Saturday, August 13, 2005

Don't you hate it when this happens?
Yesterday I got all bent out of shape at the refusal of the authorities to call Charles Dreyling a terrorist. All Dreyling did was try to bring a bomb on to a passenger plane. The FBI press release seemed to imply that because he hadn't joined a terrorist club he might have been nothing more than your average mass-murderer next door. And committing mass-murder in Oklahoma City certainly wouldn't terrorize anyone would it? Today, it turns out Dreyling had a perfectly good excuse for having that bomb in his carry-on bag. He forgot it was there.
A University of Oklahoma student told federal investigators he forgot a pipe bomb he built for fun was in his luggage when tried to board an airplane....

FBI agents and Oklahoma City police officers said the pipe bomb contained a metal cartridge filled with gunpowder attached to a detonator made from model rocket parts. Dreyling could have detonated the bomb using his cellphone battery....

Boy, do I feel bad about my reaction today. Bringing a bomb onto a plane full of unsuspecting civilians is no reason to go calling a person bad names.

What disturbs me about this is not whether Dreyling is or is not a terrorist according to any objective standard. The FBI hasn't released enough information for us to form an opinion on that. Dreyling might be nothing more than a guy who never grew past the thirteen-year old boy kitchen-chemistry phase. The love making things that fizz, smoke, and go bang is often a sign of a healthy curiosity. Many great scientists possess that type of stunted development, and many of them are absent-minded enough to bring a bomb onto a commercial flight. I really do hope that's all it was.

What upsets me is the clear double standard. We liberals have joked that terrorism appears to be a crime that, by definition, is only committed non-white non-Christians. In this case, the government appears to be going out of it's way to let us know that really is how things work.

When a group of Muslim immigrants collect money for a charity, the authorities track down where every cent of that money goes and, if even a penny of it gets into the wrong hands, they have no problem shutting the whole operation down and prosecuting members of the charity under terrorism statutes. At every step of the way, they have no problem calling press conferences and making sure every other word is "terror."

Jose Pedilla was a not-very-bright, disaffected American citizen who, stupidly, went to hang out with real terrorists and shoot off his mouth. He got himself on record as wanting to build a radiological bomb (whether he was capable of doing it has never been addressed). He claims his new friends scared the hell out of him and he was running home to hide when the FBI picked him up. Based on his mouthing off, the Justice Department decreed him too dangerous to deserve constitutional protections or due process. They then alienated all of his inalienable rights and pitched him in a dark hole. Pedilla was brown to begin with and compounded his sin by converting to Islam.

When Pat Robertson wished, on national teevee, that "someone" would detonate an atomic bomb at the State Department in downtown Washington, DC, we all had a good laugh. "That Pat!" He still has access to the airwaves to tell his millions of paying followers that "someone" should commit unparalleled mass murder in our county's capitol. Pat Robertson is so white he make Rick Santorum look swarthy and claims to be some kind of Christian. If Pedilla would only have said "someone."

From his picture, Mr. Dreyling is clearly white. Being a college student, I'll guess he's middle-class. And I don't think I'm going out on a limb if I predict that he's, at least, culturally Christian. Within about two hours of his arrest, the FBI was able to confidently announce that he wasn't associated with terrorists. What kind of resources do they have that allow them to confidently make a claim like that in such an indecently short time? Did they look through his wallet for an al Qayda dues card and, not finding one, decide their work was done?

Dreyling is probably a harmless dope. Or more danger to himself than to anyone else. In any other time he might have grown up to be that weird uncle of your best friend--the talkative old guy with no kids and most of fingers on one hand missing. I'm not saying he should be persecuted and deprived of basic American rights just to make me feel better. I do, however, wish our authorities would, at least, make a show of believing in the constitution and being something other than a bunch of racist boobs. Naturally, I'd rather they really were those things, but even a insincere display recognizing that American values matter would be a good start.

I don't want Charles Dreyling pitched into jail uless he really was up to something. I want it to be proven in court in transparent and constitutional manner. I want Jose pedilla to have the same rights. Is that too much to ask?

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