Who is to Blame for 9-11?
Thu Dec 4 17:56:34 2003
Who is to Blame for 9-11?
by William L. Anderson
[December 4, 2003]
Given the toxic legal climate in the United States for business in general, it
should have surprised no one that a federal judge has ruled that families who
lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks can sue United Airlines, American
Airlines, Boeing and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That the
plaintiffs and their lawyers are not suing the worst offender of the
tragedy—the U.S. Government—says volumes about the surreal nature of American
According to Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein in his ruling that the suits
could continue, the airlines
had a duty to protect their passengers, crew and victims on the ground by
better screening passengers. The . . . defendants controlled who came onto the
planes and what was carried aboard. . . . They had the obligation to take
reasonable care in screening.
Boeing, the manufacturer of the planes, is also culpable, wrote Hellerstein,
who, in effect, blamed Boeing and the airlines for what occurred:
While it may be true that terrorists had not before deliberately flown
airplanes into buildings, the airlines reasonably could foresee that crashes
causing death and destruction on the ground was a hazard that would arise
should hijackers take control of a plane…. The intrusion by terrorists into
the cockpit, coupled with the volatility of a hijacking situation, creates a
foreseeable risk that hijacked airplanes might crash, jeopardizing innocent
lives on the ground as well as in the airplane.
According to the lawsuit, Boeing manufactured a "defective" product because it
did not have secure doors to the cockpit, which allowed the hijackers easy
access to the controls of the four planes. Apparently, the judge agreed that
Boeing should bear that responsibility. (While this was only a hearing to see
whether or not the suits could take place in federal court, the judge's ruling
sounds like an out-and-out indictment of the defendants, and one can imagine
that it will be nearly impossible for the airlines and the others to receive a
fair trial in his court.)
Of course, the attorneys who have filed in this case are ecstatic, one of them
being Mary Schiavo, who was a Department of Transportation inspector general
(and huge critic of the airlines) during the Clinton Administration. "It's the
first time that a judge has said the airlines had a duty to protect those on
the ground and that this was foreseeable," said Mitchell Baumeister, a New
York lawyer who represents about 60 families.
While the attorneys and their hand-picked judge actually are clouding the
issue here (as I will explain later), their lawsuit—and their public
comments—do not tell us what really happened on that fateful day, and why this
tragic event occurred. Suffice it to say that 9/11 had the imprint of the U.S.
Government from the planning of the attacks, the truncated pre-attack
investigation that permitted the terrorists to move about unmolested, to the
boarding of the plane, and to the conduct of the crew and passengers before
the planes were turned into flying bombs. In this case, the airlines and
Boeing have a legitimate defense when they proclaim they were simply following
(The Port Authority is being blamed for evacuation procedures and for having
locked doors to the roof, although it is doubtful that any rooftop rescues,
dramatic as they might seem to be, would have been possible, given the
prevailing conditions that day. Again, even here the stamp of the U.S.
Government can be found, as the Environmental Protection Agency, in its jihad
against asbestos, during construction halted the asbestos insulation of the
girders holding up the twin towers at about two-thirds up the buildings. We
will never know whether or not the asbestos would have withstood the intense
heat of the jet-fueled fires.)
The first thing to remember is that airline traffic in the USA is heavily
regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs all
procedures, including construction of the planes themselves. (Airlines have
some say about routes and fares, which is about the extent of the vaunted
industry "deregulation.") That means the placement of every wire, every piece
of steel, and every doorway on the Boeing planes used as weapons of mass
destruction that fateful day was approved and overseen by the FAA.
While it makes for good press for attorneys and judges, the idea that Boeing
on its own could have ordered "secure" cockpit doors is a laugher. Any
unilateral attempt by any aircraft maker to act without FAA direction is
always met with swift action against the manufacturer; to put it another way,
it would have been illegal for Boeing to make planes with impenetrable (if
that is even possible) cockpit doors before 9/11, something that Schiavo and
her fellow attorneys (and Judge Hellerstein) already know. Furthermore, as
John Lott has pointed out, there are many questions of whether or not
FAA-approved (now) secure doors are even secure.
Even without the secure door issue, let us now look at the role played by
government regulations and actions that helped lead to the hijackings. We know
now that many of those involved had expired visas or other legal problems, yet
the government did nothing.
In fact, as James Bovard writes, at least one flight school official had
tipped off FBI agents about a possible hijacking conspiracy, yet through
unbelievable bungling, the FBI in the end did nothing. In other words, the
idea of someone hijacking planes and using them as bombs was not considered
out of the realm of the possible, but U.S. law enforcement agents failed in
their duties to stop this conspiracy in its tracks (for which they are immune
from any lawsuits).
The lawsuit claims that United and American should have kept the perpetrators
off the planes, but even here, they were following the law. For example, at
the time box cutters—the apparent weapons of choice for the hijackers—were FAA
approved, so it would have been illegal for the airline security agents to
have confiscated them. Second, suppose that the screeners had found not only
the box cutters, but also the Islamic death shrouds that the hijackers were
carrying. To have kept them off the planes almost certainly would have meant
that the airlines were violating U.S. anti-discrimination laws, and no doubt
anyone who might have intervened would also have found himself on the
receiving end of a federal discrimination lawsuit.
Third, once the hijackers made their actions known aboard the planes, everyone
on board obeyed the law by following the hijackers' orders. Ironically, the
passengers on the UAL's doomed Flight 93 broke the law by attacking their
assailants. Yes, it is doubtful that the passengers would have been criminally
charged had the flight somehow landed safely, but nonetheless, prosecution of
Todd Beamer and others who charged the cockpit would have been a legal (but
not politically feasible) option for U.S. authorities. To put it another way,
in the eyes of U.S. law, Todd Beamer was not a hero; he was a felon.
That Hellerstein has permitted the lawsuits to go forward is further proof
that it does no good in the USA for private citizens to follow the law.
Instead, federal authorities tend to make up the "law" as they go. Moreover,
the government at all levels is doing its level best to keep airlines from
preventing another such hijacking. From dragging its feet in permitting pilots
to be armed, to turning air screeners into government employees (the creation
of the Transportation Security Administration), to the inane methods used by
the TSA to screen "potential" hijackers (like 90-year-old grandmothers in
wheelchairs, who are regularly searched by screeners through "random"
selections), the government is using massive amounts of resources to create an
illusion that it is "doing something" about preventing airline hijackings.
(My assessment of the government's role in the 9/11 atrocities does not
include a critical look at U.S. foreign policy, not to mention its
relationship to Saudi Arabia, which produced 15 of the 19 hijackers. The
irresponsibility of U.S. foreign policy is in itself worthy of an examination
that would dwarf any of the absurdities committed by transportation
regulators, which is why I do not write about it in this article.)
One can be assured that should airline hijackers once again engage in a
9/11-type attack, the only entities that will receive official blame will be
those private firms that were following the law. Yes, in hindsight, by
following U.S. Government policies from beginning to end, United and American
airlines inadvertently aided those individuals who snuffed out nearly 3,000
lives through their vicious actions. Yet, in hindsight, we also know that to
have thwarted those attacks would have turned some employees of United and
American into felons. Perhaps Mary Schiavo should be suing herself for her own
role in creating this mess when she worked for the Department of
Transportation, but instead she stands to become a wealthier person because of
the twisted state of U.S. law.
William Anderson, an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute, teaches economics
at Frostburg State University.
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