College student Nicholas George, of Montgomery County, Penn., sued the federal government yesterday for detaining him at Philadelphia’s airport, according to the Washington Post. George claimed that three Transportation Security Administration officers, two Philadelphia police officers and two FBI agents violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable seizure.
According to CNN, the 22-year-old student claims he was wrongly detained for almost five hours last summer, on August 29, after an airport screener found his Arabic-English flash cards. The flash cards had an English word on one side and the corresponding Arabic word on the other. Of about 200 flash cards, about 10 had words such as “bomb” and “terrorist,” George stated. “They asked me why I had those words. I told them honestly because I had been trying to read Arabic news media, especially Al-Jazeera, and these are words that come up when you read the news about the Middle East,” George said. George also had a book entitled “Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions” in his possession.
During the detainment, a supervisor asked George his views on the September 11 attacks, according to the Washington Post. The supervisor asked if he knew who carried them out and what language Osama bin Laden speaks. The supervisor then asked: “Do you see why these cards are suspicious?” All three agencies mentioned in the lawsuit declined to comment, but one member of the TSA mentioned that they focused on George because his conduct was "erratic."
The Washington Post states that the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project and its Pennsylvania chapter will be representing George. Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU, said “Arresting and restraining passengers who pose no threat to flight safety and are not breaking any law not only violates people’s rights, but it won’t make us any safer.”