Christopher Hitchens On Scan-and-Grope

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens rails at the foolish and humiliating measures we have imposed on ourselves in our bumbling, ill-guided quest for airline security.

We read:

When the best that the children of a revolution can do for the defense of their inalienable protection against unwarranted search and seizure is to issue the pathetic moan, “Don’t touch my junk,” a low point of humiliation has been reached. It will soon enough be forgotten, as have the low points that preceded it. And it is destined to be succeeded by even lower and more humbling ones.

In addition to pointing out (as did I, in a recent post) that these invasive scans and pat-downs are arguably in violation of our rights under the Fourth Amendment, Mr. Hitchens reminds us that our policy seems to be little more than to react, with a sledgehammer, to whatever new tactic our enemies happen to try:

Consider: The decision to make us all take off our shoes was the official response to the scrofulous “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. The ban on liquids and precisely specified quantities of gel was the best we could do by way of post-facto thwarting of a London-based scheme to mix liquids in-flight and cause a mid-air detonation. The decision to inquire more closely into our undergarments was the official response to the “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The more recent decision (this was a specifically British touch of genius) to forbid the shipping by air of any print toner weighing more than 500 grams was made after some tampered-with toner cartridges were intercepted on international cargo flights leaving Yemen a few weeks ago. (Fear not, by the way, you can’t have these hard-to-find items in your carry-on bags or checked luggage, either.)

Readers may recall my recent admonition to a commenter that he prepare for body-cavity searches. Hitch agrees:

In the more recent instances, the explosive substance involved was a fairly simple one known as PETN. Now consider again: Late last August, the Saudi Arabian deputy minister of the interior, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, was injured in the city of Jeddah by a suicide bomber named Abdullah Hassan Al Aseery. The deceased assailant was the brother of Khalid Ibrahim Al Aseery, the suspected bomb-specialist of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and the man sought in connection with the underpants and toner attempts. In the Jeddah case, the lethal charge of PETN was concealed in the would-be assassin’s rectum.

Perhaps you can begin to see where, as they say, I am going with this. In order for us to take them even remotely seriously, our Homeland Security officials should by now have had no alternative but to announce a series of random body-cavity searches some months ago. At least that might have had a deterrent effect and broken the long tradition of waiting for the enemy to dictate all the terms, all the time. It is a certainty that this deadly back-passage tactic will be tried. It is equally a certainty that it will find us even more defenseless than before.

More on our dull-witted policy of reaction:

Let me recommend regular reading of the magazine Inspire, the flagship publication of AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula]. It is remarkable for its jauntiness and confidence and sense of initiative. The cover of the most recent issue shows the tail of a UPS jet with the headline “$4,200.” That was the estimated outlay, for AQAP, of the toner operation that disrupted international air cargo for several days. Inside is a telling comment on the only countermeasure to be taken so far: the ban on toners of a certain weight. “Who is the genius who came up with this suggestion?” jeer the editors. “Do you think we have nothing to send but printers?” (Incidentally, I recommend this analysis of the latest issue of Inspire, written by Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College, London.)

Read the whole thing here.

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5 Comments

  1. JK says

    Malcolm?

    If you’ve a counterpart in Iowa who has an audience of elderly white women (who don’t work the morning shift in a Sioux City Waffle House) as a public service – you should make a permalink available to this post.

    Posted November 30, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  2. The whole thing is just too depressing: not only because of the violations of our rights, but because it’s hard to believe just how stupid our leaders are.

    Posted December 1, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Certainly depressing, Dennis – but there’s more to it than mere stupidity.

    Posted December 1, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink
  4. james says

    http://www.archive.org/stream/INSPIRE_ISSUE_3/special#page/n0/mode/2up

    Posted December 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Thanks James,

    That’s a link to the AQAP Inspire magazine, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

    Try this.

    Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink