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TSA screeners leave cancer survivor covered in urine

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Dems challenge TSA to justify enhanced pat-downs

A retired teacher from Lansing, Michigan, says he had to walk through an airport and board a plane covered in urine after TSA agents tore open his urostomy bag during a pat-down.

Thomas Sawyer, a 61-year-old survivor of bladder cancer, was flagged for an enhanced screening at Detroit Metropolitan Airport Nov. 7 after a metal detector picked up the urostomy bag in his pants. The medical device collects urine through an opening in the stomach. MSNBC reports:

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Due to his medical condition, Sawyer asked to be screened in private. “One officer looked at another, rolled his eyes and said that they really didn’t have any place to take me,” said Sawyer. “After I said again that I’d like privacy, they took me to an office.”

“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”

The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.”

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.

Sawyer says he plans to file a complaint against the TSA. A spokesman for the agency said they will “review the matter and take appropriate action if necessary.”

Sawyer’s story is the latest in a string of anecdotes that suggests some TSA agents are dismissive or unconcerned with air travelers’ medical conditions. In one incident reported earlier this week, a flight attendant who survived breast cancer was forced to expose her prosthetic breast to TSA employees.

DEMS CHALLENGE TSA TO JUSTIFY PAT-DOWNS

Two House Democrats, including the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, have sent a letter (PDF) to TSA Administrator John Pistole asking him to “reconsider” the new screening procedures.

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“While we agree that security measures should be enhanced in the wake of recent attempted terrorist attacks on the aviation system, we are concerned about new enhanced pat down screening protocols and urge you to reconsider the utilization of these protocols. With Thanksgiving Day marking the beginning of the busiest travel season of the year, this request is timely,” the letter stated.

It was signed by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MI), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX).

The letter also challenges Pistole to justify the decision to offer “enhanced pat-downs” as the alternative for passengers who choose to opt out of the full body scanners. The letter requests that Pistole provide the committee with all documents “that support the TSA’s decision to implement the enhanced pat-down procedure.”

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That may prove difficult. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic reported last month that a TSA agent told him the pat-down procedure, which involves the touching of breasts and genitals, was simply a bullying technique meant to get passengers inside the full body scanner.

“Nobody’s going to do it [choose the pat-down],” the agent reportedly said, “once they find out what we’re going to do.”

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