Friday, May 17, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #108 - Part 4

Clown Award: US Customs Dept.

Time for our regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for acts of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the big red nose this week is that ever-reliable source of bitterly amusing inanity, the DHS, the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland, in this case in the form of Customs agents, part of our front-line troops in the battle to preserve and protect our forever-endangered levels of paranoia.

Hussain Al-Khawahir is a 33-year-old Saudi Arabian man who was arrested at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on May 11. According to reports, agents at Customs became suspicious when it appeared that a couple of pages - pages 33 and 34, to be specific - were missing from his passport. Okay, fair enough. So they searched his luggage.

And then they found it, the item, the thing, the reason for his arrest: He was trying to bring into a US a pressure cooker! And then, they claimed, he "changed his story" about why he had it.

First, the agents claimed, Al-Khawahir said he bought it for his nephew, who attends the University of Toledo in Ohio because he couldn't buy them in the US. Then, later, he said he brought the pressure cooker because the one his nephew purchased was "cheap" and had broken the first time he used it. Omigosh! The blatant contradictions! Caught in a lie! And let's not forget, it was a pressure cooker!

Let's also not forget that he doesn't speak a word of English and was questioned by Customs via an interpreter. So the questions went from English to Arabic and the answers from Arabic to back to English. It is so terribly unreasonable of me to suspect that something might have been literally lost in translation and Al-Khawahir's first statement was actually that his son had been unable to buy a "decent" one in the US or that he can't get one "like this" in the US? Or are we supposed to think, as Customs apparently does, that international terrorists are so stupid that they are trying to smuggle pressure cookers into the US because they actually don't know you can buy them here?

The clownishness of the DHS here is matched by the clownishness of the media: Most every story I saw on this - and I looked at several - wrote as if it really is a crime to bring a pressure cooker into the US and every single one of them just had to mention the Boston Marathon bombing. Because, after all, pressure cooker!

This is insane. I mean it. Really. The day before Al-Khawahir was arrested on I'm still not sure just what charge, a young Saudi Arabian student living in Michigan told a Saudi newspaper that cops issued him with a warning after he was seen outside carrying a pressure cooker full of rice to a friend’s house for dinner.

Apparently, a neighbor saw a "suspicious" man carrying a pressure cooker and called police. Cops came to his house, questioned him about his education in the US, the date of his arrival, and his activities outside the university. They also examined the pressure cooker and then told him "to be careful while handling such items in public." Maybe they should have remembered Richard Reid and Umar Abdulmutallab and warned him to be careful about appearing in public wearing shoes - or underwear.

The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington, DC, reports that a number of Saudi students in the US had their homes raided in the aftermath of the Boston bombing. Nothing was found.

Meanwhile, Hussain Al-Khawahir remains in prison until a preliminary hearing on May 28.

Clowns. We are governed by clowns.


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