Cooksey backtracks
Up turban Cooksey backtracks Lawmaker backs off Sikhs haunted INDIA PM



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Updated: 09/21/01 at 1:00 a.m. CST

Cooksey backtracks on comment
Congressman apologizes for 'poor choice of words'

Advocate Washington bureau

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. John Cooksey, R-Monroe, said Thursday that he "chose the wrong words" earlier this week when he advocated routine security interrogations of anyone wearing "a diaper on his head."

"It was a poor choice of words. I should not have used those words," Cooksey said.

The congressman said he did not mean to include American citizens of Arab descent in his recommendation for automatic security checks. Cooksey said he should have made clear that in light of the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, he was suggesting that airport security personnel identify non-citizen Arabs, and to subject only those travelers to special questioning or special observation.

A bearded, turban-wearing Arab Muslim, Osama bin Laden, is the prime suspect in the planning of the terrorist attacks last week, according to the U.S. government.

Cooksey also said Thursday that he will make a statement for the Congressional Record, possibly today, to "explain who Sikhs are."

Sikh men are required to wear turbans and beards, but they are not Muslim and usually are of Indian, not Arab, descent. Their religion is influenced by both Hinduism and Islam, recognizes one god and rejects the caste system.

Several Sikhs have been harassed and attacked since the terrorist attacks, and one Sikh has been murdered. Muslim mosques also have been vandalized.

Cooksey said that, on Thursday, he received a visit from Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh, who identified himself as a Sikh and as president of the Council of Khalistan.

"He just came by my office," Cooksey said. The lawmaker said Aulakh told him, "There are 20 million Sikhs, perhaps half a million in this country. They wear turbans. He said that, of the people wearing turbans in this country, 99 percent of them are Sikhs."

"He said that most Arab men do not wear their turbans when they are in this country. But Sikh men wear their turbans all the time."

Cooksey acknowledged that, based on the government's review of airport surveillance cameras, the terrorists did not wear turbans, and "They were dressed like Americans."

However, Cooksey said, it's also clear that the terrorists were not seriously questioned or searched before boarding planes.

Airport personnel can get some idea of citizenship by examining documents and asking questions, Cooksey said.

"We are all questioned," he said.

Most of the world's recent terrorism has origins in the Mideast; consequently anyone traveling by air who appears to be Arab and a noncitizen should receive special attention, Cooksey said.

"I feel very strongly that non-American Arabs -- on visas, on passports -- at some point, they have to have a proper security check. ...They need to be scrutinized."

Cooksey's "diaper' comment has made national news, including coverage in the Washington Post, the National Journal's political "Hotline," and a daily legislative report that is circulated on Capitol Hill. It was the lead item on the Drudge (Internet) Report Thursday afternoon and on the Bill O'Reilly television show on Fox News Wednesday night.

Cooksey said that "radio talk shows" have created a mistaken impression "that I said if police or the FBI see someone in a car wearing a turban, they should pull him over. ... I was talking about airport security. That is my job," Cooksey said, noting that he sits on a House aviation subcommittee.

"I certainly recognize everyone of Arab descent who was born in this country as an American citizen. I recognize everyone of Arab descent who was naturalized as an American citizen. We ought not to think of ourselves as Irish Americans, or French Americans or Arab Americans, but Americans. We need to be unified."

Last updated on : November 11, 2001