The debate continues as to what the administration,
teachers and students might have done to prevent the killings at
Since the nation is still debating what could have been done to prevent
the events of 9/11, the answer won't be resolved to everyone's
satisfaction anytime soon.
There was one thing that seemed to be resolved, both about 9/11 and in a
general way that relates to this latest tragedy: Americans were told, by
their president and local law enforcement, to be alert and report any
Sounds simple and obvious. But of course, in USA 2007, nothing ever is
as simple or obvious as it appears.
Some airline passengers were recently sued by six Muslim clerics after
they reported that the "flying imams" were exhibiting strange behavior
before boarding a U.S Airways flight.
This is outrageous: If ordinary citizens can be intimidated by the
threat of lawsuits from doing what signs at the airport tell them to do,
all travelers are in greater danger than before.
On April 13, WTKK talk show host Michael Graham shared a column written
by Debra Burlingame in the New York Post, concerning the March 27 House
vote on H.R. 1401, the Rail and Public Transportation Act -- a
$7.3-billion transportation bill to fund additional security. She wrote
that Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., had offered an amendment to protect us
citizens from lawsuits like this, which passed after some debate. But,
Graham reported, all members of the Massachusetts congressional
delegation, with one exception, voted against it.
On the Internet I found H.R 1401 and Roll Call No. 200. As I had already
guessed, the congressman who voted to protect us was Steve Lynch of
So I called my own congressman, John Tierney of Salem, to find out why
he voted not to. I figured that the only possible responses were, a) "I
didn't know what I was voting on", b) "I voted against it because it was
a Republican idea so who cares if it's a good one", or c) "I think
Americans SHOULD be sued for alerting officials that suspicious-looking
passengers are a possible threat."
A week later, I received his official response (see below), which I'm
I found the House debate, which was initiated by a motion by Rep. King
to recommit the bill with instructions to Homeland Security to protect
alert passengers from legal liability for reporting suspicious activity.
"If we are going to be serious, as a nation, about fighting Islamic
terrorism, then we have to stand by our people who come forward and
report suspicious activity. So I think it is absolutely essential that
this motion to recommit be passed. I can't imagine anyone being opposed
to it," King declared.
Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who had been working on a bill to accomplish
this since the lawsuit, described the U.S. Airways event:
The imams "used a seating pattern that was similar to the 9/11
attackers. They asked for seatbelt extensions, and then didn't use them
but laid them at their feet in an ominous gesture of disrespect. They
did not sit in assigned seats. The loud criticism of President Bush and
the war all added together to create a mood of uncertainty among
passengers who were watching."
He continued: "Ever since 9/11, law enforcement agencies have been
telling the American people that they should immediately report any
suspicious activity. This important step is one of the best ways that we
have to stop terrorism. In essence, the public is the eyes and ears for
the security of the nation."
"Sadly, a lawsuit has been filed in Minnesota which named as defendants
the Americans who were simply trying to protect themselves and their
country. These everyday people have now found themselves subject to a
lawsuit for simply reporting what they thought in good faith was
"We are in grave danger when terrorists and their sympathizers use our
freedoms against us. ... If we allow these lawsuits to go forward, it
will have a chilling effect on the future of American security. If we
are serious about fighting terrorism ... then we must pass this motion."
"Today we are going to make that choice on the floor of the House, to
choose political correctness or to choose to protect the people in this
country and the people who would bring the attention of suspicious
activities to the nation's authorities."
Most House members chose protection: 199 Republicans and 105 Democrats
voted yes, 121 Democrats, including Rep. Tierney, voted no.
Burlingame wrote in her column that Speaker Nancy Pelosi was allowing
arguments for political correctness until a wiser Democrat caught the
eye of one of those opposing King's motion and drew his hand across his
neck -- a signal that Democrats were about to cut their political
throats on this issue. Pelosi then called the vote, and the bill was
resubmitted to Homeland Security, which quickly approved it and sent it
back; after which it passed the House and is now awaiting action in the
I ask myself: Will Senators Kennedy and Kerry choose political
correctness, or protection for the American people? Or will they and
Congressman Tierney let the terrorists win?
Tierney's response: Let courts decide
The following statement was e-mailed to Anderson by Congressman John
Tierney's press secretary, Catherine Ribeiro:
I am mindful of the concern that citizens perceiving danger not be
"chilled" from warning about that danger. Such a worry should be
balanced against any risk that some might act unreasonably or rush to
judgment on others based on less than credible cause or as a result of
Rather than legislate for every possible circumstance where such a
situation may arise (an impossible task, as would be any effort to
legislate the standards or criteria for deciding each matter), such
determinations fall within the judicial system's purview. It is uniquely
qualified to elicit the relevant facts and weigh the evidence in such
The judicial system has been capable over time of determining what
causes of action have merit for consideration and which parties to a
case should be retained or dismissed from involvement based on facts and
the law. For those who might attempt to abuse the system by
inappropriately bringing suit or naming a party to a suit, the courts
have available ample authority to remedy the situation. Should a case be
brought that any court deems frivolous, sanctions and penalties may be
imposed by the court. These include ordering the offending party to pay
legal fees and costs to the injured party.
Given the foregoing facts, it does not appear advisable to interject
legislative action focusing on a single alleged set of facts as opposed
to considering broader policy concerning court jurisdiction over classes
of action or of people. It was noted during debate that although the
airline had been named and "John Does" or unnamed persons had been
listed for discovery purposes, as of now, in fact, there has not been
any claim of improper or frivolous claim or naming of parties which a
court had failed to remedy on its own. Though the impulse to legislate
existed on such sympathetic facts, I believe the proper course was to
trust the determination of facts and law in this specific case, as in
others, to the courts.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens
for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and
Eagle Tribune, and often in the Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, and
Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the
Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.