April 14, 2007

JAMES ZUMWALT ON THE “FLYING IMAMS,” IN THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Some security experts suggest the imams’ conduct may have been intended to identify aviation security weaknesses. Their John Doe lawsuit tends to support this theory, as such a complaint can also serve to manipulate our legal system to silence those who might otherwise report suspicious activity.

Anyone in the security business knows that if a passenger exhibits suspicious behavior before takeoff, he or she cannot be allowed to board — or remain on — the plane until that behavior has been satisfactorily explained or otherwise resolved. Post-9/11, anyone entering an air terminal should be sensitive to this need and should work in a cooperative spirit to remove any suspicion.

Nothing can prevent a passenger who believes he has been wronged by the screening process from filing a lawsuit. What is outrageous is to hold good Samaritans liable simply for doing what any reasonable person observing suspicious activity should do. This is pure and simple intimidation.

In the interests of national security, Congress cannot allow this to happen. While the House has taken the initiative to insert protective language in a public transportation bill, that bill does not go far enough. Such protection needs to be comprehensive, extending to the public at large rather than just those using airplanes or other public transportation.

I doubt Zumwalt chose the title that his oped runs under, though, which is “Witnesses for the Persecution.”

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