FL: GOING TOO FAR
Security experts are correct that the nation’s first line of defense against terrorism ought to be an alerted public. Hundreds of millions of citizens can detect suspicious behavior at airports, rail stations and other venues more readily than a fraction as many security workers.
But does the importance of promoting citizen-defenders also mean that when they wrongly accuse someone of plotting terrorism and violence and happen to defame or injure the person that the accused shouldn’t be able to claim his civil rights were violated?
Congress appears in a mad dash to say yes. And mainly because of six Muslim men, who had the nerve to file suit not just against an airline and airport involved in their removal from an airplane last fall, but against passengers who complained about them.
Start allowing people like those Muslim men to file suit, many in Congress believe, and what citizen in her right mind will ever want to blow the whistle on someone threatening the public again?
Congress needs to take a deep breath. In the almost six years since 9-11, the courts have hardly backed up with cases of individuals accused of plotting terrorist activity suing private citizens for defamation of character.
And though we won’t presume to pass judgment on the case of the six imams that has yet to be tried, it does raise questions about reporting suspicious behavior versus targeting people out of fear and prejudice. The men were returning home to Phoenix from Minneapolis. Did they pose a reasonable threat justifying their removal from their flight and later missing it because of lengthy questioning by authorities?
Some witnesses suggest the imams, who spoke in Arabic, conferred before boarding, prayed aloud, discussed Saddam Hussein and sat apart in the cabin. But who among us hasn’t prayed before take-off? Last we checked, Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11. And so what if the men sat apart?
A court could address those questions, and step in in rare future cases — but not if Congress seeks to protect the public while compromising its civil rights.