Last week, Purple Heart veteran Nathan Kemnitz experienced first-hand the paranoia that has taken over U.S. national security. Kemnitz, who was injured in a roadside bomb attack in 2004, is blind on his right eye and cannot lift his right arm above his head. This did not matter to California state capitol security guards and the Sacramento Airport TSA, who were allegedly extremely rude to the retired combatant, and treated him with disrespect.
At the state capitol, Kemnitz was asked to remove his dress blue blouse "because he was wearing too much metal" — a reference to his many war medals. This was difficult for him, because of his injured arm, and when Kemnitz refused to comply, a heated argument ensued. In an interview to CBS, Kemnitz stated that "At first I was a little shocked, and then it went to ridiculous. It's almost like they wanted to make a show, like we will search anybody, we don't care." Later on, at Sacramento International Airport, TSA failed to consider his injury and asked him to raise his arms above his head for the full-body scanner. They then proceeded to perform a thorough body inspection, even looking under all of the marine's medals. Kemnitz wasn't even allowed to prove, medals excluded, that he was a retired military officer: he was not asked for his retired military ID card.
TSA has apologized to Kemnitz, and the state capitol has reported that it will look into the incident. Both entities also issued statements saying that "everyone, no matter who you are, has to go through certain security measures."
The event is an epitome of the paranoia that has engulfed U.S. national security strategy. Indeed, what Nathan Kemnitz went through is representative of the borderline absurd rationale at play in US security offices today. It is the same logic governing the controversial PRISM program: the underlying assumption that literally anyone is a potential criminal.
Now, don't get me wrong: I agree that security scans and check-ups should be universally applied, and I think that the statement issued by TSA and the state capital is justified. But there is also a question of execution. There should be mechanisms in place that can respectfully deal with special circumstances, as was the case with Kemnitz. Kemnitz himself reported that the situation in Bob Hope Airport in Burbank was markedly different: there, they did not ask him to take off his jacket, choosing instead to examine his military ID and question him about his service. They also allowed him to walk through the X-ray machine with his arms down.
In the end, the message that Kemnitz' incident sends is clear: that those fighting for America can be perceived to be as much of a threat as those supposedly menacing enemies whom they are fighting against. U.S. security agencies seem to have blurred the distinction between friend and foe, as the PRISM program also demonstrates. It is a very scary precedent for a national security program to set.