Do the ACLU and privacy activists share the blame for Christmas Day attack?

posted at 9:30 am on December 29, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The impulse of the Obama administration since the Christmas Day terrorist attack on Northwest 253 has so far been to blame the Bush administration for setting rules on the additions of terrorist suspects to the no-fly list from the TIDE database.  Never mind, for the moment, that the Obama administration has been in office for almost a full year and 25% of its term in office, and that they promised to “hit the ground running,” not to take a year to get to speed on national security.  Those rules didn’t just get generated by the previous White House in a vacuum, or arbitrarily, as Gabriel Schoenfeld reminds readers of the Los Angeles Times:

The Bush administration was subjected to withering criticism for the way it managed the no-fly list. The American Civil Liberties Union put the system on its own list of the “Top Ten Abuses of Power Since 9/11,” asserting that “the uncontroversial contention that Osama bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft” has been exploited “to create a monster.” In one of several lawsuits the group has filed involving terrorist lists, the ACLU alleged that they “violate airline passengers’ constitutional right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and to due process of law.”

Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been one among a chorus of voices that accused the former administration of being far too sweeping, placing “infants, nuns and even members of Congress” on terrorist watch lists. The writer Naomi Wolf has called travel restrictions such as the no-fly list, “a classic part of the fascist playbook” akin to the depredations of Nazi Germany, where “families fleeing internment were traumatized by the uncertainties that they knew they faced at the borders.” This was hysteria directed against Bush counter-terrorism mechanisms that the Obama administration has left almost entirely unchanged.

The Department of Homeland Security has indeed received a high volume of complaints about airport screening by individuals attempting to travel. Yet only a minuscule 0.7% of the complaints stemmed from issues relating to the watch lists. And of that 0.7%, about 51% of the complaints led to the conclusion that the individual in question was appropriately on the watch list. Whatever problems exist, the system is not outrageously over-inclusive. Indeed, if anything, the opposite is the case.

We will never know whether fierce criticism from the left had any direct effect on the processing of Abdulmutallab’s file, but the political environment is important to consider going forward. The officials managing the watch lists are not eager to be hauled before a congressional committee if they blunder and bar innocent people from getting on flights. But they are also acutely aware of the potential price tag of being under-inclusive.

Generally speaking, when talking about the tension between government and civil libertarians, I tend to side more with the latter in most cases.  That may be more true now than ever, when the federal government seeks breathtaking advances in power over people’s lives through greater control of the health-care system and energy production.  Since Democrats took over Congress and the White House, more and more conservatives have discovered their inner libertarians — and that civil-libertarian impulse should be encouraged.

However, this is one area in which Schoenfeld is correct to call the no-fly list critics “extremist.”  The danger of terrorist attacks on our air travel is all too real, as 9/11 proved and the latest attempt corroborates.  The main constitutional role of the federal government is to secure the nation against attack, and no one doubts that air travel with its interstate and international nature belongs in their jurisdiction for law enforcement and counterterrorism.  They have the responsibility to make sure we know who represents a danger to Americans traveling by air and to prevent them from getting onto airplanes before they attack.  Once the attack takes place, it’s generally too late to do anything about it; we just got lucky last week.

Do mistakes get made?  Of course, but it’s time we stopped making the perfect the enemy of the good.  As long as we have some due process in place to rectify those mistakes and we make that process as transparent as it can be, then we should understand that it’s better to miss a flight than to allow an Umar Abdulmutallab onto an inbound flight from Amsterdam.  We shouldn’t insist that we get more derogatory information before canceling a visa or moving someone to the no-fly list when his own father — a prominent Nigerian politician and banker — tells us that his son has become a radical Islamist jihadist who wants to attack the US.

If Janet Napolitano wants to blame the rules surrounding the no-fly listings for the attack, then she should blame the people who forced those rules into place — many of whom were the people who supported her boss in the last election.


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Why, should people be mocked because of there color? Is that what you’re advocating?

hawksruleva on December 29, 2009 at 10:34 AM

Because liberals are racists, that is the way they are raised. If someone of color is incompetent, it has to be because of their color, not because they are just inept…it is a strange way of thinking, but it is one of their basic tenets of belief. It certainly makes debate easy for them, when losing they just throw out the race card, debate over.

right2bright on December 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM

Let’s not forget Eric Holder’s role in shaping Obama’s policies. Not only is he instrumental with the idea that enemy combatants need to be given constitutional rights, his statements here and here reveal a lot. Note how he erects the straw man of widespread discrimination against Muslims:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released the following statement relating to President Obama’s historic speech today in Cairo, Egypt:

“The President’s pledge for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim community takes root here in the Justice Department where we are committed to using criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans. A top priority of this Justice Department is a return to robust civil rights enforcement and outreach in defending religious freedoms and other fundamental rights of all of our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the housing market, in our schools and in the voting booth.

“There are those who will continue to want to divide by fear – to pit our national security against our civil liberties – but that is a false choice. We have a solemn responsibility to protect our people while we also protect our principles.”

Buy Danish on December 29, 2009 at 10:55 AM

You can always tell when things are going badly for the “progressives” — their shrill shills come out from under their rocks and work themselves into a feverish lather, with their macabre cries of “Boosh Boooosh Booooosh” echoing like the pathetic death throes of a manic union hall parrot. Of course, we can’t expect them to react well to the death of all they hold dear at the hands of their Messiah, as he bumbles and fumbles them into confusion and disarray. They will, as evidenced on this thread, lash out in blind rage, and we can but pity them, as reasoning with them is not possible. At least we can be glad that they are becoming fewer and fewer.

mr.blacksheep on December 29, 2009 at 10:57 AM

If my name was accidentally placed on the Man-Caused-Disaster lists and I was subjected to increased scrutiny, patted down, made to remove my shoes, made to show the scar where the screw that sets off the metal detectors is (I now keep an x-ray picture on my cell phone) have my hands, carry on clothes and laptop swabbed for explosives to make sure I am save, I am OK with that.

Wait a minute, that happened yesterday and I am not what I would call anywhere near the profile of those involved in these Man-Caused-Disasters.

barnone on December 29, 2009 at 11:02 AM

Eric Holder…defending religious freedoms

Two points:

1.) I prefer to trust Jesus Christ with my religious freedoms.

2.) Mr. Holder should be so “concerned” about voter intimidation in Philly.

tgharris on December 29, 2009 at 11:29 AM

Politicizing National Security

You mean DeMint blocking the nomination of the head of the TSA since September? Because he hates unions?

Grow Fins on December 29, 2009 at 9:49 AM

Public safety and national security should never be at the mercy of extortionary unions who could withhold services. There are, after all, reasons why unions should be suspect in certain positions.

onlineanalyst on December 29, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Didn’t people wait days for Messiah to speak up and tell everybody it was an “alleged” Christmas Day attack?

Marcus on December 29, 2009 at 9:44 AM

ObaMao uses the terminology typical of criminal justice because he views the events of Christmas Day as a criminal offense, not an act of jihad by a warrior for Allah.

onlineanalyst on December 29, 2009 at 11:59 AM

The liberal impulse is always to hold society responsible rather than individuals. No-fly lists and watch lists are hated by liberals because they hold individuals responsible for their own actions. The liberal solution is to change the environment so that bad actions are impossible, or at least more difficult. Under this rule of thumb, prisons are bad. Liberals instead like to let prisoners loose and then turn society into one big prison, with gun control laws, surveillance cameras, lots of government records and bureaucracy, etc. Applied to air travel security, they prefer lots of long lines at security checkpoints (manned by union workers, of course), and intrusive search techniques that apply to everyone equally, rather than actually finding out what kind of people are getting on the plane and putting restrictions against the most dangerous. Their objection to innocents inadvertently ending up on the no-fly lists is just a rhetorical ploy, their preferred method produces even worse abuses of the innocent. But, just like in their economic theories, as long as everyone is equally miserable liberals are happy. The system works.

Socratease on December 29, 2009 at 12:01 PM

Tragically, Ethiopia with its enlightened heritage reaching back to King Solomon through the Queen of Sheba, having been identified as one of the original Christian populations outside of the Holy Land, is now known globally for raising devout Muslims who leave Ethiopia to practice terrorism.

Don’t let Obama & Holder, Inc. ruin America likewise.

The blame goes first to the PC police who have prevented profiling along the lines that has made El Al the safest airline in the world.

petefrt on December 29, 2009 at 9:33 AM

The PC Attorney General of the US made his first priority to protect Muslims, most specifically black Muslims whether or not American, as we see with his “prosecution” in civil courts of jihadi terrorists.

America needs to remove Holder from office, prosecute his corruption of office having ordered the case dismissed against the Philadelphia New Black Panther armed thugs brandishing weapons outside of the election polls.

Let’s not forget Eric Holder’s role in shaping Obama’s policies. Not only is he instrumental with the idea that enemy combatants need to be given constitutional rights, his statements here and here reveal a lot. Note how he erects the straw man of widespread discrimination against Muslims:

“The President’s pledge for a new beginning between the United States and the Muslim community takes root here in the Justice Department where we are committed to using criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans. A top priority of this Justice Department is a return to robust civil rights enforcement and outreach in defending religious freedoms and other fundamental rights of all of our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the housing market, in our schools and in the voting booth.

“There are those who will continue to want to divide by fear – to pit our national security against our civil liberties – but that is a false choice. We have a solemn responsibility to protect our people while we also protect our principles.”

Buy Danish on December 29, 2009 at 10:55 AM

The convoluted result of this Obama Doctrine on behalf of civil liberties for terrorists and non-citizens is to specifically prohibit law abiding Americans the protection that OUR Constitution and even unalienable rights afford: self defense.

maverick muse on December 29, 2009 at 12:06 PM

No more money wasted on technology and incompetent hired help at airport security.

BRING IN THE DOGS! Lots of dogs everywhere.

maverick muse on December 29, 2009 at 12:09 PM

echoing like the pathetic death throes of a manic union hall parrot.

mr.blacksheep on December 29, 2009 at 10:57 AM

LOL, best line of the thread so far!

Del Dolemonte on December 29, 2009 at 12:16 PM

Because liberals are racists, that is the way they are raised.

right2bright on December 29, 2009 at 10:51 AM

I have been reading a true story that took place in the mid 1960s. One of the major characters in this story was a very prominent Democrat at the state level (I won’t name him because it’s irrelevant, but he was not a politician).

In a fascinating conversation he has with one of his sons, he explains why he had gotten involved in the civil rights movement. It was because he had been raised by his parents to avoid blacks and think of them as inferior. But his life was saved when he was hospitalized after a major accident, and most of the hospital personnel were black. After that, he was no longer a racist-even those his other 4 brothers remained so.

Del Dolemonte on December 29, 2009 at 12:24 PM

Because it’s true and it undermines your Obama-is-a-Muslim-Manchurian-candidate meme?

Grow Fins on December 29, 2009 at 10:04 AM
Ooh, ooh I like this game!

Bush inherited a crumbling/bubble-popping economy from Clinton and the 9/11 attacks were planned and put into action during the Clinton administration (Clinton also failed to apprehend Osama bin Laden when he had the chance) and the security framework created by Clinton failed to detect/stop the attacks.

gwelf on December 29, 2009 at 10:09 AM

All too true. And we never heard Bush whine about what he had “inherited”. Like an adult, he played the hand that he was dealt and cleaned up problem areas of national security/economic weakness with responsible measures.

onlineanalyst on December 29, 2009 at 12:27 PM

Yes Ed, they do.

And so do the rest of the pointy headed, full of book learning but zero in common sense, libs who support them.

Lady Heather on December 29, 2009 at 12:28 PM

Grow Fins:

“You mean DeMint blocking the nomination of the head of the TSA since September? Because he hates unions?”

No, because unionizing the TSA will make it nearly impossible to fire incompetents, and because seniority will take precedence over merit, because guaranteed tenure will eliminate incentives for diligence, and because benefits for union members will trump the public weal every time.

If you want to talk about politicizing national security, you’ve got a pretty big cat to walk back.

JM Hanes on December 29, 2009 at 12:28 PM

This is about airline security and I believe that the owners of the airlines should be allowed to do whatever they deem necessary to keep their customers safe. Flying on someone elses airline is a priviledge and not a right. If one dislikes the measures that a certain airline uses to keep it’s passengers safe you are free to seek other transportation options. No one has a right to tell person or company responsible for other human lives that you disagree with the methods in which they have determined will keep their customers safe. If you don’t like it buses, trains and automobiles are still available to you.

thomasaur on December 29, 2009 at 10:07 AM

Another point to consider is that airlines have a vested, very expensive reason to assure that their planes are safe and secure from mechanical failure, bombings, sabotage, or accident. The loss of an aircraft is a blow to their bottom line, as is the liability for lawsuits should anything untoward happen to the passaenger(a). IOW, maybe the transportation providers have a better reason to determine who should/should not use their service/product. Play by our rules, or find another means of getting where you want to be.

onlineanalyst on December 29, 2009 at 12:47 PM

Ed:

I don’t blame the ACLU. Pushing back against real or perceived government incursions on civil liberties is important. I blame an Administration which publicly, legally and psychologically undercuts the very people charged with the preemptive side of the security equation. I blame an Administration which makes interrogating a known, not alleged, perpetrator who loudly claims knowledge of future attack virtually impossible. How many times does the paramount importance of intel have to be confirmed? Per Eric Holder:

I think that one of the things that distinguishes this administration is that we believe that our Constitution is a strong and vibrant document that, at the end of the day, is perhaps our best protection against those who would try to do this nation harm.

I blame an Administration which claims that the Constitution will protect us from terrorists, an Administration whose Attorney General, of all people, apparently doesn’t know the that the Constitution protects from the harm our government would do us. That’s the part that even the ACLU gets right.

JM Hanes on December 29, 2009 at 12:50 PM

“The buck…uhhh..stops,uh…over there!” President Barack Obama 2009

theTarCzar on December 29, 2009 at 12:53 PM

JM Hanes on December 29, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Good points.

dedalus on December 29, 2009 at 1:07 PM

9/11 happened on GW’s watch 8 months into his term and he manned up and took it. 0bama has been in his term for 10 months and we had Ft. Hood and then 11 months in we had Christmas Day. And he still wants to blame Bush?!?!? What a loser!

Mirimichi on December 29, 2009 at 1:17 PM

JM Hanes on December 29, 2009 at 12:50 PM

Woops! Talk about bad timing! December 21, 2009:

Newsweek: Since we’re on the subject of being strong, your critics think that you and this administration are not tough enough on terrorism.
Holder: Those comments are belied by the facts. We have disrupted plots where we have found them. There are things that we have done we can’t discuss, but which have been successful. We’ve spent a huge amount of time and energy in making sure that we are prepared for what our enemies might try to do next. We have done things that [our critics] might not have thought were right, but [that] we think ultimately will make the American people more safe, like closing Guantánamo.

Buy Danish on December 29, 2009 at 1:36 PM

One doesn’t have to be a libertarian to want to uphold the Constitution. I assume all real conservatives do and probably many liberals, recent bastardized meaning, do as well.

burt on December 29, 2009 at 1:38 PM

Newsweek: Since we’re on the subject of being strong, your critics think that you and this administration are not tough enough on terrorism.

Holder: Those comments are belied by the facts. We have disrupted plots where we have found them. There are things that we have done we can’t discuss, but which have been successful. We’ve spent a huge amount of time and energy in making sure that we are prepared for what our enemies might try to do next. We have done things that [our critics] might not have thought were right, but [that] we think ultimately will make the American people more safe, like closing Guantánamo.

Buy Danish on December 29, 2009 at 1:36 PM

LOL, this guy is an unusually good liar.

I notice he forgot to mention how he quietly lifted all of the harsh prison restrictions on convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid last summer.

Del Dolemonte on December 29, 2009 at 3:31 PM

The no-fly list is a mess. This week we\’re focused on false negatives, but false positives abound. Recall that Senator Kennedy had a hard time getting off the no-fly list. Did we really want that man to drive instead?

One of the latest efforts of my gun nut buddies and I is to fight the proposal to use the no-fly list, or perhaps the wider TIDE list, to prevent gun buyers undergoing NICS checks from being approved. Yes, we are civil libertarians; but unlike the ACLU, we can count to 2.

raybury on December 29, 2009 at 3:36 PM

remember that, all we officially know is the Plane suddenly blew up in the air over the Atlantic
jp on December 29,

Ah yes due to the Pitot/static tube being clogged.

The Pitot/static tube has not been a primary air speed/altitude instrumentation since the 1930′s .

Or since airplanes fly
higher that 10K ft
faster than 200 knots
And beyond the “local weather system”

On military planes and commercial airliners its a back up, to a back up, to a back up of primary systems like IMU, RADAR alt, AHARS, GPS, INS and likely more, as I haven’t worked on planes in the last 22 years.

DSchoen on December 29, 2009 at 4:07 PM

Buy Danish:

Glad you posted a link to the Holder interview! I meant to include one myself, but the dog ate it or something.

JM Hanes on December 29, 2009 at 4:30 PM

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