World Bulletin/News Desk
Nick George, a U.S. citizen and student at Pomona College went to the Philadelphia International Airport to catch a flight to California and begin his senior year in August 2009. At the airport, he was detained, abusively interrogated, handcuffed, and jailed for several hours in a holding cell – solely because he was carrying a set of Arabic-English flashcards for his language studies, and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy.
Nick, who was double majoring in physics and Middle Eastern studies and had been learning Arabic since his freshman year, arrived at the security checkpoint with a single piece of carry-on luggage, in which he had stereo speakers. As he approached the X-ray machine, a TSA officer asked him what he had in his bag, and Nick truthfully replied. The officer asked him to step aside for secondary screening, and Nick complied. His speakers were X-rayed separately, and his cell phone swabbed twice to test for explosives – all with negative results. At this point, he should have been free to board his plane. He wasn’t.
The TSA officers were constitutionally required to let Nick board his flight as soon as they had had determined that he carried neither weapons nor explosives. Instead, the TSA officers stalled because during the secondary screening, when Nick was asked to empty his pockets, he had produced his flashcards, which he was using to learn the vocabulary of contemporary Arabic-language media, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated.
While one TSA agent asked Nick about a recent Phillies game, the other stepped away to call a supervisor and tell her about Nick’s flashcards. Thirty minutes later, the TSA supervisor arrived and began interrogating Nick in a hostile and aggressive manner.
According to ACLU statement, following conversation took place et the airport that day:
"Noticing Nick’s book, the TSA supervisor said: “You clearly read. Do you know who did 9/11?”
Taken aback, Nick answered, “Osama bin Laden.”
The TSA supervisor asked “Do you know what language he spoke?”
Nick answered, “Arabic.”
The TSA supervisor then held up the flashcards and said, “Do you see why these cards are suspicious?”
Then, a Philadelphia police officer – whom the TSA had summoned – handcuffed Nick and marched him through the terminal, in full view of other passengers, to the airport police station. Nick was told he was being taken for “extra screening” but was instead locked inside a jail cell. The police held him there for hours at the request of federal law enforcement officials. Eventually, two FBI agents arrived and interrogated Nick for an additional thirty minutes.
At the end of the interview, one of them said to Nick, “The police call us to evaluate whether there is a real threat. You are not a real threat.”
Throughout the experience, Nick remained cooperative and calm. He was never advised of any rights or given an explanation for his mistreatment. His ordeal lasted for almost five hours, with four of those spent in the jail cell.