Monday, April 02, 2007
Libs: Lawsuits 1st, Safety 2nd
By DEBRA BURLINGAME
The New York Post
April 2, 2007 -- Why must Democrats constantly defend against charges that they can't be trusted on issues of national security? Well, consider what went on in the House of Representatives last Wednesday night.
Various members of the House majority had just spent 30 minutes in self-praise over the $7.3 billion transportation-security bill, calling it long-overdue relief for millions of Americans. Then Rep. Peter King (R-L.I.) rose to propose an amendment directed at a dangerous new threat to national security.
His motion was a response to the "John Doe" lawsuit filed by six "Flying Imams." Last November, the six were ejected from a US Airways flight after their fellow passengers reported what they saw as strange and disturbing behavior. The imams claim that they were victims of "intentional" and "malicious" discrimination and are seeking compensation, including punitive damages - from the airlines, and also from the passengers and crew, who are identified in the suit as "John Does" to be served with legal papers once a court order reveals their actual identities.
That lawsuit is a dangerous threat aimed at a vital component of public-transit security - the public itself.
King explained as much, speaking on behalf of his amendment, which would protect anyone who makes a reasonable, good-faith report of suspicious activity from being the target of a lawsuit. "We have an enemy which is constantly adapting," King said Wednesday. "We have to think outside the box."
That enemy, of course is al Qaeda - which is obsessed with slaughtering innocents using public transportation. There was Madrid's "3/11" - 10 bombs detonated on four trains at the height of the morning rush hour, killing 191 and injuring 2,050. And London's "7/7" - four suicide bombers in the Underground and on a double-decker bus, resulting in 52 dead and 700 injured.
In New York City alone, 7 million people use mass transit every day. With 400 subway stations with 1,500 entrances, the trains are a "soft" target - one the NYPD can't adequately protect without help from the public.
Every New York City rail and transit rider has seen the signs: "If you see something, say something." The principle is obvious - in an age of terror, we should all have our eyes open. If the imams' lawsuit prospers, how many people won't say something - for fear of being sued?
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who'd offered an earlier bill to protect good Samaritans who alert officials, rose to speak after King. "If we allow these suits to go forward," he warned the House, "it will have a chilling effect on the future of American security . . . If we are serious about fighting terrorism, if we are serious about protecting Americans and asking them to help protect each other, then we must pass this motion."
This is the kind of no-brainer legislation that every member of Congress should vigorously support. Yet House Democrats reacted to King's proposal as if he'd thrown a bomb into the House chamber itself.
According to witnesses in the gallery and on the floor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi displayed a classic deer-in-the headlights look as the Democratic leadership went into a huddle - plainly eager, not to embrace this common-sense measure, but to sidetrack it.
Meanwhile, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, took the floor to oppose King's motion - and to defend the lawsuit against John Does. "We should be tolerant," he argued; people shouldn't be singled out because they "look different."
In fact, the flying imams triggered concerns by a variety of unusual actions, as well as words that roused the concern of another Arabic-speaking passenger. Witnesses say that House members started booing Thompson.
Finally, a member of the leadership realized how this would look to Americans watching on C-SPAN: Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was seen staring at Thompson and repeatedly drawing his hand across his throat - an urgent signal to get off the floor.
With Democrats realizing they couldn't argue against King's measure, it went to a vote, and passed, 304 to 121
Every one of those 121 votes aimed at defeating protection for "John Does" was a Democrat - indeed, more than half of all Democrats present voted "nay."
And, with the exception of Rep. Anthony Weiner (Brooklyn), Democrats from the New York-New Jersey metro area led the way in voting against it.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes Ground Zero, voted no. So did Rep. Carolyn Maloney, whose district includes Midtown, and Rep. Nita Lowey, who lost dozens of Westchester neighbors on 9/11.
King: Shielding public from pro-terror suits.
Rep. Bill Pascrelle hails from New Jersey, the home of 700 9/11 victims. Earlier that night, he had praised the bill's provision protecting government whistleblowers from retaliation. But he voted against such protection for John Does who don't have government jobs.
The story isn't over yet. To become law, this measure must also pass the Senate - and survive House-Senate conference, where the leadership might try to quietly excise King's reform.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will certainly push for that. After all, the radical "civil rights" group - which supports the terrorists of Hamas and has received millions in funding from Saudi Arabia - is paying the lawyers in the "Flying Imams" lawsuit.
Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director, defends the suit's targeting of ordinary citizens. The clerics, he explains, will only sue passengers who made false reports or acted in bad faith. But the suit cites an "elderly couple" who watched the imams in the gate area and then made a cellphone call. How will CAIR determine who the couple called and whether anything they did was intended to discriminate against the imams, without first finding out their names and forcing them to defend against the charge? What about their civil rights?
In the future, who will be willing to risk their savings in the face a potential lawsuit underwritten by wealthy Middle Eastern donors?
If King's measure becomes law, that worry will vanish. But the bill will have to survive the instinct of Congress' Democratic leadership to pander to political correctness and CAIR's special-interest pressure.
Democrats who don't want to be branded as soft on national security should remember the image of Rahm Emanuel on the House floor, drawing his hand across his neck.
Debra Burlingame is sister of Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed at the Pentagon on 9/11.