It was reported on March 12th that the TSA at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport routinely subjects a quadruple amputee to an “aggressive” body search, removing and inspecting each of his four prosthetic limbs, often examining them via x-ray machinges, prior to clearing him to board his flight.
This, despite the fact that all of the TSA agents at Phoenix know the man in question, Jeff Lewis, by name. As they remove each of Jeff’s limbs, he’s left as little more than a torso, waiting for the agents to finish their inspection.
Jeff’s story is just the latest in ridiculous TSA abuses of civil liberties.
Take the case of Thomas Sawyer, bladder cancer survivor, who was left “crying, humiliated, and covered in his own urine” after a TSA patdown. After the cancer ravaged his bladder, Sawyer was forced to use a urostomy bag, which collects his urine through an opening in his body. Despite having informed the TSA agents of his predicament, the officers subjected Sawyer to a forceful search, breaking the bag open in the process.
Or consider Lena Reppert, a 95-year-old woman dying of Leukemia. On her way to Michigan, she was singled out for special treatment because she was in a wheelchair. The TSA agents patted her down and felt “something hard.” Her daughter, Jean Weber, tried to explain that it was only her adult diaper, and that she needed it for the long flight to her home state of Michigan. But TSA officials weren’t budging. They forced Jean to escort her mother to the bathroom and remove her diaper before they would clear her to fly. Jean recalled the experience during an interview: “I ran with her to the bathroom and stripped her down. I got back to the line and just started bawling.”
The list goes on. Carolyn Durand, an producer with ABC News, opted out of the full body scan and chose the pat down instead. She reported later that the TSA agent reached inside of her underwear during the examination and prodded her genitals. According to Durand: “The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around. It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate.”
And refusing the invasive inspection isn’t an option. Take John Tyner, who refused to allow a TSA agent to grope his groin. He was eventually escorted out of the airport and not allowed to board his flight. Here’s the story in his own words:
[The TSA agent] described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped.
And TSA inspections aren’t even confined to airports anymore. They’ve expanded, under the VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program to include “train stations, subways, ferry terminals and other mass transit locations around the country.”
They’re even at highway weigh stations, NASCAR events, and Greyhound bus depots:
In Tennessee in October, a viper team used radiation monitors and explosive-trace detectors to help state police inspect trucks at highway weigh stations throughout the state. Last month in Orlando, Fla., a team set up metal detectors at a Greyhound bus station and tested passengers’ bags for explosive residue.
In the Carolinas this year, TSA teams have checked people at the gangplanks of cruise ships, the entrance to NASCAR races, and at ferry terminals taking tourists to the Outer Banks.
At the Charlotte train station on Dec. 11, Seiko, the bomb-sniffing dog, snuffled down a line of about 100 passengers waiting to board an eastbound train.
Ray Dineen, air marshall in charge of TSA operations in Charlotte, SC, disparaged those who criticized the program’s expansion: “We are not the Airport Security Administration. We take that transportation part seriously.”
And its only going to continue. The VIPR program is about to receive an increase in personnel and funding, to the tune of 24M dollars. This is on top of the program’s 110M dollar 2011 budget. And that’s just VIPR. The run-of-the-mill invasion of privacy that we’re used to encountering in airports costs the American people 5 billion dollars on an annual basis.
As we discuss cutting basic human services around the country, laying off teachers, firefighters and police officers, why are we being forced to increase funding for an agency which time and time again has displayed an utter disregard for human dignity?