Air marshals shoot agitated man, distressed wife, guy on cell phone, woman looking for restroom, pizza delivery guy, coroner
After air marshals mistakenly shot to death an agitated man on an American Airlines flight on December 7, it was discovered that the man, Rigoberto Alpizar, was unarmed, not violent, and did not claim—as was initially reported by the air marshals—that he had a bomb. Air marshal spokesman Mac Freefire defended the actions by saying, "The air marshals thought the man had a bomb. Their actions were consistent with their training."
He went on to defend the subsequent actions of the air marshals, who proceeded to shoot the man's wife, a passenger talking on a cell phone, a woman looking for a restroom, and later—when they were waiting for the county coroner to arrive—a man delivering a pizza, as well as—on his arrival—the county coroner.
Asked to describe the training that air marshals receive, Freefire said, "They're trained to identify threats and terminate them."
Asked for examples of "threats," he replied, "Pretty much anybody causing a disturbance such as talking loudly, gesturing wildly, or moving quickly."
When it was pointed out that airports are full of such agitated passengers trying to catch flights, Freefire shrugged. "That's right. Those people are all threats—pretty much any passenger. Or airport attendant. Or crewman. Or even a pet in a pet carrier. Any one of them could be carrying a bomb. In fact, statistics show that airport security is still kind of lax, which suggests that some of them must be carrying bombs."
Asked if it is really necessary to assume that all people creating a disturbance are carrying bombs, the spokesman replied, "Remember, we blow up pieces of luggage that are left unattended, and they don't make any noise at all. We can't treat passengers any differently from luggage. That would be racial profiling."
Freefire went on to explain the air marshals' methods. "We point our weapons and shout very loudly for the person to drop everything they are holding or carrying—including anything attached to them, such as a backpack or fanny pack or fragile archeological artifact or live baby—then remain silent and not attempt to explain themselves, and then get completely flat on the ground—in that order. And if they don't comply immediately, or comply in a way that seems suspicious, we take that as confirmation that they have a bomb."
Historically, suicide bombers almost never create a disturbance before detonating their bombs, and when they do, they do it by actually announcing they have a bomb, displaying it prominently, and praying loudly to Allah. Spokesman Freefire responded, "Someday that might not be the case, so we want to err on the side of caution by always killing anyone we suspect, just in case. This is common policy in the UK, too."
Asked why they didn't heed warnings from the man's wife the Alpizar was sick and had not taken his medication, he explained, "They're trained to ignore distractions. Distractions would get in the way of their judgment, which is to shoot anyone who might be a terrorist. Therefore, they need to ignore anything that suggests they might not be a terrorist. That's just common sense."
Questioned about why they shot the man's wife and other passengers, he offered, "Air marshals are trained to look for other people who may be in cahoots with the terrorist: people creating a distraction, for example. And cell phones are used to detonate bombs, you know, so a guy on a cell phone in the airplane might be calling the phone attached to the bomb, if there had been one, but who wants to find out before shooting? Not me." When it was pointed out that pretty much everyone in an airport has a cell phone, Freefire replied, "Exactly. And we find that very, very suspicious."
Asked about the woman shot dead while looking for a restroom, Freefire explained, "She was kind of half-jogging. That's a tactic they teach in al-Qaeda training camps."
Called upon to explain the deaths of the pizza delivery man and the county coroner, the spokesman described historical incidents that matched the pattern. "These people are very wily. In 1972, the PLO terrorists who kidnapped and killed the Israeli Olympic team were dressed as little old ladies. And in 1981, the guys who assassinated Anwar Sadat were all disguised as Japanese tourists who had become lost on their way to the pyramids. And of course, just recently, the suicide bombers who blew up a wedding reception in Jordan slipped in by pretending to be vinyl siding salesmen with head colds."
When it was suggested that cultivating an assumption of danger could lead to more mistakes, the spokesman again defended the December 7 shootings as justified and not a mistake. "If an air marshal feels his life is in danger, then it is his duty to kill the suspect." When it was pointed out that by this guideline, it was actually impossible for air marshals to make a mistake, Freefire replied, "Well, they're not infallible. They could, for example, shoot the suspect in the shoulder or something and only wound him. That would be a mistake."
Asked why the air marshals used deadly force rather than non-lethal weapons such as mace or tasers, Freefire explained, "We don't arm the air marshals with non-lethal weapons. They aren't much good against a bomb. The key, as we see it, is to shoot the suspect from as far away as possible, then inspect the corpse for any explosive device."
When told that the avowed experts in the field of anti-terrorism, Israeli security, regularly avoids lethal force in favor of merely trying to stop the suspect from activating an explosive device, Freefire scoffed. "That's liable to get you killed. We're actually beginning to think that firearms aren't lethal enough. We want to be able to kill the suspect at even greater distances, such as from a command bunker. We're considering using armed UAV drones or maybe remotely-triggered landmines prearranged thruout airports."
Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff was sanguine. "Well, we give these guys guns and train them to stop terrorists. It's like giving a guy a hammer and telling him to hit every nail he sees. And then there aren't really any nails. In a situation like that, there are going to be a lot of loose screws that get nailed accidentally."
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