Student Detained at Airport Over Possession of Arabic Flashcards


By: Grace Huang  t r u t h o u t

(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t

An American college student was detained for over five hours at a Philadelphia airport because he was carrying a set of English-Arabic flashcards, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Nicholas George, the 22-year-old senior attending Pomona College, said he was on his way back to school in August 2009 when he was stopped at an airport security screening point and told to empty his pockets by Transportation Security Authority (TSA) agents. He was carrying a set of English-Arabic flashcards that he used in his studies, which had English on one side and Arabic on the other.

According to the lawsuit, the agent asked George questions, including how he felt about 9/11, if he knew who did it and if he knew what language he spoke. After he answered, the agent held up the flashcards and asked, “Do you see why these cards are suspicious?”

Afterwards, a local Philadelphia police officer arrived, handcuffed George and walked him through a terminal to an airport jail cell. He was kept there for a total of four hours, with two spent in handcuffs and two without. Officers continued to examine his possessions, especially the flashcards and a student ID from when he studied abroad in Jordan.

According to the lawsuit, George was then interrogated by two FBI agents, one of whom asked George if he knew why he was being held. When he replied that he did not, the agent called him a “f—ing [sic] idiot.” They then continued to ask questions such as whether he was Islamic or a member of any “pro-Islamic groups” on campus.

After half an hour, the agents eventually said to George, “Our job is more of an art than a science. The police call us to evaluate whether there is a real threat. You are not a real threat.” They then said he was free to leave. The lawsuit also said that George never received an apology from anyone involved.

After he returned to the terminal, the airline told him that he would have to wait until the next day to fly out.

Read more at t r u t h o u t


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