Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We're Going To Need A Lot More Bullets

If our policy - well established by our stalwart British allies - is to gun down anyone who looks vaguely out of place in a public space, I for one will be buying stock in an ammunition company. If we're going to shoot anyone who is rambling, incoherent or strange at every airport, train station and bus terminal in America, we'll be going through a lot of brass.


Blogger Management said...

White House backs air marshals' actions
Marshals', witnesses' accounts differ on jet bomb threat claim

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One day after federal air marshals shot and killed an unarmed airplane passenger in Miami, Florida, the White House defended the marshals' actions.

"From what we know, the team of air marshals acted in a way that is consistent with the training that they have received," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters at Thursday's briefing.

The two air marshals said Rigoberto Alpizar had made a bomb threat.

McClellan said the agents acted Wednesday to protect other passengers.

"It appears that they followed the protocols and did what they were trained to do," he said. (Watch some non-lethal alternatives -- 1:32)

"Air marshals receive extensive training, some of the most extensive of any law enforcement agency, and we are very appreciative for all that our air marshals are doing to protect the American people," McClellan said.

McClellan also said that a "standard investigation" was under way and noted that investigations help officials "learn lessons and apply those to future training and protocols."

The two marshals who fired at Alpizar were placed on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, the air marshal service said.

Both became federal air marshals in 2002, Adams said, and are based in Miami. One was a border patrol agent for four years, the other was a customs inspector for two. Both had unblemished records.

Alpizar had boarded American Airlines Flight 924 in Miami to fly to Orlando, Florida. The 44-year-old Maitland, Florida, resident was on his way home.

"Rigo Alpizar was a loving, gentle and caring husband, uncle, brother, son and friend," Jeanne Jentsch said said of her brother-in-law.

"He was born in Costa Rica and became a proud American citizen several years ago. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Standing next to other family members Thursday, Jentsch would not take questions from the reporters outside her Maitland, home and asked the media to leave her property and respect her request for privacy.
Questions about bomb threat

Investigators are trying to piece together the final moments before the shooting as questions are rising about whether Alpizar made a bomb threat.

The marshals say Alpizar announced he was carrying a bomb before being killed.

However, no other witness has publicly concurred with that account. Only one passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off, I've got to get off," CNN's Kathleen Koch reported.

No explosives were found onboard the aircraft. It was the first time a federal air marshal fired a weapon at someone since the program was bolstered after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said Alpizar had run up and down the plane's aisle yelling, "I have a bomb in my bag."

Adams said Alpizar then fled the aircraft and marshals confronted him on the boarding bridge.

"They asked the gentleman, 'Drop your bag, drop your bag. Come to the ground. I'm a federal law enforcement officer. Police. Drop your bag,'" Adams told CNN.

"He failed to comply with their commands, continued approaching the air marshals claiming he had a bomb in his bag. And then they ordered him again down to the ground. He didn't."

The marshals fired two or three shots when Alpizar appeared to reach into his bag, Adams said.

"Based on their training they had to take the appropriate action to defuse the situation to prevent a danger to themselves and also passengers in the terminal," Adams said.

One law enforcement source said the backpack had drawn attention because Alpizar wore it over his chest, not his back.
Passengers say man was agitated

Alpizar's wife, Anne Buechner, tried to help her husband.

"She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick," said passenger Alan Tirpak. When the woman returned, "she just kept saying the same thing over and over, and that's when we heard the shots."

Tirpak said he didn't hear Alpizar say anything.

Another passenger, Mary Gardner of Orlando, said she also overheard Buechner. "I heard her say, 'He's bipolar. He doesn't have his medicine,'" Gardner recalled. (Watch passenger's account: 'Something going on wasn't right' -- 3:21)

Gardner said that the couple had quarreled before the shooting.

Ellen Sutliff, who said she sat near Alpizar on the flight into Miami from Quito, Ecuador, described him as agitated even then. His wife kept coaxing him, saying, " 'We just have to get through customs. Please, please help me get through this,' " according to Sutliff. (Watch video surveillance tape of the man in the Ecuador airport -- 1:34)

"'We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right,' " Sutliff quoted the wife as saying.

Passenger Mike Beshears recalled Alpizar running off the plane clutching a bag, chased by a man in a Hawaiian shirt.

That man turned out to be one of the two air marshals.

Like Tirpak, Beshears said he did not hear Alpizar say anything. "He just was in a hurry and exited the plane," he said.

After Alpizar ran off the plane, his wife pursued him part of the way down the aisle, then returned to her seat saying her husband was sick and she needed to get his bags, Beshears said.

"After she passed back toward her seat ... a number of shots rang out -- at least five, up to six, shots rang out," Beshears recalled.

Alpizar's mother-in-law told CNN affiliate WKMG that he suffered from bipolar disorder.

Symptoms for the manic-depressive illness, during its manic stage, can include increased energy, activity and restlessness; extreme irritability; poor judgment; and provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

There are often periods of normal behavior between the manic and depressive stages, and the disorder can be stabilized with medication, the NIMH said.

CNN's Elaine Quijano contributed to this report.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Rigoberto Alpizar and Jean Charles de Menezes: Two victims of state “anti-terror” killings
By Bill Van Auken
12 December 2005

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The state killings of Rigoberto Alpizar and Jean Charles de Menezes came four-and-a-half months apart, and an ocean separated the scenes of their violent deaths. Yet the similarities between their fates is undeniable. Both were innocent men brutally executed by undercover agents—in one case American, in the other British—prosecuting the so-called “global war on terror.”

Both were Latin American immigrants, gunned down on the grounds that they supposedly posed a terrorist threat. The reaction in their home countries—Brazil in the case of de Menezes, Costa Rica in that of Alpizar—was one of anger and disbelief.

De Menezes, an electrician, was shot to death July 22 on a London subway car that he had boarded on his way to work. Plainclothes cops burst in after him and, without warning, grabbed him and shot him multiple times in the head.

Police initially reported that de Menezes had been followed leaving the home of a suspected terrorist wearing a bulky jacket on a hot day. They claimed that when they challenged him at the entrance to the subway station, de Menezes bolted over a ticket barrier and attempted to escape before he was caught, overpowered, and shot in the head by cops seeking to prevent him from detonating a bomb.

It quickly became evident that there was no bomb and that the man they had killed had no connection to terrorism whatsoever.

Citing security concerns in the “war on terror,” London’s metropolitan police commissioner tried to quash any independent investigation of the killing. Rejecting the notion that the police should be held accountable for killing an innocent man, he insisted that the public accept that cops have to make “hard decisions” in order to prevent terrorist attacks.

Within weeks of the killing, however, documents and film footage leaked to the media made it clear that every aspect of the police story on the killing was a lie, and the police commissioner’s concern for security was in reality part of an elaborate cover-up.

It emerged that de Menezes had come not from the house of suspected terrorists, but a different apartment in the same three-story building. He was not wearing a heavy coat, had not jumped over a ticket barrier and was never even challenged by police. He was calmly seated in the subway car when, without warning, one cop seized and held him while two others executed him, pumping seven bullets into his head.

The entire police story was made up after the fact to justify the murder of an innocent man.

Then last Wednesday came the killing of Rigoberto Alpizar, a naturalized US citizen from Costa Rica who had resided in the US for more than two decades. Returning with his wife from a missionary trip to South America, he panicked after boarding an American Airlines jet in Miami for the short trip to Orlando, and ran up the aisle.

At the front of the plane, he was confronted by two plainclothes air marshals. According to spokesmen for the secretive air marshals service and the Department of Homeland Security, after Alpizar left the aircraft he said he had a bomb and disregarded orders to drop a bag he was carrying. According to these accounts, when he reached into the bag, the marshals shot him. Passengers reported hearing at least five shots.

No one has come forward to corroborate the marshals’ story, outside of an agency spokesperson who claimed that Alpizar had “run up and down the aisle shouting, ‘I have a bomb in my bag.’” This version of the event has been disputed by every passenger interviewed by the media.

Instead, Alpizar’s fellow passengers reported him saying, before he ran up the isle, that he had to get off the plane. They further recounted that his wife came running after him shouting that he was sick, that he was bipolar and had not taken his medicine. Not one of them heard the word “bomb.”

Why did the marshals service spokesman make up the story about him shouting about a bomb as he ran “up and down the aisle”? Undoubtedly, for the same reason that the London police described Jean Charles de Menezes wearing a heavy coat and jumping over a ticket barrier in flight, when in fact he was wearing no such clothing and had paid his fare, not even knowing that he was being pursued.

In both cases, it quickly became apparent that the police had taken the life of an innocent man, and alibis were needed both to exonerate the individual officers and uphold the infallibility of the security forces.

How much else of the air marshals’ explanation of why they shot Rigoberto Alpizar—his talk of having a bomb, his disregarding their order to put down his bag, his reaching into it—is a lie? Like the official account of the de Menezes shooting, it is undoubtedly a fabrication.

There are, however, differences worth noting in the reactions to the two shootings in London and Washington. Last July, in Britain, police officials, the foreign minister and others quickly declared their “regrets” over the killing. Prime Minister Tony Blair announced how “desperately sorry” he was about the shooting and declared his “deep sympathy” for the de Menezes family’s loss. He quickly added, of course, that none of this should interfere with unconditional support for the police “in doing the job they have to do in order to protect people in this country.” In other words, such killings were inevitable and more were to be expected.

In Washington, there was little expression of even feigned sorrow or sympathy. Bush has said nothing about the killing of Alpizar, and his spokesman merely praised the air marshals for their “extensive training,” declaring, “We are appreciative of all that our air marshals do day in and day out in terms of trying to protect the American people.”

“Beyond our expectations”

The right-wing Republican Congressman from Florida—Alpizar’s own representative—John Mica, who heads up the House subcommittee dealing with aviation security, was clearly gratified by the state murder of his constituent. “This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations,” he declared.

While the de Menezes killing was treated for some time by the British media as a significant controversy, the American press and broadcast news have dropped the Alpizar story after just three days, his murder eclipsed by an airplane overshooting the runway and accidentally killing a six-year-old child in Chicago. That could change, should damning videotape come to light in the Miami shooting.

The contrast—at least on the surface—between the reactions of the Blair and Bush governments and the media to two very similar events is not a mere accident. It is to be explained, in the first place, by differences in the social and cultural physiognomies of the two countries.

As reactionary as the British government of Tony Blair is, as profoundly antidemocratic its political agenda, and as polarized as British society is between the elite “haves” and the masses of “have nots,” Britain is still no match for the US when it comes to extremes of social inequality, the brutality and underlying violence of class relations, and the backwardness of the political and media establishment. The US is, after all, one of a handful of industrialized countries that continues the barbaric practice of capital punishment.

Hundreds of people are shot dead by police in the US every year. These killings are so commonplace that no government agency even bothers to keep accurate figures on how many die annually in fatal encounters with the police. According to some estimates, a third or more of the victims are mentally ill.

In Britain, police killings have claimed approximately 30 victims in the last dozen years—although, with the de Menezes killing and the Blair government’s “shoot to kill” policy, the British police may soon be catching up with their colleagues across the Atlantic.

Whatever the differences in form and style, however, the similarities are overwhelming and chilling.

The cold-blooded killing of an innocent, emotionally and mentally distraught man desperately trying to get off an airplane and the police execution of a young electrician taking a train to work are both defended as inevitable collateral damage in the “global war on terrorism.” The public is told that such atrocities are necessary—along with secret prisons, torture, disappearances, targeted assassinations and unprovoked wars of aggression—to keep everyone “safe.”

The same rationale has been given for sweeping attacks on democratic rights on both sides of the Atlantic, codified in the USA Patriot Act and the recently enacted Terrorism Bill in Britain. Bedrock legal principles such as habeas corpus that date back to the Magna Carta are being breached in the name of combating the supposedly unprecedented and omnipresent threat of terrorism. Giving police unfettered powers to act as judge, jury and executioner is an integral part of this process.

It is these measures themselves that constitute the gravest threat to the “safety,” lives and liberty of people in both Britain and America. This was confirmed in concrete terms on board American Airlines Flight 924 in the immediate and terrifying aftermath of the killing of Alpizar.

Police stormed the plane, threatening other passengers. “They stuck guns in our faces... They were waving the barrels, shouting ... ‘No one move!,’” passenger Jorge Borelli told the New York Daily News. “They didn’t say we’ll shoot you if you take your hands off your head, but they said, ‘You will be considered a threat and we will deal with you accordingly,’” he said. “That was the scariest part. I thought, God, if someone freaks out and jumps up, they’re going to start shooting.”

After being held at gunpoint for nearly half an hour, all of the passengers were marched off the plane, their hands on their heads, to be frisked, sniffed by dogs and then detained for several more hours of questioning.

There is no evidence whatsoever that such deranged police state measures—Miami authorities assured the public that the SWAT team, like the marshals, was following procedures—have any deterrent effect on terrorism.

Indeed, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission formed by the Bush administration to whitewash its response to—and possible complicity in—the September 11, 2001 attacks issued a report last week that declared the government’s failure to make substantive security improvements over the past four years “shocking.”

That is because the supposed concern over terrorism has from the beginning served merely as a multipurpose pretext. It has been used to justify the implementation of wide-ranging policies of war and repression that had been drawn up well before the planes ever struck New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

In the final analysis, these policies are aimed at benefiting a small financial oligarchy whose interests are so inimical to those of the vast majority of working people that it and its political representatives have abandoned even the pretense of a commitment to democratic rights. Rather, this ruling layer—both in Britain and the US—has increasingly seen constitutional rights and civil liberties as intolerable impediments to the pursuit of policies—the destruction of living standards and social services, tax cuts for the rich, predatory wars—that are opposed by the great majority of the people.

Jean Charles de Menezes and Rigoberto Alpizar were both victims of this process, and they will not be the last.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Eyewitness: "I Never Heard the Word 'Bomb'"
A passenger on Flight 924 gives his account of the shooting and says Rigoberto Alpizar never claimed to have a bomb

At least one passenger aboard American Airlines Flight 924 maintains the federal air marshals were a little too quick on the draw when they shot and killed Rigoberto Alpizar as he frantically attempted to run off the airplane shortly before take-off.

"I don't think they needed to use deadly force with the guy," says John McAlhany, a 44-year-old construction worker from Sebastian, Fla. "He was getting off the plane." McAlhany also maintains that Alpizar never mentioned having a bomb.

"I never heard the word 'bomb' on the plane," McAlhany told TIME in a telephone interview. "I never heard the word bomb until the FBI asked me did you hear the word bomb. That is ridiculous." Even the authorities didn't come out and say bomb, McAlhany says. "They asked, 'Did you hear anything about the b-word?'" he says. "That's what they called it."

When the incident began McAlhany was in seat 24C, in the middle of the plane. "[Alpizar] was in the back," McAlhany says, "a few seats from the back bathroom. He sat down." Then, McAlhany says, "I heard an argument with his wife. He was saying 'I have to get off the plane.' She said, 'Calm down.'"

Alpizar took off running down the aisle, with his wife close behind him. "She was running behind him saying, 'He's sick. He's sick. He's ill. He's got a disorder," McAlhany recalls. "I don't know if she said bipolar disorder [as one witness has alleged]. She was trying to explain to the marshals that he was ill. He just wanted to get off the plane."

McAlhany described Alpizar as carrying a big backpack and wearing a fanny pack in front. He says it would have been impossible for Alpizar to lie flat on the floor of the plane, as marshals ordered him to do, with the fanny pack on. "You can't get on the ground with a fanny pack," he says. "You have to move it to the side."

By the time Alpizar made it to the front of the airplane, the crew had ordered the rest of the passengers to get down between the seats. "I didn't see him get shot," he says. "They kept telling me to get down. I heard about five shots."

McAlhany says he tried to see what was happening just in case he needed to take evasive action. "I wanted to make sure if anything was coming toward me and they were killing passengers I would have a chance to break somebody's neck," he says. "I was looking through the seats because I wanted to see what was coming.

"I was on the phone with my brother. Somebody came down the aisle and put a shotgun to the back of my head and said put your hands on the seat in front of you. I got my cell phone karate chopped out of my hand. Then I realized it was an official."

In the ensuing events, many of the passengers began crying in fear, he recalls. "They were pointing the guns directly at us instead of pointing them to the ground," he says. "One little girl was crying. There was a lady crying all the way to the hotel."

McAlhany said he saw Alpizar before the flight and is absolutely stunned by what unfolded on the airplane. He says he saw Alpizar eating a sandwich in the boarding area before getting on the plane. He looked normal at that time, McAlhany says. He thinks the whole thing was a mistake: "I don't believe he should be dead right now."

7:25 PM  
Blogger Management said...

An agitated passenger was shot this week in Miami for disobeying a police order and allegedly threatening a bomb. Why is no-one upset? Are we that fearful of security that both liberty and humanity must be sacrified?

The facts I understand are: Shortly after 2pm on Wednesday 07 December 2005, Rigoberto Alpizar(44) was fatally shot on a Miami jetway by two pursuing US Air Marshals. He was very agitated and exiting the flight AA924 which he had just boarded. The marshals allege he said something to the effect that he had a bomb, was reaching inside his pack, and did not comply with their demands to stop. Other passengers deny hearing any mention of a bomb. US administration officials state the marshals were acting according to their training and approved procedures.

I'm profoundly skeptical. While I understand and agree that police (and others) may be authorized to use deadly force, this must be strictly confined to credible threat that cannot be contained any other way. This case fails in a number of important respects:

First, this incident occurred in the secure area of the airport, after all passengers had undergone detailed security screening (including removal of shoes) by the TSA. While screening isn't perfect, neither is it meaningless. With determination and cleverness, a pure high-explosive bomb might be smuggled past. But there is virtually no possibility that an anti-personnel (shrapnel) bomb could get through. The distinction is important because a HE bomb doesn't have much effect at a distance even thought it would be devastating to a wingbox or pressurized hull.

Second, the passenger was fleeing the aircraft with the alleged bomb. Heading in a direction to reduce danger. Why would a suicide bomber who'd lost his nerve take the hated device with him? What is the likelihood that a person stating "bomb" actually has one, especially after security clearance? What credible threat does that person pose in the terminal? Is it anywhere near as great as a shrapnel-armed suicide bomber at baggage check-in or security lines?

Third, these marshals are specifically trained for air security, and have limited duties permitting them to focus closely. One would expect considerable planning for these sorts of scenarios. Many people are afraid of flying (even some who know Bernouilli's Principle). Agitated behaviour is not unusual.

The marshals state they feared for their lives. This may be true, but they chose to put themselves in harm's way, first by their choice of career, then second by their choice to pursue (why not radio?). I expect such people to have reduced fear. Their chosen profession is to protect civilians. That includes suspects.

The shooting in the London Tube on 22 July 2005 is similar, but with important distinctions on all three grounds: The suspect had no kind of security searching and might very well have been carrying a shrapnel bomb. He was also heading in a direction to maximize danger and refused to stop. He was also shot by less specialized and trained police. Yes, it too was wrong. But not nearly as egregious.

The US also compares very unfavorably to the French police. In spite of extreme national tension from 5,000 car burnings over two weeks, the French police shot no-one -- certainly not from lack of weapons, and not from lack of opportunity with the arrests, but from very different rules-of-engagement.

An ugly possibility is that Mr Alpizar was unnecessarily shot in the jetway because it was convenient (minimal chance of hitting bystanders) and saved searching the terminal for him. I cannot banish the spectre from movies of a totalitarian policethug shooting a fleeing suspect he could easily have caught, as much a brutal warning as to save effort.

What I find most surprising from this incident is neither that it happened, nor the official defenses. Mistakes will happen, and people will try to cover them up. The biggest surprise is the silence from administration critics. The New York Times, Washington Post and others have been editorially silent, simply reporting facts. Such reticence is utterly out of character. Their knees ought to be jerking. For that matter, K5 and TOS ought to be in paroxysms yet are not. This is deeply disturbing. When debate stops, totalitarianism takes over.

7:32 PM  

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