Better Luck Next Time

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Last weekend the Spanish economist Alex Segura was handcuffed, searched, and subjected to a three-hour interrogation at Dulles Airport, all because he had the same name as a fellow on a watch list. You can read his account of the experience here.

Christiana Halsey, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was sympathetic when contacted by the Los Angeles Times. "The next time he travels," she said, "hopefully this will not occur."

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  1. There is a difference between subjecting yourself to questioning upon entering a foreign country and subjecting yourself to questioning or arrest by local police at their discretion. The second is definitely undesireable and violates liberties. I am not convinced the first is undesireable from a liberty standpoint.

    I think the confusion on this issue arises from people categorizing this event in the second category I detailed instead of in the first. Righteous indignation is deserved for events in the first; this is not one of those.

    You can argue the merits of such a program as it is not clear that this method is effective. But it is difficult argue that this event exhibits a violation of civil liberties. That was my point.

  2. Correction: Righteous indignation is deserved for events in the *second*; this is not one of those.

    Basically, get mad when cops stop random people. Don’t get mad when border guards ask questions. These are two VERY different events.

  3. By and large, I’m not too concerned about the part about asking questions.

    Where the problem lies is not in the questioning, but in the rationale unerlying the circumstances that lead to it. Additionally, the handcuffing and three hour detainment are arguably excessive based only on the trigger event of his name matching a database entry. There’s no legitimate reason why such a level of detainment is necessary to determine that this person wasn’t the one they were looking for.

    I’ve been stopped (by local police) for fitting a description in one instance, and my name on my ID had matched that of someone being searched for in another. In both cases, my identity was confirmed (as not matching the object of the search) in less than 5 minutes each time.

    These events occurred about 20 years ago. If the current system cannot match that level of effectiveness after 20 years of advancement, then that system is fundamentally broken, and needs to be removed immediately before any further harm is created by a completely broken process.

  4. Jack:

    Command this case was on the second not the first. How can you detailed this case on the first category if the spanish guy was not questioned only, he was handcuffed and taken without explanation somewhere else to be questioned. Now you call that not being arrested? Not a violation of your rights? Command!

  5. I have seen many attitudes like Aargh’s on this and other postings. There seems to be this attitude that nobody should complain about inconvenience; so long as the government is not actually gassing you in a death chamber or shooting you on the street you have no right to complain. After all, being handcuffed and detained and questioned didn’t KILL the guy, right? Imagine this logic applied elsewhere:

    “Being forced to go to Catholic Confession and say the Hail Mary takes five lousy minutes out of your day. Why are you complaining?”

    “Why so scared of the national ID card? Are you so weak and pathetic that the extra sixteenth of an ounce in your wallet will strain your muscles?”

    “Bowing to Mecca five times a day is not that big a deal. You could use the exercise anyway.”

    “What’s wrong with wearing a burka? Where in the Constitution does it say you have the right to dress like a slut and expose your face to strangers?”

    Please, people, lose this idea that as long as we’re not actually Nazis we have nothing to fear.

  6. Jennifer– I agree with you that it is good to be watchful regarding civil liberties. The problem is that civil rights advocates have reached for hyperbole (eg Bush=Hitler) often enough that people start to have the “cry wolf” syndrome. Since they can see that Bush does not equal Hitler and that we are not living in a gulag, the credibility of the advocates wanes, even on legitemate issues.

  7. K-

    You do make a good point. If civil libertarians make Nazi analogies, we shouldn’t be shocked if there is an equally ridiculous response along the lines of “As long as they don’t shoot you don’t get upset.” The solution is obviously to continue vigilantly opposing an incursion against civil liberties, but avoid saying “This is as bad as Nazi Germany/the Soviet Union/insert other bad place here.”

  8. K-
    I agree with you that people need to stop crying Hitler all the time, but that has no bearing on this specific example; when Jesse Walker put this story on Hit and Run, I don’t recall him using any hyperbole at all. Yet what was the very first posting? “So he was handcuffed for three hours? Big deal! Quit whining! Quit complaining! What’s the big deal?”

    Again: there seems to be a growing attitude that so long as you’re not actually tortured or killed you have no reason to complain, and if you do then you get deep thinkers like Aargh saying, in effect, “Six million Jews died in the Holocaust and you have the gall to complain about spending a month in prison without being charged?”

    In other words, if there has ever been anyone in history who suffered worse than you, only paranoid people should worry about it. And this is the attitude that folks seem to think will lead to a better America?

  9. Jennifer,

    Aren’t you the schoolteacher? Your examples remind me of what teachers used to tell us when we complained about too many books to carry!

    Man I used to hate it when they said the exercise would be good for us!!! 🙂

    BTW, good posts!

  10. Jesse Walker:

    “But when you put all the stories like this one together, they add up to something pretty ugly.”

    I think I remember a story covered here about some kid who left a note in his suitcase to the effect that the officials should stay out of his stuff. When they found the note, instead of just putting it back, the thugs arrested or in some manner harassed the innocent kid.

  11. Rick-
    The note was along the lines of “Dear Jerks, there are no bombs in my luggage so stop looking.” Somehow this translated into a bomb threat.

    Fyodor-
    I never say that crap to my students because I remember how it irritated me. But isn’t it a useful attitude for tyrants? “Quit bitching about segregation, Martin Luther King. A hundred years ago you would have been a slave, and here you have the nerve to complain just because you can’t sit in the front seat of the bus?”

  12. OH MY GOD!! HELD IN A ROOM FOR THREE HOURS!! QUESTIONED POLITELY WHILE A KIND OFFICER WAS NICE ENOUGH TO INFORM HIS (EIGHT-MONTH PREGNANT [NATCH]) WIFE THAT HE WAS DETAINED!! HOLY HOLY!! CALL AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL!! HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH!! BUSHILTER!! ASHCROFT!! GUANTANAMO!! HALLIBURTON!!!! AAAAHHHH!!!!!

    It’s nonsensical tempest-teacup outrages like these that make people take all the anti-american crowds completely unseriously.

  13. I do hope that future commenters here will respond to the actual accounts I linked to, rather than to Aargh’s ridiculous and profoundly stupid caricature of them.

  14. It’s moronic comments like Aargh’s that allow the erosion of our rights over time. What do people think, the gubmint’s all of a sudden going to start destroyong homes and arresting everyone who’s looks “different”? This is how is goes, people are apathetic about losing their rights and they never get them back.

  15. You try to stop people from attacking you by watching who comes into your country and questioning those you deem suspect. Will you miss some attackers? Yes. Will you suspect some non-attackers? Yes. Which error is worse? Likely the first. So, if you set up a process that minimizes the risk of missing attackers, then you will increase the chance of false alarms. This is what happened here. There are false alarms.

    Seems like much ado about nothing to me. Aargh’s characterization was grating but not stupid. The economist didn’t lose a hand. He was nicely questioned. No big deal. Move along now.

  16. “…ridiculous and profoundly stupid caricature(s)…”

    What? Here?

  17. The reason this is a subtle argument is that it is opposite of what we typically consider proper. Normally, it is worse to jail an innocent than to fail to jail someone who’s guilty. But here, we are merely questioning, not jailing, so the error that is considered worse is reversed.

    I would argue that being questioned in this matter is not an assault on civil liberties. Being jailed would be, but that’s not the case here.

  18. No big deal. Move along now.

    The man was handcuffed unnecessarily and otherwise treated in a demeaning manner. When he was released, different officials gave him completely contradictory advice as to how to avoid future troubles of this kind. A spokeswoman tells the press that “hopefully” it won’t happen to him again.

    And yeah, it would be a tempest in a teapot if this were just one guy’s bad experience. But when you put all the stories like this one together, they add up to something pretty ugly. No, not to “Bushitler” and the other stuff that Aargh somehow read into the post. But still something nasty.

  19. FUCK YOU Jack,
    You do not fight crime by first “watching who comes into your country and questioning those you deem suspect”. You do it by actual detective work. Try gathering some evidence before you start harassing the presumed innocent asshole. Some might even say you need a warrant issued, upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, before you detain someone’s person. Of course being a foreigner, it’s not like he’s a full fledged human being or anything so that shit just doesn’t apply.

  20. Hitting the sauce a little early today, eh Warren?

  21. He has a Spanish name. Has anybody confirmed that he isn’t part of the extensive network of MEChA sleeper cells preparing a Reconquista of the Southwest?

    See Lonewacko for more details.

  22. The man was handcuffed, escorted off an airplane, and questioned (interrogated). This the same treatment anyone suspected of a felony would expect (the handcuffs may a bit over the top, in these circumstances).

    The difference is that he was not allowed to use the phone, contact a lawyer, his embassy (if he was a foreigner). That is tyranny.

    United States of America — it was nice while it lasted.

  23. BigPhil,

    Yes, it was. (sigh)

  24. I just wonder what they spent three hours asking Mr. Segura. It seems like the only question that really needed answering was “Are you actually the guy we have on The List.” If the airport protectors and defenders can’t answer that one, all else seems moot.

    Of course, the real bad dudes are probably in class somewhere learning to fake ID cards. Step One: Don’t pick a name on The List.

    As for Mr. Segura’s next time, they could at least offer him an “I’ve already been hassled” card.

  25. What do people think, the gubmint’s all of a sudden going to start destroyong homes and arresting everyone who’s looks “different”?

    Another attack or two the size of 9/11 and I would have to answer, YES! Its best to be critical now before some god awful legislation creates this kind of scenario. Already we have Bush campaign ads suggesting Kerry is soft on terrorism and looking to reverse the patriot act. I sure as hell don’t want to see a scenario where a politician must be seen as taking a hard stance on terrorism and inacting legislation similar to what we have seen in the war on drugs. We still have cases of narcotic tasks force kicking down doors and opening fire on innocents based on info supplied by a crack addict “informant” looking at avoiding prison himself/herself.

    I am with Warren.

  26. One of the comments of the Chairman of the World Bank Staff Association was, “If you are traveling, always take your passport with you.”

    We have reached the point where Americans are expected to carry internal passports.

    Ignore the troll.

  27. To Jack and Aargh (and other like minded sycophants), feel free to volunteer to undergo the process you deem so necessary, and let the rest of us enjoy freedom.

    The most telling thing about ALL of these methods that *allegedly* protect us from the next big bad terrorist is that they don’t actually work at their stated goal. They might catch a few of the really stupid ones, but a *legitimate* method of investigation will generally catch the smart ones as well as the stupid ones, and the legitimate methods won’t be needlessly harassing everyone else. Additionally, given the demonstrated lack of any *real* ability possessed by these appointed guardians of the gate, the methods in place now are actually *more* likely to fail to catch someone with real harm on their mind.

  28. Why do I suspect the “Jack” who’s posting these days is actually Stephen Fetchet under a new alias?

  29. I know exactly how that arrested man feels!

  30. Jennifer,

    Bravo on both points!!

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