encryption products for at least 7 years and have, as part of my job, had the responsibility for the protection of millions of credit card numbers in an ecommerce environment. So, not only do I find the accusation strange, but the complete inverse of my own feelings on the subject. In fact, I donated money to Phil Zimmerman's cause in his legal battles over PGP back in the early-mid 1990's. I think you may be confusing my views on the application of search warrants or wire tapping. Here it is not a matter of privacy since the court has already deemed that law enforecement can search your premesis or tap your phone, it's a matter of whether or not they have to get a new wire tap permit every time you change phones. I feel that it was the obvious intent of the court to allow law enforcement to listen to and tape the phone recordings of suspected criminals. To start adding technicalities to it by saying that you had permission to tap his cell phone number at 555-1212 but if he discards that stolen phone and starts using 555-1213 you have to go out and get a whole new wire tap order seems designed for no other purpose but to protect criminals by adding in technicalities that can later be challenged in court. It does nothing to protect innocent people and only throws up roadblocks to the administration of justice.

And if I was drunk one evening and drove my car down Canal Street during Mardi Gras, and killed a hundred people, I believe my name would probably appear on the next day's front page . . . because I'm charged with a crime! The witnesses to the crime would not have their names in the paper. The passengers and crew of UA 93 have not been charged with a crime in trying to take down the hijackers, AFAIK. So, they would be considered more like witnesses, who have a right to privacy than like the criminal who's name is now part of public record.
posted by billman at 5:00 PM on December 23, 2001

billman...I don't mean this to be disrespectful to those who died or insensitive to their families, but under the law, the people aboard that flight no longer have rights under the constitution, or under privacy laws. Their families don't have legal standing to assume those rights either, except for where their own privacy or other personal rights might be in question.

The constitution also doesn't specifically grant a right of privacy to those who are alive, or a right to access to government records. It's said by many that both rights are considered to be so fundamental to our existence as a nation that they weren't even necessary to be mentioned. That is what the Supreme Court held in a good number of decisions where it construed a right to privacy under the penumbra of rights granted by the bill of rights through the fourth and fourteenth amendments. Likewise, a right to information under the FOIA and court rulings has developed.

Prior to federal statutes like the FOIA and the Privacy Act of 1974, and before the Supreme Court ruled on issues involving rights, many decisions regarding privacy and access to government records were based upon common law as developed in England and the United States. Under common law, a right to privacy is mitigated when the matter is one of public concern. The right to access government records was limited on having a specific interest in the record in question rather than just being freely able to monitor the records of the government.

Just as I cherish a right to privacy, I also believe fully in the right to exercise political restraint upon those whom I have a right to vote for. I have a right to know the decisions they are making, and the manner in which they represent me. Under the common law, this is a matter of public concern.

The cockpit voice recordings have not played any part in US policy since the attack that I'm aware of

You are making a negative inference here, which can't be used to prove it's own validity. If you don't know what is in the tape, you can not make that assumption. It's only with knowledge of its contents that you can. The hijacking of Flight 93 was part of the orchestrated attack upon the United States. The tape recording is the most direct evidence we have of what happened.

However, if we walk in the shoes of your counterpart, would you feel it was the business of the US public to hear the final gasps and screams of your significant other? How about your mother or father? What if there were cameras in the operating room where a family member was having an operation and happened to die?

In a word, yes. I would want to know what happened. And, if decisions made because of their deaths brought about the overthrow of another county's government, the further risk of people's lives, and the promise of significant future actions, then the public would have a right to know also. Sometimes the protection of an individual's privacy must be balanced against the protection of society.

Likewise, if releasing the information would threaten national security, or would interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation, then the release of the records should be limited by editing them, or delayed.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:12 PM on December 23, 2001

mr_crash_davis: While I agree with your observation that this was very interesting, and I thank you for sharing it with us, I'm not sure I see how it supports any of your previous statements. For instance:

Federal law prohibits the release of the CVR recording by the NTSB. "The Board may not disclose publicly any part of a cockpit voice recorder recording or transcript of oral communications by and between flight crew members and ground stations related to an accident or incident investigated by the Board." The statute permits the NTSB to make public any part of a transcript the NTSB decides is relevant to the accident or the incident. The basis for this law is generally understood to be the right to privacy that exists for the flight crew in the final moments before the trauma of a crash, as well as the rights of the surviving family members to be protected from such a release to the public.

The only source of information the public has about the CVR recording is through transcripts released by the NTSB. These transcripts are often edited to exclude personal and non-pertinent information. The NTSB defines non-pertinent information to include information that is not relevant to the operation of the aircraft or to the accident investigation.

So despite what everyone has said about their being a "right" to this information, Federal law prohibits it from being released. That just about knocks out 97% of the arguments of those who have been on the side of releasing the tape.

And the heading of 9.1 under Findings and Recommendations reads:

9.1 The right to privacy of those recorded on the audio portion of the CVR should not be violated for any reason, other than for its use as an accident investigation tool.

So are you for or against releasing the tapes now? It was hard to get a read from your post whether you had changed your opinion or you felt that this link was supportive of your posistion.
posted by billman at 5:17 PM on December 23, 2001


I posted the link because I felt it was pertinent to the discussion. I also pointed out that it related solely to the NTSB, while the discussion we were having was regarding the release of the tapes by the FBI.

I'm not pig-headed enough to believe that my opinion is 100% correct regarding the laws of the United States, so I thought it might enhance the discussion to post the link in order to foster more debate on the issue. I have no problem with considering the legalities of both sides of this argument.

I still believe that under the laws of the U.S., we the people have the right to the release of the cockpit voice recordings by the FBI. However, I found the linked story of value and felt I should share it with those involved.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:20 PM on December 23, 2001

mr_crash_davis: don't take what I said as negative, I was simply trying to figure out in what context you wished the link to be viewed in as it pertained to your postings.
posted by billman at 8:12 PM on December 23, 2001

I didn't take it as a negative, billman. No worries.

I guess we'll just agree to disagree on this issue.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:18 PM on December 23, 2001

mr_crash_davis... the link was relevant, and expanded the issue nicely. Seeing the restraints upon releasing information that the NTSB operate under was an interesting addition to this thread.

I especially like how this task force included some of the contrasting views about the release of recordings, and reasons for them, regarding which recommendations should be adopted. Though in the minority, one member from the Task Force on Assistance to Families of Aviation Disasters was described as having the following to say, which I agree with:

CVR recordings and transcripts should be subject to the same access rules as other recordings in the government's possession. He reasoned that the Freedom of Information Act fully protects the privacy interests of air crews and their families, and the creation of a special exception for the CVR recordings and transcripts has unnecessarily generated mistrust and a lack of confidence in the completeness of investigatory findings.

Regardless, with the FBI as the custodian of the records in question, the laws regarding NTSB release of records no longer apply.
posted by bragadocchio at 8:19 PM on December 23, 2001

bragadocchio (and the others who have taken similar stances): Could not the FBI release the tapes edited? Or perhaps transcripts of the tapes with the screams, etc. removed? If the concern is the ability to monitor the actions of the government, then would this not satisfy those requirements?

Now bragadocchio, you have brought up some very interesting legal points but I would refer you to the DOJ's information page about FOIA requests. In particular, section IX. Initial Request Determinations, where it states:

The exemptions authorize federal agencies to withhold information covering: (1) classified national defense and foreign relations information; (2) internal agency rules and practices; (3) information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law; (4) trade secrets and other confidential business information; (5) inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges; (6) information involving matters of personal privacy; (7) certain types of information compiled for law enforcement purposes; (8) information relating to the supervision of financial institutions; and (9) geological information on wells. The three exclusions, which are rarely used, pertain to especially sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

Again, I believe item 6 concerning personal privacy applies. Item 3 may also apply depending on whether or not another federal law exists concerning the release of this type of information (I would have to do more research on that one). So this would seem to run counter to some of your assertions regarding how the law is to be applied. Also, you mentioned that the passengers and crew did not have a right to privacy under the Constitution which I would just like to get some clarification on. Did you mean that nobody is afforded a right to privacy under the Constitution which the rest of your post seemed to indicate (to me, anyway) or are you saying that the right to privacy ends at death? Because the NTSB task force seems to have worded their views in such a way as to imply that the rights extend beyond death. Or if you are merely stating that, technically, there is no right to privacy then the later part of your post would then seem to indicate that the courts have held that privacy is such a fundamental right that it need not be listed in the Bill of Rights. If that is the case, then it does seem that the DOJ and FBI do have cause to withhold the tapes, at least in their entirety, with only the relevent portions being released in order to protect the dignity/privacy of those who were recorded on the tapes.
posted by billman at 3:30 PM on December 24, 2001

billman, any confusion anyone might have regarding a right to privacy, and a right to access government records has more to do with the fact that the laws regarding those rights are downright confusing than anything else. There is a definite clash between the two rights, at times. The subject could probably fill a few volumes. Rather than trying to argue one side or the other, I've tried to find some sources on the net that might help people make up their own minds on this issue from places which seemed to be pretty good sources of information.

One source that shows many places from which a right to privacy can be construed from the constitution says that: "The right to be let alone [right to privacy] is "the very essence of constitutional liberty."

An excellent summary regarding the right to access government records, called Public Records: Access, Privacy, and Public Policy, also does a good job of discussing the right of privacy.

A number of cases on the state court level mention the right to privacy in the context of a person who is deceased, with phrases similar to the following: We also recognize that a claim of right to privacy is personal and cannot be asserted by anyone other than the person whose privacy has been invaded. The claim dies with the person. I've listed three, but note that one of them is a dissent, and the court actually ruled against that holding:

Marich v. QRZ Media, Inc
Swickard v. Wayne County Medical Examiner

Dissent in Green v. Chicago Tribune Co

A report from a house committee on government operations called: A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and The Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records does a nice job of explaining the laws, and describing the exceptions and exemptions to the FOIA.

I also liked this article on the press and the FOIA, called An Unfettered Press The Right to Know . I don't think that there is any debate here that the FOIA can be useful. I thought this was an informative description of one reporter's thoughts regarding the impact the FOIA can have.

I agree that it probably isn't necessary to release the complete and entire records, or full transcripts of the tapes from Flight 93 by the FBI. I agree with your advocacy on behalf of protecting the dignity of those who suffered and died, and the privacy of their friends and families. as much as possible. But, if there is other information that can give us a better sense of what actually happened, and has had an impact upon actions our government has taken since then, I hope that those portions will be released on a transcript someday. If their release will affect national security or the pending investigation, then maybe we will have to wait. But I think that editing the transcript might help cover your concerns.
posted by bragadocchio at 9:25 PM on December 25, 2001

Actually, law enforcement agencies are no strangers to preserving the dignity of the dead.

Dignity? What dignity? They're DEAD!
posted by entropy at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2001

Dignity? What dignity? They're DEAD!

I think you need a remedial course on....civilization.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:31 PM on December 28, 2001

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