2005-08-05 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


Let’s take a look at some facts.

All of the men who brought down the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon were Middle Eastern Moslem men in their 20’s and 30’s, all from Saudi Arabia.

The men who bombed the trains in Spain were all Moslem males in their 20’s and 30’s.

The four men who were pictured entering the London underground just before the terrorist attacks were all Moslem men in the 20’s and 30’s.

The four men who were arrested after their bombs failed to detonate in the London underground a shortly after the first bombing were all Moslem males in their 20’s and 30’s.

The suicide bombers who level buildings and buses in Israel are all Moslems in their 20’s and 30’s, albeit a mix of men and, more lately, women.

Are we beginning to see a pattern here, one that law enforcement might use to stop bombings here in the United States?

Of course, everybody actually sees the pattern. The problem is, the politically correct have so tied the hands of our security forces that they can’t adequately respond by actually doing something about it.

Israel, a nation that has been fighting Moslem terrorism since 1948 (unfortunately, sometimes not very effectively) knows the deal. Following a series of hijackings and other attacks on civilian aircraft in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, that nation developed a series of “profiles” of those seeking to destroy them.

Under the Israeli system, there are four levels of security and the first starts even before a traveler leaves for the airport.

Each passenger is then interviewed by a trained and experience security agent. There are no low-paid square badges doing that job as there are in our airports.

A person who fits the profile is pulled for a private interview and his or her luggage is checked much more carefully.

The profile does not include simply Moslems by the way. While the details are necessarily secret, the key indicators include people traveling alone who bought their one-way tickets at the last minute. Even a pregnant Irish woman traveling alone with a last-minute ticket was checked and it was found that her Arab boyfriend had packed some explosives in her bags. He was planning to blow her and their baby up with the rest of the passengers.

In May of 2002, a man attempting to enter a Mall in Tel Aviv was stopped for a search. He bolted and blew himself and three bystanders to smithereens. Had he gained entrance to the mall, however, he could have killed hundreds.

His ethnicity was one key that led the screeners to stop him. His demeanor, dress, newly-shorn facial hair were also keys to the “profile” the screeners were looking for.

When I was a teacher, I ran a cafeteria for more than ten years. I could walk into the cafeteria and “feel” that a problem was brewing. I could look at a group of kids and “know” that there was going to be a fight just by the body language of the students involved.

Good cops can do the same. So can good screeners.

In Israel, they respect that knowledge and experience. In New York City, they do not allow it to be used.

Racial profiling is out. Police cannot check a person who fits the proven terrorist profile and therein lies the problem.

I have made the point in previous columns that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. The Fourth Amendment to that august document says that people are protected against “unreasonable search and seizure.” It also says that “probable cause” is necessary for that search or seizure. Over the years, the Warren Court and others limited the meaning of “probable cause” so that it basically became a stricture rather than a broad concept.

I believe that a valid “profile” drawn from facts and from experience can create that probable cause.

Right now, because of the complaints of civil libertarians about racial profiling, New York City is limited to random checks.

Under that protocol, police can only check, for example, every sixth person coming through the line to enter the subway.

It does not matter than the fifth person, a Middle Eastern man 25-year-old man wearing a heavy coat in 90-degree weather and carrying an obviously heavy backpack, is acting strangely, continually fingering a cord hanging from the backpack and repeating a prayer in Arabic.

Give me a break!

A few weeks ago, a double-decker bus was pulled over when its operators though that a group of Middle Eastern men were acting strangely. Five of the men were handcuffed while they were checked out. When it turned out that they were clean, they were released with an apology from the city.

Some think that the police response was “heavy-handed.” I think that the police response was appropriate to today’s world. Had the police responded more timidly and there were terrorist involved, one of them could have triggered a bomb that killed dozens, perhaps hundreds.

Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institute laid out the feeling that racial profiling is needed more than political correctness in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.

“Young Muslim men bombed the London tube and young Muslim men attacked New York City with planes in 2001,” he wrote. “The people who threaten New York City are young Muslim men.”

“What New York City is doing,” he added, “has more to do with demonstrating tolerance that with protecting citizens from terrorism.”

Of course, Sperry’s piece drew letters of opposition.

“Mr. Sperry does not acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming number of young Muslim men are not terrorists, have not engaged in any criminal behavior, have no plans to engage in criminal behavior and are not immune to the violence brought upon civilized society by those who have no regard for life,” wrote one reader.

“Almost every legal opinion on the matter has held that skin color or other superficial markings of ethnicity or race cannot, alone, create probable cause,” said another. “It’s not about being politically correct, but about the rule of law.”

Those rulings, however, were mostly about the civil rights movement and about street crime. They were not about a terrorism being perpetrated largely by a single, mostly identifiable group.

It is interesting to note that few have complained about the random checks. Perhaps even the civil libertarians understand the need for safety.

Perhaps they understand that the Constitution was not meant to be a suicide pact. Perhaps they will now take the next step and check those who seek to destroy us. Probable cause is what the courts make it.

The courts can make it reasonable where terrorism is concerned by adopting a reasonable “profile” that will make such checks legal.

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