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Dems Won’t Protect Citizens from Terror Suspects

HOUSE DEMOCRATS REFUSED to include a provision in the homeland security bill that would protect the public from liability for reporting suspicious behavior that could lead to a terrorist attack, Republicans said.

“This is a slap in the face of good citizens who do their patriotic duty and come forward,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Republicans wanted the provision included in the final legislation, crafted July 19 during a House and Senate conference committee, that will implement final recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.

King and Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) sponsored the provision after a group of Muslim imams filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Airways and unknown “John Doe” passengers. The imams were removed from U.S. Airways Flight 300 after fellow passengers on the Minneapolis-to-Phoenix flight complained about the imams’ behavior. On March 27, the House approved the “John Doe” amendment on a 304-121 vote.

“Democrats are trying to find any technical excuse to keep immunity out of the language of the bill to protect citizens, who in good faith, report suspicious activity to police or law enforcement,” King said. “I don’t see how you can have a homeland security bill without protecting people who come forward to report suspicious activity.”

Civil libertarians expressed concern over the legislation. The fear is that Washington is attempting to turn the United States into a country of busybodies and snitches. Reporting meaningful tips to law enforcement should be encouraged when potential violence or criminal activity is imminent. However, there is always the worry that legislation such as the bill proposed by King will incite neighbors snooping on neighbors whom they want Big Brother to harass.

Until the imams’ lawsuit and subsequent congressional inaction, the policy—repeatedly announced by federal officials—was to ask the public to report any suspicious activity to authorities.

Authorities would decide if there were a valid threat and act accordingly. While officials could be held liable for wrong decisions, the public had been
assured of protection in an effort to encourage reporting of potential threats.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) had expressed concerns that the “John Doe” provision would lead to the targeting of Muslims or thought control.

((Issue #32, August 6, 2007))

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Updated July 29, 2007