Later today, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is going to testify before the 9/11 commission; while she's using the time as an opportunity to spin the Bush administration as the greatest since the universe was created, Democratic critics will take her testimony as an opportunity to point out all the things that the administration didn't do which in hindsight would have clearly stopped 9/11 if only people had listened. But while people complain about what the government didn't do, though, you can be sure they won't be mentioning this story: ACLU Files Suit Over 'No-Fly' List, describing a lawsuit just filed by the ACLU against the Transportation Security Administration. The no-fly list, of course, is the government's list of suspicious names to be screened closely before being allowed to board airplanes.
Now, I have no doubt -- based on the story, based on other anecdotes I've heard, and based on general knowledge of how government doesn't work -- that the list contains inaccuracies, is probably inefficiently maintained, and could generally be improved. But does that create an issue of constitutional rights, as the ACLU claims?
The lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, seeks a court order to force the TSA to change the system so fewer innocent passengers are wrongly accused.Does the ACLU have any helpful suggestions, though, or are they just saying, "Do a better job?" And if the current system is a violation of constitutional rights, doesn't that mean that the system must be shut down entirely unless they can do a better job?
In any case, the complaints hardly seem to rise to the level of constitutional violations. What harm? Well, there's Air Force sergeant Michelle Green, who
...said she was humiliated in front of her supervisors on a work trip when airline agents told her she could not get a boarding pass because she was on the no-fly list. "No innocent American should have to go through such a humiliating experience," she said in a statement.And college junior Alexandra Hay:
The airline ticket agent told her she was on the no-fly list, delayed her boarding and would not tell her why she was on the list.And Reverend John Shaw, who
...said he had trouble receiving his boarding pass and was treated with suspicion by airline personnel on vacation trips with his wife.And of course ACLU attorney David Fathi:
At the airport in Milwaukee last summer, David C. Fathi said, he was led by at least three armed county sheriff's deputies who questioned him about his identity. On another occasion, he said, an officer threatened to detain him because his name appeared on the list. "I have pretty thick skin," said Fathi, an ACLU attorney who likened the experience to being made to feel guilty until proven innocent. "It's humiliating and it's frightening" to have the experience regularly, he said.So we have some personal embarrassment, being "treated with suspicion," questioning, and "delayed boarding." Wow. And the ACLU wants to shut this down because it's a violation of constitutional rights? Because someone was embarrassed? Or had to jam her luggage into the overhead compartment?
By the way, Fathi "likened the experience to being made to feel guilty until proven innocent." Uh, as opposed to what? Innocent until proven guilty? Is the ACLU suggesting that the only people to be singled out at airports for increased attention -- and remember, that's all this is -- are those who have actually been convicted of terrorism?
The real point here, though, isn't that the ACLU is wrong on this issue. Rather, the point is this: if the ACLU is throwing up roadblocks to heightened scrutiny, at airports, even after 9/11, what kind of fight would they have put up before 9/11? (And just to be fair and balanced, is there any chance the airlines would have gone for this before 9/11? The last thing they needed/wanted was the added expense and hassle of such a program.) Was there any prayer that the Bush administration could have tightened security to a level adequate to have prevented 9/11? Of course not. So keep that in mind when everyone acts as if Rice was a big screwup because 9/11 happened on her watch.