Two passengers tussled over the one in front reclining their seat, and two F-16s were scrambled.
At the time I noted that there’s ultimately only one possible thing that those F-16s could possibly do: shoot down the plane and kill everyone on board.
That’s what they were clearly moving into position to do, if it was determined that the scuffle presaged a terrorist attack. We learned on September 11, 2001 that planes could be commandeered and used as missiles. I’m not getting into the question at this point of whether it’s the right decision in a given circumstance to trade off the lives of everyone on board for the lives of people on the ground who might be lost in an attack. One could imagine that there’s a net saving of lives if the plane were shot down, if we knew for certain it was going to hit a dense population target. Or perhaps one would argue that even if more people would be killed in the plane than on the ground, that it’s still a legitimate choice in order to foil the intended plans of the particular terrorists who are directing the aircraft.
Now, this week a United flight bound for Geneva was diverted to Boston when a camera left by a passenger on a previous flight was found in an unoccupied seat.
Again, fighter jets were scrambled.
Capt. Ruth Castro, a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) confirmed to CBS News that two F-15 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the flight at about 9:00 p.m. Eastern, shortly after it departed from Newark.
“The fighters were scrambled, then intercepted and shadowed the aircraft” before it landed safely at Logan, said Castro.
In this case it obviously wasn’t necessary to kill everyone on board because of a camera in a seatback pocket that the crew cleaning the plane between flights didn’t find (shouldn’t they be doing a more thorough job? A good reminder you may not want to touch items in the seatback pockets…).
But it strikes me as strange that reporting on the scrambling of military fighter jets is so matter of fact.
There are difficult questions. But the notion that the government is now prepared to wrestle with those questions, that when an inflight anomaly is reported somewhat readies their trigger finger, would seem to warrant at least a more explicit noting in news stories. Instead, it’s something about which we’ve all become passé.
In addition to the moral question, it strikes me odd that it doesn’t raise for anyone legal questions.
I am not an attorney, let alone a legal scholar in the use of military power on U.S. soil. For goodness sakes, my understanding of the Posse Comitatus Act is limited to what I’ve read on Wikipedia. But is the use of military air power to kill American citizens in U.S. airspace even authorized by any Act of Congress?
I’m not arguing that it isn’t, or that there’s no theory that would suggest that it is, but if it isn’t clearly established by legal precedent then it would seem to me at least worth noting such.
Or — and I’m hardly the median ignorant observer of such matters — if it’s not clear to me the legal basis upon which this is proceeding, it would seem like the such awareness might not be broadly held by the public at large, and again another reason why discussion of such would be worth noting in a news story on military fighter jets being scrambled… so that they would be in a position to shoot down a commercial airliner.
Further, it would seem worth noting under whose direct authority the fighter jets were scrambled, and who directly would be giving the order to kill everyone on board?
These seem to me the kinds of things that we should be paying more attention to, a shift over the past 10 years to where we are simply used to and expect the government to make decisions about which Americans live and die in the moment based on a given set of exigencies. And it’s become so ingrained that no one even notices.