Enabling Bullies

This July, traveling by Greyhound, I arrived in Detroit from Windsor, Canada. A dog sniffed all passengers for drugs, and a border agent checked our bags. U.S. citizens produced IDs, while foreigners displayed visas and/or passports. Nothing was out of the ordinary except for this exchange I had with an officer:

“Why are you going to Detroit?”

“I’ve never been here. I just want to check it out.”

“How long will you stay?”

“Just a couple of days.”

“Where will you stay?”

“At a motel… on Jefferson Street, I think.” Normally, I can’t instantly recall the street of my hotel, or even its name.

“Where will you go after Detroit?”

“Home, to Philadelphia. I live in Philadelphia.”

“Where did you buy this ticket?”

“Online.”

“It says Dallas on your ticket.”

“Huh, I don’t know, maybe that’s the headquarters for Greyhound. I bought my ticket online.”

Then he let me go. It was truly weird, that brief grilling, and totally unnecessary. An American returning home should not have to answer any of these questions. As long as I carried no contraband, it should not matter why I was going to Detroit, how long I would stay, or where I bought my ticket. The only two tasks of our border agents are 1) To stop anyone from entering this country illegally, and 2) To prevent people from bringing banned substances into the U.S. Maybe this officer simply assumed that there were no legitimate reasons for anyone to visit Detroit? But so what if I was irrational or insane? He still had to let me in. Maybe I had a dollar in my pocket and wanted to buy a spacious home, right outside downtown. Maybe I couldn’t wait to have a Coney Island hot dog, then a raccoon quiche… Again, an American coming home should not have to explain himself, especially if he was arriving from Canada, and not an enemy country like North Korea. Maybe I had no place to stay in Detroit and was ready to join the thousands sleeping on its empty lots or inside its abandoned buildings. He still had to let me in. What would he do if I gave an unsatisfying answer? Kick me back to Canada?

It’s only routine to ask foreign nationals for where they would stay while in the U.S. On October 28th, 2002, National Review examined the visa applications of 15 of the 9/11 alleged hijackers. (Four applications were not available.) Of these, only one listed an address. The rest scribbled nonsensical answers such as “Wasantwn,” “Hotel D.C.,” “Hotel” or “JKK Whyndham Hotel.” One simply wrote “NO,” as to where he would stay. There were additional problems with each of these applications, yet all the men were granted visas, absurdly enough. The attitude of these alleged hijackers was not just casual, it was flippant, as if they knew this annoying procedure was entirely unnecessary, a mere formality.

Similarly, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, could expect to fly from Amsterdam to Detroit without a passport. With the right string pulled, who needs a stupid document? Before boarding, Abdulmutallab was spotted by an American couple, lawyer Kurt Haskell and his wife, Lori. This shabbily dressed, 23-year-old Nigerian was accompanied by a suited, Indian-looking man around 50-years-old. The odd pair caught the Haskells’ attention. Speaking in American accented English, the Indian-looking man intervened with the ticket agent to get Abdulmutallab onboard, “He is from Sudan, we do this all the time.” Who are “we,” Haskell would wonder later, if not the U.S. government?

Abdulmutallab then tried to blow up the plane, but eighty grams of PETN couldn’t explode without a blasting cap. Bumbling Umar didn’t know that, however, so only his crotch was martyred. Online, Abdulmutallab had often complained about controlling his sex drive, how even “The hair of a woman can easily arouse a man,” how, despite much effort, he couldn’t always lower his gaze at the sight of female flesh. Perhaps Abdulmutallab was only trying to purify himself by making mince meat out of his ragingly persistent endowment. Down, boy, down! The lives of the hundreds of infidels were just an extra bonus.

Not amused, Kurt Haskell wanted to know who this Indian-looking man was. When the F.B.I. visited him four days after the incident, Haskell asked if they had brought the Amsterdam security video so he could help to identify this enabler of terrorism, “but they acted as though my request was ridiculous.” There was no follow up investigation. Someone did bother to phone Haskell, however, to warn him, rather menacingly, that it was “in [his] best interest to stop talking publicly” about this episode.

So people who should be stopped are not stopped, but Americans returning home are sometimes subjected to ridiculous questions, or worse. In January of this year, journalist and photographer Michael Yon was handcuffed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for refusing to answer a question about his annual salary. “When they handcuffed me,” Yon relates, “I said that no country has ever treated me so badly. Not China. Not Vietnam. Not Afghanistan. Definitely not Singapore or India or Nepal or Germany, not Brunei, not Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Kuwait or Qatar or United Arab Emirates. No country has treated me with the disrespect that can be expected from our border bullies.” Yon concluded that a question about his income had nothing to do with airport security, and he was right, obviously. It only takes common sense to figure that out, except that our national security is no longer based on common sense.

In 2008, at Lubbock Airport, Mandi Hamlin was forced to remove her nipple rings before she could board a flight. As male TSA agents snickered nearby, she had to use pliers to take one off. Why was her humiliating and painful ordeal necessary? How could nipple rings ever be a security threat, unless, of course, it’s not about security at all, but power.

Also in 2008, Robert Perry, a 71-year-old man in a wheelchair, was at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when he set off the metal detector. Perry explained that it was likely his artificial knee that had caused the alarm, but a TSA agent still pulled his pants down in view of other passengers. Humiliated, Perry asked to see a supervisor. She came but, instead of showing common sense or, God forbid, compassion, only pounded on her chest, “I have power! I have power! I have power!” How asinine must you be to assume that there was even a remotest chance that this old man had implanted a bomb inside his own knee? No fresh suture marks, see? Are you happy now?

Of course, it’s not about security or common sense, but power. At its essence, power is always the ability to dictate, control or violate another body. Power means “I can lay my hand on you,” if not, “I can fuck you up.” The sexual aspect is not incidental. Before a black man was lynched, he was often stripped naked and displayed. Stripped naked, Iraqi prisoners were forced to perform humiliating acts and/or stacked onto pyramids. Perhaps we should replace the generic pyramid on our dollar bill with disrobed detainees? They don’t have to be foreigners, since we also strip our domestic prisoners. Perhaps we can have pyramids of naked airline passengers on dollar bills? Novus ordo seclorum, New order of the ages!

Power is also the ability to be unjust, irrational or merely stupid. Although it makes no sense, I will do this to you because I can. Take the current prohibition against taking photos in certain places. A real terrorist would not take a photo, then plant a bomb. He would just plant his bomb. Again, it’s not really about security, but power. Even as Big Brother sees through your clothes, he can arrest you for snapping a photo in public.

As we experience further turbulence in the years ahead, economically and socially, expect to see more bullying from our government and its agents, even the pettiest. Especially the pettiest. Unwilling to restore meaning and purpose, they will subject their subjects to more absurd orders. Craving solutions, many of us will mistake their ridiculous commands for answers.

Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He's tracking our deteriorating social scape through his frequently updated photo blog, Postcards from the End of America. Read other articles by Linh.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on November 25th, 2010 at 7:36am #

    I am glad you made reference to the interview with the the lawyer Mr Haskell and his wife on the CNN video that I posted a link to on your previous article. It should have a wide audience to expose the false flag.

    You refer to North Korea as an enemy. An ally according to Mrs Palin!

    http://thinkprogress.org/2010/11/24/palin-north-korea

  2. bozh said on November 25th, 2010 at 9:47am #

    i, unlike dinh, do not deem or call korea, my enemy. in fact, it had not been ever even a threat to u.s or canada let alone ever threatened to attack or had attacked u.s or nato.
    it is a fact that nato attacked korea; thus one can deem and call nato-u.s enemy of korea.
    and to this day supremacists threaten and impose sanctions on korea. and the reason is? because koreans [99% of them] are not snobbish; i.e., supremacistic.
    and that is a crime according to u.s constitution.
    and has to be destroyed! tnx

  3. mary said on November 25th, 2010 at 12:26pm #

    I am glad you made reference to the interview with the the lawyer Mr Haskell and his wife on the CNN video that I posted a link to on your previous article. It should have a wide audience to expose the false flag.

    You refer to North Korea as an enemy. An ally according to Mrs Palin!

    thinkprogress.org/2010/11/24/palin-north-korea

  4. linhdinh99 said on November 25th, 2010 at 12:43pm #

    Hi Bozh and Mary,

    I was only refering to our government’s attitude towards North Korea, not my own opinion.

  5. bozh said on November 25th, 2010 at 2:16pm #

    linh,
    in that case “korea as enemy” ought have been put under single quotes; which gives a warning about validity of such label. it also saves saying socalled.
    but ur explanation does suffice!
    i think that if one puts the label enemy korea under double quotes, it wld stand for what u.s-nato thinks.
    some people prefer single quotes for labels that depict a fictitious reality.
    single quotes indicate that the label is not used elemenatalisticly; i.e., existing of itself or for itself.
    eg, ‘govt’! which cannot exist without people, country, governance, laws, education, spies, courts, etc. it is connected with all events.
    from this one can see why people condemn ‘big govt’. smaller the ‘govt’, the larger privatization of governance.
    this is what supremacists want more and more governance in private hands. it seems they never have enough of it!
    but it does seem that 90% of u.s system of rule is in private hands already. supremacists want, i expect, 100%. tnx

  6. hayate said on November 25th, 2010 at 2:23pm #

    From the article:

    “Of course, it’s not about security or common sense, but power.”

    Zionist power.

  7. hayate said on November 26th, 2010 at 8:00pm #

    Not satified with the extent of her current freakshow of perverts neonazipolitano wants the power to rape and grope just about anywhere people use transportation. Will this sick freak ever be satified?

    Napolitano Eyes Full Body Scans for Trains, Ships, Mass Transit
    Slams Groups that Object to Intrusive Searches
    by Jason Ditz, November 25, 2010

    [http://news.antiwar.com/2010/11/25/napolitano-eyes-full-body-scans-for-trains-ships-mass-transit]

    She should have been removed from society and put in prison decades ago.

  8. hayate said on November 26th, 2010 at 8:03pm #

    The Anti-TSA Backlash: It Ain’t Just a Right-Wing Thing
    Posted by Kevin Carson on Nov 25, 2010 in Commentary

    (excerpts)

    Well, it seems Homeland Security and the TSA are classifying the anti-TSA backlash as a “domestic extremist” movement. A DHS memo from Janet Napolitano referred to the individuals who tried to “interfere with” the new airport security regime by objecting to it or opting out, along with public commentators and organized movements which encouraged such behavior, as “domestic extremists.” She called on the government to investigate individuals and movements associated with the anti-TSA backlash.

    And now MSNBC’s Chris Matthews is dismissing the anti-TSA movement as a bunch of right-wingers. Monday night (Nov. 22) Matthews did a segment on the new back-scatter body scan machines. One of the guests, Ginger McCall of the Open Government Project and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, cited evidence that the machines are ineffective at detecting low-density materials like the powdered explosive carried by the Underwear Bomber, and simply create an “illusion of security.”…

    [http://c4ss.org/content/5076]

  9. hayate said on November 26th, 2010 at 8:09pm #

    ‘They were staring me up and down': Woman claimed TSA security staff singled her out for her breasts

    By Daily Mail Reporter
    Last updated at 6:12 PM on 26th November 2010

    (Excerpts)

    ‘It was pretty obvious. One of the guys that was staring me up and down was the one who pulled me over,’ she said. ‘Not a comfortable feeling.’

    Privacy-invasion claims like Sutherland’s have become increasingly common since the TSA introduced the full body scan.

    [http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1332967/Woman-claimed-TSA-security-staff-singled-breasts.html#ixzz16Rs8aM3Q]

  10. hayate said on November 26th, 2010 at 8:30pm #

    November 24, 2010
    Is TSA Spreading Cancer? [yes-h]
    Invasion of the Body Scanners

    By JAMES RIDGEWAY

    [http://www.counterpunch.org/ridgeway11242010.html]

  11. hayate said on November 26th, 2010 at 8:32pm #

    November 24, 2010
    False Choices and Airport Security
    First a Hand on Your Crotch, Next a Boot in Your Face

    By MICHAEL SCOTT

    [http://www.counterpunch.org/scott11242010.html]

  12. ArmyOfAardvarks said on November 26th, 2010 at 9:36pm #

    You should not be harassed like this when traveling from place to place within the United States. However, if you’re crossing an international border, they can ask you any questions you want. You have rights as a US citizen, but when you’re crossing a border, they really don’t know who you are, passport or not.

  13. linhdinh99 said on November 27th, 2010 at 9:00am #

    Hi ArmyOfAardvarks,

    I’ve crossed many, many borders, and I can understand these questions being posed to foreigners coming into a country, but not to a returning citizen. I can also understand this kind of questioning if I was driving in, say, from Juarez or Ojinaga, which I have, since drugs or weapons could easily be concealed in a car, but I don’t understand these questions being posed to a bus passenger returning home, with his passport. As stated, they opened my two small bags and found nothing. A dog sniffed me for drugs. This year, I crossed into the U.S. from Canada twice, and only in Detroit did I encounter these unnecessary questions.

    In fact, I had almost none or no questioning at all entering South Korea, Iceland, Germany, France, England, etc.

  14. hayate said on November 27th, 2010 at 9:42pm #

    linhdinh99

    “only in Detroit did I encounter these unnecessary questions.”

    You think detroit is bad, check out what they do in the Mormon capital of salt lake city, utah:

    [http://twitpic.com/39vngw]

    Caption: WTF is going on at the #SLC airport? Pants around the knees, #TSA? Really?

    (I posted this here yesterday, but apparently one of the editors at DV doesn’t like criticism of Mormons. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this censorship over criticism of Mormons. It happened before when I posted info about the Mormon funding of anti-gay initiatives in california)