Friday, December 09, 2005

Federal Air Marshal should not be criticized

As I said before, he acted in a way consistent with his training, to protect his life and the lives of the innocents nearby. So of course the media is trying to make this the marshal's fault.

MIAMI - The airline passenger shot to death by federal marshals who said he made a bomb threat was agitated even before boarding and later appeared to be desperate to get off the plane, some fellow travelers said.

One passenger said he "absolutely never heard the word 'bomb' at all" during the uproar as the Orlando-bound flight prepared to leave Miami on Wednesday.

Federal officials say Rigoberto Alpizar made the threat in the jetway, after running up the plane's aisle from his seat at the back of the jetliner. They opened fire because the 44-year-old Home Depot employee ignored their orders to stop, reached into his backpack and said he had a bomb, according to authorities.

Alpizar's brother, speaking from Costa Rica, said he would never believe the shooting was necessary.

"I can't conceive that the marshals wouldn't be able to overpower an unarmed, single man, especially knowing he had already cleared every security check,"
Carlos Alpizar told The Orlando Sentinel.

I'm sorry I know the brother is grieving, so perhaps he really doesn't grasp the stupidity of his statement. First, since when are security checks perfect? Since 9/11 no one's been able to sneak anything illegal on a plane? Puh-leeze. Second as far as simply "overpowering" a man possibly strapped with a bomb we take a quick look earlier this week to the bombing of the Israeli mall in Netanya:

Police said the bomber blew himself up as he was about to undergo a random security check at the mall's entrance. Avi Sasson, deputy police commander in the northern region, said guards and police officers spotted the man carrying a suspicious bag and pushed him up against a wall.

"I was looking him in the eye and he pressed (the button) and blew up. I flew and all I remember is that I was looking in his eye, I saw his gaze," policewoman Shoshi Attia told Israel Radio.

Obviously the bomber was overpowered, but still managed to blow himself up and kill five people. What good does overpowering the bomber do? Nothing. Back to the FAM article...

[...]Added another passenger, Mary Gardner: "I did not hear him say that he had a bomb."

Officials say there was no bomb and they found no connection to terrorism.

Witnesses said Alpizar's wife, Anne Buechner, had frantically tried to explain he was bipolar, a mental illness also known as manic-depression, and was off his medication.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness called on the Air Marshal Service and other law enforcement agencies to train officers if they don't already in responding to people with severe mental illness.

Others said Alpizar's mental health didn't matter while marshals were trying to talk to him and determine if the threat was real.

Shooting to maim or injure - rather than kill - is not an option for federal agents, said John Amat, national operations vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which includes air marshals in its membership.

Three things here. One, the wife trying to tell the FAMs her husband was bipolar. NBC's Nightly News had an expert on last night about this who made a good point confirming my intuition that the FAMs are trained to ignore distractions. In a real bomb threat situation, who's to say that the person screaming stop isn't an accomplice (terrorist can look like anyone as that Belgian female bomber proved) or simply a bystander who doesn't have an understanding of the situation. Any hesitation by the FAMs could be exploited by the bomber, giving him just another couple more seconds to detonate his bomb.

Two, how the hell are we going to try train FAMs to recognize mental illness vs. lunatic with a bomb. I was chatting with the fetching Mrs. Wookie about this part this morning (since she has a specialization in psychology) and she mentioned that on average bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed by psychiatrists more commonly than any other mental illness, often taking 10+ years to correctly recognize. How the hell are we going to train FAMs to in just a few short seconds to psychologically analyze the potential bomber to judge whether or not he's a threat based on mental health. Does anyone else think that is absolutely ridiculous? I'm sorry but I'd much rather they shoot first and ask questions later. And as for the being off his meds, the fetching Mrs. Wookie plead the fifth, saying how much of a role that played is to hard to judge without more info... what meds was he on, how long had it been since he'd taken them, did he take them regularly, etc...

And finally, the utter stupidity of shooting to maim is something mentioned by someone who has seen to many movies. Only in Hollywood is the bad guy clipped in the shoulder by the perfectly aimed, nearly impossible shot and is totally incapacitated, unconscious, and perfectly safe to turn your back on and walk away from. Unless he's the good guy, then he can still run around shooting bad guys after getting shot. This is not the A-Team where no one ever dies. This is real life. So let's say we have the marshals shooting to maim, aiming for the shoulder or knee. How many bystanders have to be hurt or killed by shots that missed a small target before that idea gets scrapped. Please people use your heads. Center mass shot is the safest, sanest approach. Nothing less.

So get over that an innocent man was killed. Tragic? Of course. But unless some really damning new info surfaces, these FAMs deserve our thanks for their willingness to protect us.