After initially defending its actions, Qatar has apologized for subjecting women from at least 10 flights to deeply invasive physical exams in search of evidence surrounding the attempted murder of a baby girl. How should we weigh the apology from Qatar for its illegal airport search protocol with our deep desire to bring the attempted murderer to justice?
Qatar Apologizes For Illegal Airport Search
Earlier this week, I shared about a horrific incident that took place at Doha Hamad International Airport earlier in October. After a baby girl was found abandoned in an airport restroom, authorities went on a hunt for her mother, forcing female passengers on 10 different Qatar Airways flights to undergo vaginal searches for signs of recent brith.
The search sparked worldwide outrage and served as a reminder that the rights of the accused in Qatar do not comport to western notions of a right to due process.
On Wednesday, Qatar issued a non-apology apology, in a sense focusing on the horrific circumstances which led to the search and not the search itself.
On 2nd October 2020, a newborn infant was found in a trash can, concealed in a plastic bag and buried under garbage, at Hamad International Airport (HIA). The baby girl was rescued from what appeared to be a shocking and appalling attempt to kill her. The infant is now safe under medical care in Doha.
This was the first instance of an abandoned infant being discovered in such a condition at HIA – this egregious and life-threatening violation of the law triggered an immediate search for the parents, including on flights in the vicinity of where the newborn was found. While the aim of the urgently-decided search was to prevent the perpetrators of the horrible crime from escaping, the State of Qatar regrets any distress or infringement on the personal freedoms of any traveler caused by this action.
His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar has directed that a comprehensive, transparent investigation into the incident be conducted. The results of the investigation will be shared with our international partners. The State of Qatar remains committed to ensuring the safety, security and comfort of all travelers transiting through the country.
Let me start by saying that the action was indeed an egregious violation of human rights and clearly attempted murder. Under these circumstances, I believe the perpetrator should be charged with committing attempted murder and face the penal consequences for such a blatant and indefensible disregard for the dignity of human life.
But the “sorry if you are offended” apology in this statement was deeply unsatisfying. First, because there were less invasive ways of catching the predator (such as by simply reviewing video surveillance or halting flight departures until all passengers were interviewed). Second, and more fundamentally, because the act of performing a “guilty until proven innocent” dragnet is deeply antithetical to the greater goal of protecting life and liberty, two bookends of a flourishing society. That means that sometimes the guilty will walk. But far better to have that sort of system than a legal framework in which the government can simply round you up on a hunch or based upon flimsy evidence and deprive you of life, liberty, and property without due process of law.
Qatar Issues A Follow-Up, Real Apology
I was happy to see Qatar issue a follow-up statement on Friday which clearly and unequivocally distances itself from the search that occurred.
The preliminary investigation into the attempted murder of a newborn baby found in a very serious condition at Hamad International Airport (HIA), and the subsequent procedures taken by the authorities at the airport, including examining a number of female passengers, revealed that standard procedures were violated. Those responsible for these violations and illegal actions have been referred to the Public Prosecution Office.
Following the directives of His Excellency Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, specialised task forces are reviewing and identifying any potential gaps in the procedures and protocols followed at Hamad International Airport, in order to address them and ensure that any violations are avoided in the future.
His Excellency the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior expressed the Government of the State of Qatar’s sincerest apology for what some female travelers went through as a result of the measures.
This incident is the first of its kind at HIA, which has served tens of millions of passengers without any issues like this before. What took place is wholly inconsistent with Qatar’s culture and values. Qatar is fully committed to the safety and security of all travelers arriving to or transiting through HIA.
I’m not sure that the search was indeed “wholly inconsistent” with Qatar’s culture and values. But the apology is well-noted and timely.
Live and Let’s Fly will continue to follow this story. Qatar Airways has still not issued a statement on the incident.
Humans have a deeply-held yearning for justice. Here, justice would entail bringing the person(s) who attempted to murder the newborn baby girl to trial in order to stand for their actions. But we cannot set aside justice in the pursuit of justice. The ends do not justify the means. Universal human rights like the right to be secure in your person cannot and should not be abrogated in order to go on a fishing expedition, even if for a noble purpose of pursuing justice.