Mr. President, Who Is Terrorizing Whom?

With all due respect Mr. President, your recent remarks in Lisbon seem woefully inadequate at defining the problems or expressing the emotions of the American traveling public regarding the TSA‘s Enhanced Pat-Down (EPD) and Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT)  procedures.

“One of the most frustrating aspects of this fight against terrorism is that it has created a whole security apparatus around us that causes huge inconvenience, for all of us.” — President Obama

Liberty’s TSA lineup, by Gary McCoy, Copyright 2010 Cagle Cartoons

It is not mere frustration that causes the American people to say enough.  Nor are we drawing a line in the sand because of simple inconvenience.  We are not so shallow.

We have suffered through the frustrations of: removing our shoes, jackets and anything metal; displaying our electronics; limiting and bagging our liquids; not wrapping gifts; packing in layers; leaving bags unlocked.

And yes, it has been inconvenient to add several hours to our travel and packing time to adhere to all the required security procedures.  But these frustrating inconveniences were a burden we were willing to bear for years.

What is different now is the NEW ENHANCED SCREENING PROCEDURES that leave our dignity, privacy and the safety of our physical person in tatters.  And now the American people are enraged.  And rightly so.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” — Abraham Lincoln

How are we advancing the “fight against terrorism”, Mr President, when a 61 year old retired special education teacher and bladder cancer survivor  is forced to undergo an Enhanced Pat-Down when the AIT (full body screen) shows his urostomy bag.  Even after he explained his condition, he had to forcefully request that his search be done in private.  And then he was left humiliated and soaked in urine following a TSA enhanced pat-down that dislodged his urostomy bag and his oversized (to accommodate his bag) undershorts.

According to Mr. Sawyer the victim of this assault:

“I am totally appalled by the fact that agents that are performing these pat-downs have so little concern for people with medical conditions,” said Sawyer.

“I am a good American and I want safety for all passengers as much as the next person,” Sawyer said. “But if this country is going to sacrifice treating people like human beings in the name of safety, then we have already lost the war.”

The Transportation Safety Administration states that their first priority is safety.  And while you also state that these procedures are “the only way to assure the American people’s safety,” Mr President, there are many who persuasively claim this is all security theater.  But even putting all that aside, how can any American possibly feel safer when a woman with artificial knees sets off the metal detector and is forced to submit to this:

‘Her gloved hands touched my breasts… went between them. Then she went into the top of my slacks, inserted her hands between my underwear and my skin… then put her hands up on the outside of my slacks, and patted my genitals’, Ms Moroney explained.

‘I was shaking and crying when I left that room. Under any other circumstance, if a person touched me like that without my permission, it would be considered criminal sexual assault.’

Are the methods of the TSA “refined” and “effective” as you claim, when a cancer survivor and flight attendant of over 30 years has to remove her prosthetic breast from her bra and show it to the TSA agents. (h/t Andy)

‘I did not take the name of the person at the time because it was just so horrific an experience, I couldn’t believe someone had done that to me. I’m a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work’.

Now imagine the resulting trauma when any one of these searches is done on young teens who are just going thru puberty, victims of rape or sexual abuse, or those suffering from PTSD.
TSA says their screening procedures are “not going to change” and reminds us why we need them:

We cannot forget that less than one year ago a suicide bomber with explosives in his underwear tried to bring down a plane over Detroit. The terrorists allegedly behind the thwarted cargo attempt last month are out there bragging about how they will strike again.

But I ask you Mr. President, is this really the trade off we are wanting to make as a society?

And if this is truly the only way to ensure the safety of the American people, won’t we next need to employ these procedures before we enter the airport, and then start enacting them at all rail and bus stations.  After that, it would only makes sense to secure every school, university, museum, government building and sport arena?
Where will this security need end?

“Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety.”  — Benjamin Franklin

An US Army Staff Sergeant, now serving in Afghanistan, points out that he is not allowed to do these invasive, Enhanced Pat-Downs on women and children while conducting searches of local nationals over in Afghanistan even when involved with security tasks within his Infantry company.  Something that would probably save lives.


To avoid offending the Afghan people.  To avoid presenting the US government as oppressors.  To avoid feeding the Taliban’s hatred.  And yet, according to you Mr President these enhanced pat-downs are not only acceptable but necessary for the American traveling public.

“…every week I meet with my counterterrorism team and I’m constantly asking them whether is what we’re doing absolutely necessary?” — President Obama

Why are these personal searches “absolutely necessary”?  How is it that we, the American people, are accorded less rights and consideration in our own country by our own government than what our government feels necessary and prudent to provide other nationals in their country?

The Army Staff Sergeant explains the disconnect he feels thusly:

While I have no conflict with the necessity to safeguard civilians against terrorism or with the risks we all voluntarily assumed as Soldiers, it seems as if the bureaucracy has become so obsessed with safety that we have forgotten that war entails risks beyond those of physical combat. 

If we are truly at war, then we need to decide what civil liberties we truly view as negotiable and which are inviolate. Otherwise the greater risk than underwear bombers at home will be losing the values that make us unique as a nation.These people terrify us as much as we allow them to. Apparently FDR's idea about "the only thing to fear [is fear itself]" is lost on TSA and the current administration.

So I ask, Mr. President, who is terrorizing whom?

This is not a debate about private vs government screeners.  When our government demands the right, for itself or anyone else, to routinely assault our dignity, privacy, and the safety of our physical person, what have we gained as a nation?  And for the American people, what is there left to lose?

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.” — William Pitt, in the House of Commons, November 18, 1783




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