Thursday, September 21, 2006

please hold for your connection

After an eight-hour flight the other day (which was delayed an hour and a half because the flight crew decided to begin fueling the plane after everyone had boarded), I arrived at Dulles Airport in DC only to be confronted with a chaotic scramble to be subjected to the scrutiny of a belligerent Customs officer, then an hour wait in another line after retrieving my luggage only to have it rechecked onto my connecting flight...which I missed as I had to wait in another hour-long line to have my shoes x-rayed. The airline was gracious enough to give my another flight home, which itself was postponed four hours.

While I have no problem understanding the need for security, this whole experience has left me with the distinct impression that measures taken since 9/11 on this front are this absurd dance, as if the layer after layer of bureaucracy were only there to give the illusion of safety. It's like the constant announcements that "We are at threat level Orange! Report any suspicious actions to the nearest TSA official!" Does anyone really expect to see us go to Blue (i.e., Low chance of terrorist attack) in our lifetimes? Even Green (next up from Blue) seems unlikely as we are still in an election year. The whole 'rainbow of death' system is a perfect example of what Bruce Schneier calls 'security theater'. Security theater refers to security measures which have little real influence on safety whilst being publicly visible and designed to show that action is taking place. This giant conflagration of smoke and mirrors not only makes me more reticient to travel, but also reminds me more forcefully about the rhetorical bait-and-switch seen at every point in the debate over security issues.

Chief in my mind on this topic is the recent and unrepentant attempts by the Bush Administration to enshrine torture as SOP for American interrogators. With a war defined so as to never end, this permanent state of emergency encourages further erosion of the balance of powers. Republicans would do well to remember that their majority is in no way guaranteed permenance. Instead their religious backers would even endorse torture to cling to power, begging the question: Who Would Jesus Waterboard?

The most recent outrage to hit the papers was the sad tale of Maher Arar, who was snatched by US authorities at JFK and sent to Syria, a country we are supposedly not talking to, and brutally tortured...oops, subjected to 'alternative interrogation methods' featuring a metal cable. No one disputes this although the Attorney General claimed that 'we were not responsible'...when a DOJ flack had to walk back his boss' statements he claimed that the 'we' referred to the fact that Homeland Insecurity handles deportations now, and not the Department of Injustice. Just like the 'we' in 'we do not torture' I suppose.

The entire thing is being positioned as an abstract semantic debate over 'vague' definitions of terms and phrases used. I can understand the desire for revenge. I can even understand the hatred and the fear. But we shouldn't take our revenge on those who are not guilty, and we shouldn't remove their ability to prove their innocence.

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