Friday, December 09, 2005

I Report, You Decide

There's a very interesting discussion over on TPMCafe about the shooting that took place on Wednesday on/near/approximate to an American Airlines flight.

A few worthwhile highlights (each block of text is a separate commentator):

Wednesday's shooting of an American Airlines passenger by a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) has launched the usual flood of Monday morning quarterbacking. Unfortunately, some key issues are being misrepresented and misreported. As one of the point men for the State Department in dealing with US airlines and the TSA's predecessor, the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Security, in the 1990s I have some experience with aviation security issues. Was the shooting justified? Based on eye witness accounts in the public record the answer is yes.
I've heard some of the silliest, most ill informed commentary on both radio and televsion. Some commentators have asked, "why didn't the FAM grab the bag"? This question shows a complete lack of understanding about explosives....Some folks who have watched too much Hollywood pablum have whined, "Why didn't they shoot him in the arm or the leg?" A shooting is a very quick event and precise shooting, even at close range, can be difficult. Accordingly, FAMs and other law enforcement officers are taught to shoot at center of mass, i.e. the chest.

This thread is very scary. After 9/11 the question was how could this be allowed to happen? A guy claims to have a bomb and won't put it down. You all expect a debate to break out? If he had a bomb and he killed people would you then ask about the failure of the government to act? Could the air marshall have been overly nervous or tense, no doubt. If there was no bomb why didn't the man put down the case? Why didn't the woman with him speak up?

The left traditionally has an anti-law-enforcement bias, it's just the way it's been for a very long time, i.e., presume the worst and make a cri de coeur of every tragic incident.

Vitriol aside, I think the FAM thing is, writ small, the country's reaction to 9/11 in general. Suddenly thought went out the window; what people wanted was toughness. Invade Afghanistan. Invade Iraq. Enact the PATRIOT Act. Put armed law enforcement officers on airplanes. Be afraid, not prepared -- buy that duct tape. Vote for tough-talking, light thinking politicians. Wave the flag. React, react, react, but don't -- heaven forbid, don't -- stop to actually analyze the situation, and figure out how to defeat your opponents using brains, instead of "toughness."

From what I can piece together a man suffering from a bi-polar anxiety attack runs off a plane in a panic attack. No passengers hear him say anything about a bomb. He is shot dead in a tragic misunderstanding. The government immediately launches a cover-up instead of investigating the facts and practicing the ever recommended act of accountability.

You noted that none of us were on that plane. From the reports that I have heard, neither was the "bomber". He was, I guess, "getting away", out on the tarmack. The duty of these FAMs is to protect the flight. It seems to me that the scope expanded when the guy left the plane. At the same time, the danger to passengers was greatly reduced.

There's much more, and its all as refreshingly polite and diverse as the above quotes might suggest. "Security" is a complicated issue, made more complicated by our individual feelings on how "Safe" each of us would like to feel. Reading or participating in dialogues like these help me sort out my own feelings on the issue.

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