Saving the 'John Doe' Amendment

Should citizens — acting in good faith to report suspicious activity — be subjected to lawsuits by Islamic activists? Democrats think so.  Last week, they attempted to strip away the “John Doe” provision from the new Homeland Security Department legislation. For now, they have failed.

Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Steven Pearce’s (R.-NM) “John Doe” amendment was crafted after a group of Muslim activists filed a lawsuit against U.S. Airways and the undisclosed passengers who complained about abnormal behavior that resulted in the now-infamous flying imams’ removal from the plane on November 20, 2006. The King-Pearce amendment, which creates a legal immunity for citizens who report suspicious behavior in good faith, was initially approved 304-121 in March.

Thanks to the hard work of Sens. Joe Leiberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) along with co-sponsor King, the amendment was upheld in a House-Senate conference Wednesday. The new bills, HR.1 and S.4, will improve cargo inspection on passenger planes and ships, increase security distribution funds to the highest risk locations, and most importantly, grant legal protection for citizens who report suspicious behavior.

“It is preposterous this has taken a fight to get this done,” said Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security on Fox News. “We cannot have political correctness get in a way of prosecuting this war on terrorism.”

All but one Republican, presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who abstained from the vote, united against removing the provision. Voters who wanted to omit the amendment included a crowd of Democrats including presidential candidate Sens. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Jim Webb (D-Va..) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), among others. Those who abstained, including Brownback and presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), effectively sided with those who voted against it. Democratic presidential candidate and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton voted to keep the provision. Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Benny Thompson’s (D-Miss.) spokeswoman said he was concerned that the amendment could lead to racial profiling, according to a news report. But Thompson played a key role in working out the specific language of the final bill.

The imams, who had been removed from the aircraft, complained that their civil rights were violated. But their suspicious conduct — asking for unnecessary seatbelt extenders, refusing to sit in their assigned places and praying loudly before boarding — are actions that should raise suspicions in air travelers because, as the public record shows, they were similar to some of the behaviors of the 9/11 hijackers.

The Democrats who voted to strip the provision teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union, which in November wrote a letter to Leiberman claiming that religious persecution had occurred and the clerics were “deemed a threat to security merely because they had, in accordance with their faith, conducted their evening prayers in Arabic.” The ACLU said that after 9/11, “flying while Muslim” made some passengers unfair targets. However, the imams’ behavior in the November incident provoked a real concern for air travel safety. Suspicion is a simple, preventative measure that puts citizens in control and helps security officials. If you see something, say something.

“This is a huge win — a hard-fought victory for House Republicans and, more importantly, for the American people,” King said in a joint statement with House Republican leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Debra Burlingame, director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation and sister of 9-11 victim  American Airlines Flight 77 pilot Charles Burlingame, whose aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, wrote in an editorial that “one of those most haunted” people by 9/11 is the airline worker who screened some of the hijackers before boarding. “He told the 9/11 commission that the pair, traveling on first class, one-way, e-tickets, ‘didn’t act right.’”

“Though he selected them for secondary screening, he didn’t request a more thorough search because he ‘was worried about being accused of being ‘racist’ and letting ‘prejudice’ get in the way,” Burlingame wrote.

Everyday commuters on DC’s Metrorail hear a faceless voice repeating the phrase, “See it. Say it,” in reference to any suspicious baggage on the train. Why should our air travel be any different? A Transportation Security Administration intelligence bulletin leaked by NBC reported Tuesday that airport security officers have been instructed “to look out for terrorists practicing to carry explosive components onto the air craft.” This warning comes after seizures of suspicious packages — possibly mock-ups for planned bombings — at four major U.S. airports in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston and Baltimore.

As Roll Call’s David Winston wrote, “The worst congressional leaders in history, by their own definition, ought to get back to the business of doing the right thing for the American people.”  With the King-Pearce amendment surviving, there may be hope that they will.

The Democrats who opposed the amendment apparently succumbed to pressure from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the group suing on behalf the imams.  CAIR, though it bills itself as a “civil rights” organization, has ties to Islamic terrorist groups. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, tried to defend the lawsuit on MSNBC yesterday with a comparison to Klu Klux Klan members coming on board to accuse black people of suspicious behavior for no reason. "We don’t know if [the unnamed passengers] had malicious intent," he said. Some have speculated that the Imams purposely displayed their behavior to provoke a lawsuit.

"They are disgraceful," King said of CAIR last night on "Hannity and Colmes." "Clearly this is an attempt by organized Islamic groups to intimidate Americans."

The Center for Security Policy praised the amendment’s survival and said it was gratified by the efforts of, “innumerable bloggers, radio talk show hosts and other public-minded citizens translated into an important legislative victory.” The amendment’s survival is a rare display of congressional common sense.  When it becomes law, regular folks can and will be the eyes and ears — and possibly — the heroes of America. And — unless Congress reverses itself — those regular folks can do so without fear of retaliation.