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Lawsuit claims Pomona College student was detained by TSA over Arabic flashcards

A Pomona College student who says he was detained at a Philadelphia airport because he was carrying English-Arabic flashcards filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against employees of the Transportation Security Administration, the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nicholas George, a senior majoring in physics and Middle Eastern studies, was returning to California from Philadelphia in August when he was randomly selected for extra screening at Philadelphia International Airport, the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia states.

When George emptied his pockets, he took out the flashcards.

Authorities detained him in the screening area for 30 minutes before he was questioned by a TSA supervisor, the lawsuit states. At one point, the supervisor asked George if he knew who committed the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to the lawsuit.

George answered, "Osama bin Laden."

"Do you know what language he spoke?" the supervisor asked, according to the document.

"Arabic," George answered.

The supervisor then held up the flashcards and said, "Do you see why these cards are suspicious?"

George said he was handcuffed and held for almost five hours, during which time he was questioned by two FBI agents, who asked if George was "Islamic" or a member of a "communist group," according to the complaint.

One of the agents concluded that George, 22, was "not a real threat," the lawsuit states.

"I don't understand how locking me up and harassing me just because I was carrying the flashcards made anybody safer," George said in statement released by the ACLU. "No one should be treated like a criminal for simply learning one of the most widely spoken languages in the world."

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said she could not comment on pending litigation.

-- Raja Abdulrahim

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Comments () | Archives (36)

Good job, TSA, this lawsuit should be thrown out, with the Koran.

No, we're not a police state at all. Nope.

The NSA listens to our phone call. Google designs entire systems to facilitate "law-enforcement" access to our mail and web searches. A government computer must "approve" us before the airlines can issue us a boarding pass. Our most liberal politicians are in favor of indefinite detentions without trial. Our prison population is the largest in the world.

But no, we're not a police state. No! We're the "Land of the Free" -- it says so, right there on the package.

TSA is a true terrorist organization every citizen needs to fear. Wake up America, real fascists do not go around marching and saluting, they create organizations like the TSA, where they can hide behind the 'protect you at all cost' psychology. Hitler did everything he did to 'protect' the citizen, and we see it happening again today. "Hancuffed" why? Because this person could have run away? i know, every mindless sheep is going to tell us how much safer they feel, knowing fascists are on guard. We will take away your RIGHTS in order to protect them.

If Osama bin laden was behind 9/11, then why did thousands of americans die fighting in Iraq? And if he's hiding in Pakistan, why are hundreds more dying in Afghanistan fighting the taliban? The war on terror is a creation of fear. We have a half trillion dollar defense budget, the greatest military in the history of the world, and yet America hasn't won anything after eight years and counting, and Al-queda is still the boogeyman. But you can bet Corporations are making a bundle. Arabic flash cards? Are you kidding me? Strip grandma, you might be a terrorist.

So he was suspected of being able to contact his handlers in a remote Yemeni village using flash cards that read, "Where is the library?" Maybe if General Pershing could have detained U.S. citizens for packing tortillas when he was chasing Pancho Villa, then history would have turned out differently.

Come on George, they were just doing thierjob to secure us. Common sence should have told you to put the cards away so you would not look suspicious. Had you been a real terrorist and with your flash card, and security decided to ignore this. Image the trajedy. George they were just doing what us taxpayers expected them to do, thier job! I hope the judge throws you case out!!! To the TSA, FBI, and Philidelphia Police Department thank you for doing your job well.

Philadelphia is also where 76ers fans booed the singing of the Canadian National Anthem during a game against the Toronto Raptors shortly after 9-11 so I can't say I'm surprised this happened in such an enlightened and classy city. The fact that the actual SUPERVISOR is such an incompetent ignoramus is a sign that the only reason there hasn't been another 9-11 yet is because the terrorists just aren't trying very hard... yet. Because certainly none of the authorities charged with protecting us is worth paying minimum wage, especially the FBI, CIA let alone the TSA. Those morons are still trying to hire people who speak Arabic while at the same time harassing and detaining people for learning it. The only thing our intelligence services are good for is blowing up environmentalists (Judi Bari) and opposing our much cherished notion of freedom by overthrowing other country's democratically elected leaders (Aristide).

Nicholas George was about 13 when 9/11 occured. I guess he never saw, or has forgotten the videos and pictures of people having to make the choice of burning to death, or jumping from over 100 stories in the air, and plummeting to their death. Nicholas George feels he's too important. Nicholas George I'm sure is on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and probably has a bit on YouTube. He probably owns an IPhone or its equivalent to further his belief in his self-importance. Personally, I'd rather be inconvenienced for 1/2 an hour than be on a plane, hurtling 30,000 feet to my death because a TSA agent didn't want to offend someone back at the airport.


Given the shenanigans of our TSA and FBI, we must be the laughingstock of the world!

Mr. George is absolutely correct, how can we encourage the youth to open their minds, enlarge their horizons, and increase their tolerance when government employees are acting in such arrogant and narrow-minded manners? 'Ugly American' is still alive and well today. Besides, what does being a Muslim got to do with communism? I really don't get it!

This is disgusting- the TSA has been illegally abusing travelers while at the same time engaging in security theater from its inception. I have heard more than one TSA agent say hateful and/or stupid things in the years since 2001, including "They should just close all the borders." Dressing their agents in blue uniforms does nothing to assuage their core problem: incompetence, ignorance, and plain hate. It is a rotten organization and always has been, projecting a horrible image to both American citizens and the world community.

Man up, Nickolas. Sometimes people error, even the TSA. You should have been in your 20's during the years 1965-75 when, if you had long hair, you would have been rousted by the cops every other day. Guess what? My whole generation lived through it without snotting and bawling. You're a gutless whimp!

Does this security supervisor know that Arabic is one the official languages of United Nations? I rest my case.

Sounds like the TSA was being pretty harsh, but then we've only heard one side. Glad we can share our diverse opinions in the USA though I don't necessarily like them. I used to say I was bigoted towards bigots, but then I recognized my folly.

I is so sad for all of us. The US used to be the land of the free and the land of the brave. Nowadays we're a nation of cowards and fearful, uneducated people who happily give up all of our civil liberties if only someone tells us it is for our own good. If I read the comments on "serves him right, why does he study Arabic?" I'm getting really sad since it seems to be ok to arrest AMERICANS simply for having some Arabic cards in their possession.

This case is a beautiful example of how far we have come. Is that really what we want to stand for as a nation?

Oh come on, I am a Pomona grad and think this lawsuit is a complete waste of time. Enough already... you would think Mr. George would have the common sense to carry those cards elsewhere than his pockets. Hate to think what would have happened if some passengers saw him perusing them on the plane...

I think a judgment of 10 billion from FBI funds and 10 billion from DHS funds for this budget year would be sufficient to get their attention. Put me on the jury.

It's laughable that anti-communist hysteria still infects some officials. If I'd been asked whether I was Islamic or belonged to a Communist group, I'd have responded that it was none of their business since these are entirely legal beliefs/associations protected by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. These little martinets are nothing more than thought control police. The way these clowns exercise their power not only undermines confidence that they are doing a good job of protecting us from real terrorist threats but affirms that they are indeed doing a terrible job.

TSA needs major reform. They catch a student because of Arabic flashcards yet they allow someone in Detroit to fly with a bomb in their shoes!

A good friend of mine was returning home from VA the weekend after Christmas and was detained by the TSA. Why? Because he was a dark skinned black man who had on a white T-Shirt. If that sounds familiar it is. The Nigerian who tried to blow up a plain on X-mas was wearing a white T-shirt. It's like you gotta watch the news and if someone in a Laker shirt tried to blow up a plane then I'd have to make sure I didn't wear one to the airport. Day by day I don't think I'm in "Kansas" anymore.

And to think the whole point of invading 2 countries, spending TRILLIONS of dollars, losing human life and their untold dreams and aspirations was to "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here" and even more importantly, to preserve the American way of life. If that's the case, I think the "terrorists" have won.

is multilingualism so sadly un-American?

What does been Communist have to do with 9/11? Are these people morons or just badly trained. Let say he was Communist, are we at war or even care any more about Communism oh wait China is Communist (Socialist) hahaha.

I do admit this kid is also a moron because he really thinks he is free and everything is perfect in our religious fanatical country of today.

I believe it can I could have guessed it was Philadelphia. Same month, August, I walked from the parking lot to the airport to save time. It was a hot day so when I got to the TSA I was sweating and I have never had so many TSA agents follow every move I did. I finally looked at one and said I walked in from the parking lot because of the stupid parking shuttles were running slow. He freaked out because I said "stupid" (he physically jumped back) and so I spent another 30 minutes getting screened and re-screened.

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