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Terrorist Prosecution Fail, Taxpayers Eat it for $25,000+

Nicholas George (Photo from ACLU)

Here’s another reason to be even more skeptical when you see those statistics about how the United States has arrested or detained 1,200,761,324 terrorists or whatever.

A former college student, Nicholas George, was detained in 2009 for hours at Philadelphia International Airport because he was carrying Arabic flashcards and thus suspected by the TSA of having something to do with terrorism. With the assistance of the ACLU, George successfully sued the United States Government for abusing his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The $25,000 settlement ends five years of litigation, including numerous attempts to stall the case by the government, all paid for by you, the taxpayer. Because, freedom, ‘kay?

The government’s madness began after Nicholas George was detained for having Arabic-English flashcards with words like “terrorist” and bomb” written on them. He was 21-years-old at the time and on his way to California, where he was a senior at Pomona College majoring in — wait for it — Middle Eastern studies. The U.S. government actually encourages Americans to learn “critical languages” such as Arabic, and both the CIA and the State Department offer recruitment incentives to those who do. The government also offers generous grants and loans to those who study Arabic. In order to better decode what a bad guy might be saying, it would make sense for a student to learn words such as “bomb.” The term would also certainly come up in any contemporary reading about world events.

Back at the front lines of the war on terror, apparently the Philly airport, things played out a little differently.

“At the metal detector at airport security, Transportation Security Administration agents asked me to empty my pockets,” George said. “I took the set of flashcards from my pocket and handed them to the officers. After I cleared the metal detector, they asked me to step aside for additional screening. One of them started rifling through the cards, and another took a book critical of U.S. foreign policy written by a Reagan administration official out of my carry-on. The minutes ticked by, and I got more confused about why I was being detained and more concerned that I would miss my flight. One of them called a supervisor.”

After a half-hour delay at the security line, the supervisor showed up. After looking at the book and flashcards, the supervisor asked “Do you know who did 9/11?” George answered: “Osama Bin Laden.” Then she asked him if he knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. “Arabic,” he replied. George was in college, after all, so knew the answers. “So do you see why these cards are suspicious?” she finished. George did not know the answer to that question.

George was then handcuffed and paraded through the airport to a police substation. Authorities searched his luggage and kept him locked up in a cell handcuffed. After about two hours George asked to go to the bathroom, and on the way back asked his jailer why he was being held. The cop answered, contending for the banality of evil award, “I dunno, what’d you do?” George was eventually set free without explanation. Having missed his flight, he was left on his own to get home.

“Even after searching my luggage without probable cause of a crime and finding nothing out of the ordinary, TSA agents and the police felt they had the authority to detain and then arrest me, purely on ignorant assumptions about a language spoken by 295 million people worldwide,” George wrote in a blog post.

Another victory in the war on terror,or for bullying, or for the triumph of the will of ignorance. Thanks TSA!

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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

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Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren

Peter Van Buren has served with the Foreign Service for over 23 years. He received a Meritorious Honor Award for assistance to Americans following the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, a Superior Honor Award for helping an American rape victim in Japan, and another award for work in the tsunami relief efforts in Thailand. Previous assignments include Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the UK and Hong Kong. He volunteered for Iraq service and was assigned to ePRT duty 2009-10. His tour extended past the withdrawal of the last combat troops.

Van Buren worked extensively with the military while overseeing evacuation planning in Japan and Korea. This experience included multiple field exercises, plus civil-military work in Seoul, Tokyo, Hawaii, and Sydney with allies from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. The Marine Corps selected Van Buren to travel to Camp Lejeune in 2006 to participate in a field exercise that included simulated Iraqi conditions. Van Buren spent a year on the Hill in the Department of State’s Congressional Liaison Office.

Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (the book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York City, he lives in Virginia with his spouse, two daughters, and a docile Rottweiler.

Though this is his first book, Peter’s commentary has been featured on TomDispatch, Salon, Huffington Post, The Nation, American Conservative Magazine, Mother Jones, Michael Moore.com, Le Monde, Daily Kos, Middle East Online, Guernica and others.

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