Two weeks ago, my colleague, Christopher Farrell, and I, were headed for Brussels, Belgium, to file a criminal complaint against Fidel Castro, not only the murderous dictator of Cuba, but an avowed international terrorist who owns and operates biochemical weapons facilities on his “lovely” Caribbean island.
The basis for the complaint: Forty-two years of murder and torture of his citizens, topped off with a murderous attack on “Brothers to the Rescue” pilots, who five years ago were simply flying humanitarian missions over the Florida straits. Founded and run by Jose Basulto, a pro-democracy freedom fighter from the days of the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis – when he worked for the American government as a Cuban national (Mr. Basulto is now a proud American citizen living in Miami) – the mission of “Brothers” is to rescue rafters fleeing the communist hell of Castro’s regime.
On a bright summer day, Castro’s MiGs shot down two of Mr. Basulto’s planes while they were flying in international waters, killing four Brothers’ pilots. Immediately afterward, the Cuban dictator and madman boasted of his direct involvement in the murders, during an interview on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
Sadly, the victims of Castro’s reign of oppression were forced to use Belgian law to seek justice, as no American administration had the guts to indict him. Belgium has a “progressive” law, which allows for dictators who commit crimes against humanity to be prosecuted there. The time was long overdue to attempt to hold Fidel accountable, with a possible prison term, if convicted, of 20 to 30 years. Importantly, Belgium has an extradition treaty with Cuba.
Accompanying Mr. Farrell and me on the flight to Brussels from Washington’s Dulles airport was Mr. Basulto himself, along with two victims of Castro’s brutality, Eugenio De Sosa and Marcelino Feal. One of these victims, Eugenio De Sosa, had spent 21 years in one of Castro’s prisons, because he dared to write articles, as a journalist, criticizing the communist regime. On one occasion, while in prison, he was forced to view the entrails of his dead mother who was just previously murdered by Castro’s thugs.
As United Flight 950 took off, the flight crew seemed tense, fully aware that only days had elapsed since airports were again operating after the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist bombings. What was frightening to me was not the proximity of our flight to a resumption of airport activities, but how the baggage screeners and other security personnel at Dulles neither bothered to hand-check bags, nor take any additional precautionary measures – despite statements by President Bush that greater measures were in effect – creating a completely safe environment for travel. I was reminded of one of the principal reasons I founded Judicial Watch in 1994 – my inability, after 17 years as a Justice Department trial lawyer, and then as a private practitioner in Washington, D.C., to trust the pronouncements and actions of the government. When I founded Judicial Watch, I was fed up with the lying and deceit that had come to characterize our public officials, and the industries they regulated.
Sure enough, less than 15 minutes after takeoff, a flight attendant’s voice announced on the public intercom system that a metal canister, one foot high and several inches wide, had rolled out from under a passenger’s seat. She asked the passengers in English, French and Flemish to claim it. When on the first occasion no one did so, she asked two more times. By that time, the atmosphere in the cabin had grown tense. Even before I was about to predict that we would have to make an emergency landing, the plane banked hard left. A few moments later, the captain took to the loudspeaker to announce that he was being instructed to bring the aircraft down at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. The route to JFK would take about 15 minutes, the pilot added.
Shortly after the announcement, two flight attendants rushed into the back of the plane, carrying delicately the foot high metal canister that no one could identify. With fear in their faces and a special urgency in their voices, they told the passengers in the back of the plane, where we were seated, to move to the front of the cabin. The believed bomb was “safest” if it was placed at the rear of the aircraft, near the food galley, they said.
I looked at Mr. Farrell and asked if he thought we, too, should move forward, as several passengers had done. We decided not to, since if the suspected bomb blew it would not make any difference. We suspected that this could happen on descent as a result of a change in altitude, if the canister contained a barometric triggering device. Alternatively, if a timing device was the method of detonation, it could go off at any time.
The two of us instinctively clasped our hands in prayer. So too did most of the remaining passengers of the plane, save for some young hippie-clad Belgians, who laughed nervously. The exception was my client, Mr. De Sosa, now 85 years old, who continued to calmly read the airline magazine. Sitting just in front of Mr. Farrell, he grabbed my left arm while leaning across the isle toward me, and softly told me that nothing could scare him after 21 years of Castro’s prison torture.
The 15 minutes to landing at JFK seemed like an eternity. With the exception of Mr. De Sosa, the passengers sat frozen like mummies, and the flight attendants looked like melting icicles.
As we finally hit the runway in darkness, I looked out the window. As the aircraft taxied, we were flanked and followed on both sides of the runway by scores of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances, all flashing emergency lights. I braced myself for a quick stop, since while the suspected bomb was clearly not barometer triggered – indeed, it did not blow while we descended to land – if there was a timing device, it could go off at any time, but, we did not stop.
Incredibly, we continued to taxi, our entourage in tow, right past major passenger terminals and other aircraft. In fact, we taxied for 20 minutes, all the while believing that if, as the crew suspected, the canister was a bomb planted by Islamic terrorists, it could explode at any moment, taking not only our own lives, but hundreds if not thousands of people in the other planes and terminals we traversed.
Finally, about 40 minutes after the canister was initially discovered, the plane stopped in a middle of a distant runway, far from the terminals of JFK. I expected that the emergency exits and evacuation chutes would be instantly deployed but, instead, the passengers were forced to leave the plane by the normal means: queuing up in the aisle. As a result, it took an additional 10 minutes to deplane, as we continued to hold our breath for fear that the suspected bomb could explode at any minute.
As I descended the gangplank onto an open tarmac, I could see not only firemen and police dressed in protective suits, but a tram at my right. We were herded into the tram, without any instruction as to how long we would remain there. Standing with Mr. Farrell, and the Cuban victims in the aisle of the vehicle, I turned on my cell phone and called my wife in Washington, D.C. I asked her to turn on CNN or Fox News, as this bomb scare, occurring only three weeks after the Sept. 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, would obviously be covered live on the news networks. I was surprised to learn from my wife that the unfolding incident was not only not on television, there were no tickertape or oral announcements either.
As we waited for the authorities to inspect the suspected bomb and the other contents of the plane’s cabin, Mr. Farrell remarked that the passengers were likely being kept away from the terminal in order to ensure that news of the event did not leak that evening. As the airlines had rapidly lost customers following Sept. 11, they could not afford more “bad” publicity – as the industry was already teetering on bankruptcy.
With ever growing amazement over not only the scene but the politics involved, we waited patiently, our hearts beating quickly over the stress of the evening. After about one half hour, we were told that the metal canister had turned out not to be a bomb, but a sports thermos. Even with this news, the anxiety of the moment did not recede. Another half hour later, absent any offer by United to allow passengers to elect to discontinue the voyage to Brussels, we were herded back on the plane, never having visited the terminal, to continue our trip. Ironically, although other passengers in our group voiced openly their desire to not continue on, I argued that the plane – at least now – had been properly inspected, and was therefore safer than when we left Dulles bound for Europe.
Upon my return to the aircraft, as I sought use of the restroom and then to get a drink of water, I asked one of the more seasoned flight attendants why we had not deplaned upon landing much more quickly, rather than taxiing for 20 or so minutes, and then taking another 10 minutes to leave the cabin. She had no response. When I added that this risked the lives of the passengers and others, since a timing device could have detonated the suspected bomb at any moment, she agreed, and conceded that the whole affair was reckless and made no sense at all. She theorized that maybe the FBI had something to do with the bizarre delay.
During the Clinton years, some liberal journalists – supportive of the administration –mocked my use of the legal system to fight corruption, stating that, “I would even sue my own mother.” Ironically, these leftists had approved of legal actions by their darling, Ralph Nader, against the airlines, for breaches of safety and over-booking. Now that I have decided to bring suit against United – for reckless endangerment, false imprisonment and other causes of action, not as a way to make money but to enhance safety – one of them, gossip columnist Neil Travis of the New York Post, mocks me, arguing that, as a conservative, it is hypocritical for me to bring suit. Conservatives, he claims, are against litigation.
However, what separates me from people such as Mr. Travis is that I will take action, not just write articles. The government says the airlines are completely safe. Indeed, President George W. Bush sent four cabinet secretaries on commercial planes just a day or so before our ill-fated flight to Brussels. The difference was that their planes were properly inspected, they all contained federal air marshals, and they were not forced to taxi and deplane in a total of 30 minutes after an announced bomb scare and emergency landing, risking the lives of the passengers had there really been a bomb on United Flight 950.
About a week ago, the flight attendants union issued a report that security had not improved, implying that neither the airlines nor President Bush were being candid with the American people. Indeed, it was this lack of government candor, which gave the people false confidence, before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, that our nation faced no great threats, including terrorist, from abroad. Now that it is obvious that our political elite – in their zeal to win elections based on the “fine state of the union” – was not candid, and that its regulated airline industry threw caution to the wind in creating the negligent conditions for four flights to be hijacked within minutes of each other on Sept. 11, turning the other cheek is no virtue in the fight to protect the American people from further disasters.
In the face of airline neglect and federal abuse, I cannot sit idly by and fail to bring legal actions to try to stop the lack of candor and negligence which risks the lives of ordinary Americans, all in the name of electing politicians and feathering the nest of the industries, such as the airlines, who continue to feed misinformation to the public.
Yesterday, in a lead editorial titled “Checked Bags Unscreened Despite Terrorist Threat,” U.S.A. Today wrote: “[The] [a]irlines embrace of security measures in public and laxity in implementing them behind the scenes is a combination that no longer works. With the airlines proving once more that they’re better at making excuses than making improvements, it’s time for the federal government to set its own goals and take over this critical element of security.”
When I win my suit over the reckless behavior of United, this will not only cause the airlines to think twice about putting the interests of innocent passengers second, I will donate the proceeds of any damage award to the Sept. 11 victims’ charities. With some modicum of bona fide security by the airlines, and candor and diligence by the government, these victims might still be alive. They made it easy for Osama bin Laden and his band of criminals to kill nearly 7,000 Americans, nearly wreck our economy – which is still hanging by a thread – and destroy or damage symbols of our liberty.
The simple fact is that we live in a world where many Islamic radicals and others hate Americans and want to see us dead, and our great country buried on the ash heap of not only New York, but history. We should not continue to make it easy for these degenerates to effect their twisted and sick anti-Western and anti-Semitic desires by allowing our public officials to continue to create a false sense of security, and our regulated industries to do little to nothing to protect us.
These foreign barbarians are not only at the gates, they now, thanks to our lax immigration, law enforcement and intelligence gathering policies and practices, live amongst us. To put blind trust in government to solve our problems did not work. Indeed, it has never worked. The cancer has spread and it has now turned malignant, with multiple foreign born terrorist cells metastasizing in major American cities. Just as our founding fathers did, now is the time to take matters into our own legal hands. We can support our leaders by ourselves playing an active role, without giving them a blank check to lead us down the primrose path to other disasters.
Patriotism does not mean that we become “yes men” and blindly follow the political and economic elite – it means that we will do what we can to not only be loyal citizens, but, ourselves ask the right questions, demand answers and, when necessary, take lawful action in the name of eternal liberty. If we are to survive as a country, we must all be citizen soldiers, rather than sunshine patriots. And, like our founding fathers, we must be prepared to also give our lives for our children’s and grandchildren’s future.
In addition to my case against United, Judicial Watch is currently pursuing other lawful actions to root out the terrorists now living in our communities and force the government and its regulated industries to adequately protect us from further foreign tyranny. Stay tuned!