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Fourth Amendment Havoc

By Jessica Lee
Tuesday, November 13, 2001
Illustration by Josh Hagler

Just because we aren't hearing about it doesn't mean it's not happening.

Numerous violations of individuals' Fourth Amendment rights have occurred recently. The Bill of Rights protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure. Since the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, it now seems legitimate to infringe and abuse that right.

Government agents armed with machine guns escorted Nancy Ogen away from the boarding gate at Bangor International Airport in Bangor, Maine, last week, according to the radio program "Democracy Now." She didn't attempt to take a knife or scissors aboard the American Airlines flight to Chicago. Nor did she have any "terrorist-indicator" item like the Koran in her hand.

Hell, she didn't even look Muslim.

What was the problem then? It took, oddly, 10 minutes or so for the American Airlines attendant to check in Nancy Ogen. They didn't ask to see a copy of her flight itinerary, but they gave her a boarding pass marked with a huge "S." It was explained to her that she had been selected to participate in a random search.

Ogen was fine with that. She was a proponent of tighter baggage-search security, and thought that a bit of inconvenience was justified in order to make the airlines safer. She stepped aside to the search table where armed National Guard members dressed in nine yards of camouflage checked her bag.

While she watched the guardsman inspect her baggage, one of the zippers on her bag became jammed. She offered to help undo the zipper only to be grabbed on the arm by one of the guardsmen. At that point, she jerked her arm back and said in a stern voice, "Do not touch me."

Then the guardsman began yelling pro-war propaganda at her. "Don't you realize we have to kill them before they kill us," he screamed.

"I don't believe killing innocent, starving civilians in Afghanistan is going to help," she replied.

He once again grabbed her arm. The situation became a spectacle in the airport lobby. That was when the guardsman told Ogen she would not be able to board her plane because she had violated the baggage search procedure.

She was escorted away, surrounded by guards with automatic guns, and told, "The airport was closed to you until further notice and that your ticket would not be refunded." Not only could she not board her American Airlines flight, but any flight on any airline leaving Bangor.

She would later find out that the only thing she had done wrong was hold a position as a Green Party USA. coordinating committee member. Ogen was flying to Chicago to speak Friday night about a panel concerning pesticides as weapons of war. She had also helped the Green Party coordinate current anti-war efforts and was in charge of reporting those efforts to the Greens' national committee.

Apparently, when Ogen was checking in, the attendant found that she had been flagged in the computer. It can only be assumed it was the FBI, and according to the shaken-up Ogen, "I was targeted because the Green Party USA opposes the bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan· Not only did they stop me at the airport but some mysterious party had called the hotel and cancelled my reservation."

It is one thing when someone is detained because of a criminal record of armed robbery or connections with al-Qaida, but being detained for being a peace activist is inappropriate.

Some authority from above is abusing the power that the FBI shares and is dictating political agenda.

"I am shocked that U.S. military prevented one of our prominent Green Party Members from attending the meeting in Chicago," said Elizabeth Fattah, a GPUSA representative from Pennsylvania who drove to Chicago. "I am outraged at the way the Bill of Rights is being trampled upon."

The Airline Security Bill passed around over cocktails in Congress needs to get figured out. There needs to be a clear, defined line on what needs to be done to protect passengers, crew and people on the ground.

If every bag needs to be manually searched, or if a rule needs to be passed forbidding carry-on bags, then let's do it.

But profiling all airline customers according to their personal history is an absolute violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. No one should be afraid of an unarmed anti-war activist who promotes peace and health for all people.


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