Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jose Melendez-Perez, one of the great unsung heroes of 9/11

Parts of original Story Text
By Michael Smerconish
and American RadioWorks

Check out the story in the USA Today(link), then also peep the story below.
5 years after 9/11 common sense is finally kicking in.

USA TODAY STORY: Airport security uses talk as tactic

Arguably, it is Melendez we can thank for the fact that Flight 93 never completed its mission of striking a symbol of democracy in Washington, and instead crashed into a field in Western Pennsylvania.

A month before the September 11 attacks, a customs inspector in Orlando, Florida refused admission to a Saudi man. The inspector was Jose Melendez-Perez. He told the commission that Saudis come through Orlando often. They're on their way to Disneyworld, but this traveler was different.

"My first impression of the subject was that he was a young male, well groomed with short hair, thin mustache, black long sleeved shirt, black trousers and black shoes," said Melendez-Perez. "He was about 5'6" and in impeccable shape. He had a military appearance. I had the impression of the subject that he had knowledge of interview techniques and had military training."

"I noticed that he did not have a return airline ticket or hotel reservation. My first question to the subject through the interpreter, why he was not in possession of a return airline ticket. The subject became visibly upset and in an arrogant and threatening manner, which include pointing his finger at my face, stated that he did not know where he was going when he departed the United States. What first came to mind at this point was the subject was a hit man. A hit man doesn't know where he's going because if he's caught, that way he doesn't have anything or any information to bargain with. My wife said that I was watching too much movies."

It was Melendez, working as an immigration inspector, who stopped Mohamed al Kahtani when he sought entrance to the United States at the Orlando International Airport. Kahtani was then a Saudi national who came before Melendez as he worked in secondary screening, simply because Kahtani had incorrectly filled out a Customs Declaration Form. Kahtani claimed not to speak English. Melendez put Kahtani's basic data into his computer, and it came up negative. His documents appeared genuine. And a check of his possessions was also unremarkable.

But Melendez still didn't let him pass.

To the consternation of his colleagues who were concerned about the political power of Saudi nationals, Melendez kept probing.

Why?

"My job requires me to know the difference between legitimate travelers to the U.S. and those who are not," he told the 9/11 Commission. "This included potential terrorists."

Keep in mind - this is a month before 9/11.

"Upon establishing eye contact, he exhibited body language and facial gestures that appeared arrogant. In fact, when I first called his name in the secondary room and matched him with papers, he had a deep staring look."

"I then told him that without knowledge of the English language or a hotel reservation," said Melendez-Perez, "he would have difficulty getting around Orlando. He answered that there was someone waiting for him upstairs. When asked the person's name he changed story and said no one was meeting him. The subject was very hostile throughout the entire interview that took approximately one and a half hours."

As Melendez would later tell the 9/11 Commission about Kahtani, "He just gave me the creeps".

Of significance, the would-be terrorist who claimed not to speak English, found a command of the language when Melendez rejected him, saying "I'll be back". The next time Kahtani encountered the United States, it was fighting our soldiers in Afghanistan, post 9-11. He is now at Guantanamo.

And here is the kicker. What we now know is that at precisely the moment that Mohamed al Kahtani was being given his walking papers by Jose Melendez at the Orlando Airport on August 4, 2001, there to pick up the new arrival was 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta. That was one of the more interesting details to emerge from the work of the 9/11 Commission. And that is why Democratic 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, told Melendez, in front of the 9/11 Commission, that his conduct had arguably spared the Capitol or White House an attack. In other words, Ben-Veniste reasoned, with the added muscle of Kahtani on board Flight 93, the terrorists could have fended off the passenger revolt and continued toward Washington.
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It is entirely plausible to suggest that the actions of Melendez in doing his job efficiently and competently may well have contributed to saving the Capitol or White House, and all the people who were in those buildings. Liberals would of course argue that this dudes rights were violated and other bullshit. Screw the civil liberties crap. We are fighting a war, with the extremists pricks want to harm Americans. America must be technologically, socially vigilant and aware to combat the threat of terrorism.