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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Busted for Flashcards, Says College Kid

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A Pomona College student says he was arrested, handcuffed and "abusively interrogated" at Philadelphia International Airport "solely because he passed through an airport screening checkpoint with a set of Arabic-English flashcards and a book critical of American foreign policy."

Plaintiff Nicholas George, 22, of Pennsylvania, is a senior majoring in Middle Eastern Studies at the well-regarded California college.

In his federal complaint, George says he was trying to fly back to college to begin his senior year on Aug. 29, 2009, when TSA screeners detained him for 30 minutes, after which he was "abusively interrogated for an additional 15 minutes by a TSA supervisor. He was then handcuffed, without explanation, by a Philadelphia police officer and transported to the airport police station where he was jailed for approximately four hours, more than two of them with his hands cuffed behind his back." He says he was released "only after having been subjected to an additional 30 minutes of custodial interrogation at the hands of two FBI agents."

The book that alarmed his interrogators, George says, is "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions," by Clyde Prestowicz, publisher by Basic Books in 2004.

During his interrogation by TSA screeners, George says the TSA supervisor asked him, "You obviously read. You know who did 9/11?"

George knew that answer. He said, "Osama bin Laden."

"Do you know what language he spoke?" the supervisor asked him.

He replied, "Arabic," according to the complaint.

"At this point the TSA Supervisor held up Mr. George's flashcards and stated: 'Do you see why these cards are suspicious?'"

George adds that TSA agents "swabbed [his] cell phone in order to run a test for explosives." It tested negative.

Philadelphia police then came and handcuffed him and held him for 4 hours and the FBI interrogated for another 30 minutes, he says.

During the interrogation, he says, an FBI agent asked if he knew why he was being detained. He replied that he did not, and the agent "responded, in part, by calling Mr. George a 'f---ing idiot,'" according to the complaint. The agents also asked him if he were Islamic or Communist. After half an hour of questioning, he says an FBI agent told him, "You are not a real threat," and he was set free.

He seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations. He is represented by Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU.

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