Editor — This commentary appeared today, in the ‘Be Our Guest’ section of the New York Daily News
Congressional leaders fail to protect terror tipsters from insane lawsuits
He’s your son, riding a commuter train to work. Your daughter, taking the subway to go shopping downtown. Your grandparent, boarding an airplane at JFK en route to a family reunion. Your husband or wife, working anywhere in America.
John Doe is you. Me. All of us. And he’s in trouble.
Yesterday, members of Congress met in conference to finalize provisions of the 9/11 security bill, which implements the final recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. But as of press time, the Democratic majority was using a technicality to block the so-called John Doe amendment from being included in the bill.
The amendment, which protects citizen whistleblowers who report suspicious activity from being sued, was sponsored by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) after six imams who were removed from a U.S. Airways flight in November filed a lawsuit against the passengers who reported their behavior to flight crews.
Their lawsuit charges that the imams were victims of an “intentional” and “malicious” . . . “conspiracy to discriminate” and seeks compensatory and punitive damages from the airline and “John Doe” passengers – including an elderly couple who, according to legal papers, “purposely turned around to watch them” in the boarding area and then “made a cellular phone call.”
The John Doe legislation, called the Protecting Americans Fighting Terrorism Act, passed in the House in April with overwhelming bipartisan support, by a vote of 304-121 – including 105 Democrats. Now, King wants to include it in the 9/11 security legislation as a stand-alone measure to assure its passage apart from the larger bill. It is up to the majority leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whether they will allow the provision to be added to the bill. Reached by telephone yesterday, a senior Pelosi staffer refused several times to say whether Pelosi supports the John Doe legislation in principle.
Why? What could prevent any member of Congress from supporting no-brainer, bipartisan legislation that protects Good Samaritans from frivolous lawsuits? One possible motive: According to key Democrat leaders, John Doe protection will encourage “racial profiling.”
Let’s put this in perspective. The alleged conspiracy to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix was foiled by a Circuit City store clerk who alerted law enforcement after the suspects brought a video to the store for reformatting on DVD.
An FBI spokesman called the 23-year-old tipster an “unsung hero” and acknowledged that the plot would have gone undiscovered if he hadn’t stepped forward. The hero clerk later told reporters that after seeing several Middle Eastern-looking men shouting “Allah Akbar” while firing assault rifles and engaging in military-type maneuvers on the video, he discussed overnight with his family whether or not to call authorities. Lucky for us, he made the right decision.
But would he have made that call if he thought getting it wrong might require defending himself against a multimillion-dollar lawsuit? Would you? “An overwhelmingly bipartisan majority of Congress supports protecting vigilant citizens who are our first and sometimes last resource in the War on Terror,” said Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), co-author of the John Doe bill. “But unfortunately they’re not going to get the support of the new majority leadership in Congress.”
It has been nearly six years since 19 ordinary-looking men boarded four commercial airliners, killed all the pilots and then flew the planes into buildings and the ground.
One of those most haunted by that day is the airline employee who checked in two of the hijackers that morning. 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 “I was worried about being accused of being ‘racist’ and letting ‘prejudice’ get in the way.”
We disarm ourselves when we succumb to political correctness – which encourages us to second guess our common sense and look the other way. It is an outrage that Pelosi and Reid would allow individuals to be punished when they come forward to protect us all.
Editor — Debra Burlingame is a co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America, the sister of Charles Burlingame III who was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77 that terrorists hijacked and then crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and a director of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation.