Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A not so key person

While air travelers continue to discard large tubes of toothpaste, make-up and hand lotion into the rubbish at airport security gates, an aggravating activity that is a direct result of the putative "liquid bomb" plot" unveiled in Britain this past summer, we now learn that Pakistan has dropped the terrorism charges leveled against Rashid Rauf. It had been clamied, with breathless media fanfare, that Rauf was a "key person" in the plot and had al Qaeda connections. Fantasical scenarios were dispensed at an amazing rate back then. Oh, the terror! The anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi found "no evidence of terrorism" and dropped the charges. Recall that two others arrested in Britain for involvement in this plot have likewise been released.

At the time, authorities claimed that "bomb making" materials had been found in Rauf's possession. While the materials were never specified, be sure, we were told, that they were a scary batch of bad, bad stuff, stuff that would surely be used to wreck terror across the globe. It turns out that authorities found hydrogen peroxide in Rauf's possession and naturally concluded that this was intended for illicit bomb making. Or a sore finger. Or a dye job.

All of which points to the fact that, should authorities find household fliuds in your possession -- H2O2, isopropyl alcohol, other basic medical supplies -- you too could wind up facing charges.

Now, given the Pakistani government's tacit -- if not also active -- support for Taliban and al Qaeda retrenchment in Afghanistan, I am not so foolish as to believe that Pakistani courts are completely unbiased in their dispensation of justice. Indeed, a number of charges against Rauf are still pending, including impersonation, forging documents and "possession of explosives" (whether this charge remains and is a result of the hydrogen peroxide is unclear). The provenance of those activities remains to be determined. However, as this "plot" begins to unravel, far outside the media spotlight, it seems entirely likely that the whole episode will simply wither away, the product of political brinkmanship conveniently timed for short term gain in an election year.

But one thing that will remain for us all as a result of this terror hyperbole: everytime we fly, we will continue to have to rid ourselves of all manner of meager fluid that we might have used to brush our teeth or eliminate the embarrassing threat of body odor. And we will remain safe from nothing for this effort.


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