Comments: If they had only shown a bit more restraint, he could be alive right now, being tortured by government agents in an undisclosed overseas location

I have to say, I'm not sure what would have been the proper action to take. In this day and age, somebody running through a plane with a backpack in a suspicious manner is something that does need to be dealt with immediately... Maybe they should have stun guns or some other way to immobilize people without killing them?

I mean, I'm very sympathetic toward the guy's condition (or former condition in this case) but I can't say I'm entirely shocked at what happened as a result.

Posted by The Dan at December 11, 2005 11:17 AM

I agree with your suspicions. Stories usually get exaggerated after the fact ("he said he had a bomb!") to cover up mistakes. You can argue that a man running with a backpack is a threat -- but I sure hope that I'm not the next target sometime when I'm late for a flight.

My related pet peeve is "suspected insurgent" -- like it's always fine if we kill (potentially innocent) people, as long as we can call them suspected insurgents afterward. Shouldn't there be some standard of proof we're held to? Or investigations, apologies, and fixes when the suspected insurgents turn out to be innocents who were in the wrong place & time? I understand "shoot first, ask questions later", but it seems we're forgetting the "ask questions" part.

Posted by C. Scott Ananian at December 11, 2005 03:58 PM

> Stories usually get exaggerated
> after the fact ("he said he had
> a bomb!") to cover up mistakes.

I believe the verb you're looking for is "lied about," not "exaggerated."

Posted by S. Templar at December 11, 2005 05:52 PM

Every bag you carry onto a plane goes through an x-ray. The consideration that something may or may not be a bomb has to be weighed with that in mind; not to mention that nobody has ever even tried to get a backpack bomb into an airport. It would be very, very, very difficult, if not impossible.

Posted by Elizabeth at December 12, 2005 01:35 AM

Every bag you carry onto a plane goes through an x-ray. The consideration that something may or may not be a bomb has to be weighed with that in mind; not to mention that nobody has ever even tried to get a backpack bomb into an airport. It would be very, very, very difficult, if not impossible.

And yet: if someone pulls out a gun on a plane, would you sit back and say, "Ah, well, you can't actually get a gun onto a plane, so I'm sure there's nothing to worry about here"?

I'm with Dan on this. It's possible that reports were exaggerated--not "lied about", because I'm not assuming any sort of malicious intent, or any intent at all, in the misremembering--but all the same, what was the air marshall supposed to do?

And what would "we're going to work to make sure mistakes like this never happen again" mean? "Henceforth, we'll perform blood tests on passengers to ensure that, if they need medication, they've taken it"? "In the future, air marshalls will yell, 'Sir, either put the bag down or provide us with evidence that this is a psychotic break caused by bipolar disorder so that we may subdue you with minimal force'"? I mean, I'm annoyed by a lot of the so-called safety requirements that do positively nothing to make us safer, but I don't think this was one of them.

Posted by Lance at December 12, 2005 11:02 AM

Well, I don't think you can prevent future misinterpretations of situations -- but you could prevent accidental deaths by using some other method of disabling someone who's been identified as a potential threat. Is technology so backward right now that the only way to immobilize someone is to kill them? As Dan suggests -- stun guns? Don't those things work? I mean, what would the air marshals do if they had decided after the plane had taken off that he was dangerous? I was under the impression it wasn't safe to fire a gun on a plane. Cabin decompression and all that. (Or is that just Hollywood physics?)

Posted by Francis at December 12, 2005 11:15 AM

Hollywood physics. See this post for a summary of a Mythbusters episode about it. (Short version: shooting a hole in the side of the plane didn't so much as stir the Styrofoam peanuts they'd scattered in the aisle.)

I agree that disabling is better than killing; I don't know what the status of non-lethal weaponry is. Many of them may require physical contact (to, e.g., run electricity through the body); others (e.g. tranquilizer darts) are probably not fast-acting enough.

Posted by Lance at December 12, 2005 04:31 PM

Non-lethal weaponry has advanced into some impressive and occasionally terrifying areas in recent years. But the main problem is that they still tend to be better suited to open spaces and/or subduing a crowd than to subduing a single person in close proximity to others that you'd just as soon not harm. Also, given the sort of ventilation you're dealing with in a plane, most (if not all) of the chemical solutions (a large percentage of the new stuff) are infeasible.

Posted by Scott at December 13, 2005 08:56 PM

I think that non-lethal measures should have been used, but I don't think that tasers are a good idea. You don't want to run a current through someone claiming to be holding explosives. You need something that will incapacitate someone quickly, ideally cause no permanent injury, and not trigger any weapons he/she might be carrying.

Posted by K at December 14, 2005 11:39 AM

One of my writing students did a research paper on nonlethal weapons, and that's how I get the majority of my information these days, so I can back up Scott's statement with some small authority. Though not all methods are suited for that environment, it is THOROUGHLY fallacious to imply that the only options in this situation were killing the guy or getting blown up. Particularly since he seems not to have said he had a bomb in the first place.

My impression from your post, Francis, was that you were disturbed as much by the rhetoric surrounding the situation as by the situation itself, which is how I felt. It's one thing to have people getting shot to bits on planes, or cattle-herded out of planes and interrogated just for being near a guy who got shot to bits. It's another thing to be told that it was wholly appropriate, that it was reassuring, or that it sent a message to terrorists (um... "you can shut down a terminal by yelling"?).

Posted by Jess at December 14, 2005 02:37 PM

Jess: Yes, you've put my two-pronged set of qualms very well. The response is just another example of the current government's inability to admit error or give a flying fuck about the lives of innocent people. (Even when the innocent people are still alive! I wonder how that New Orleans reconstruction is coming along, anyway.)

Posted by Francis at December 14, 2005 03:18 PM
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