US court tosses out suit against TSA and FBI agents by student detained for Arabic flashcards “bomb” and “terrorist”
No one should be shedding any real tears for Nicholas George, especially Nicholas George. What happened to him is an unfortunate consequence of the fact that Arabic-speaking Muslims the world over have carried out terror attacks motivated by the texts and teachings of Islam, and so people who are entrusted with the safety of airline passengers, as hapless and hopeless as the TSA is, have every reason to err on the side of suspicion. Those who are thus inconvenienced should consider it a small price to pay in order to head off the next terror attack.
I speak from experience. More than once I have been held and questioned at airports because of my work. Once I was in an airport waiting for a connecting flight and working on this site on my laptop. Someone saw “jihad” on my screen and reported me to the police. I was soon surrounded by police with big dogs and hauled off for questioning.
Another time I was again in an airport, having hurried from a venue where I had just given a talk. I don’t ever speak from a prepared text, but I do carry notes — a page or two of quotations from various Muslim Brotherhood operatives, etc., including jihadist and Islamic supremacist statements by some putative American moderate Muslims, as well as quotations from the Qur’an and Hadith, etc. I had this material in my suit pocket, and it dropped out when I took off my suit jacket to go through security. So a few minutes later I was again in the friendly presence of police and TSA personnel: agents surrounded me, and one simply held up my notes and asked me why I had that material. I started laughing, because I realized that there was absolutely nothing in the notes to show that I actually opposed what was written there — and realized that it might take awhile to straighten the whole thing out.
And it did. But it was eventually straightened out with no harm done. Should I have sued the TSA and FBI for taking up my time needlessly? If I had been an operative of Hamas-linked CAIR — or Nicholas George — I would have. But I didn’t do that, because I didn’t mind their questioning me. Because I knew what they were doing. I knew they weren’t holding the bearded, swarthy fellow with notes full of jihadist hate speech because they don’t like people of Middle Eastern descent, or because they hate Muslims, or what have you. They were doing their job, which was to protect the American people.
Nick George, and whoever else was offended by his treatment, should realize that.
“US court tosses out Arabic flashcards suit,” from the Associated Press, December 26:
Philadelphia:A former university student who was detained for several hours at an airport after he was found carrying Arabic language flashcards that included the words “bomb” and “terrorist” has had his bid to sue federal agents rejected by a US appeals court.
Nicholas George sought to sue three Transportation Security Administration agents and two FBI agents over the August 2009 detention at Philadelphia International Airport, saying they violated his free speech rights and conducted an improper search and arrest based on the flashcards and a book critical of US policy in the Middle East.
A district judge rejected the agents’ assertion of immunity, but the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in a decision issued Tuesday.
Mr George was returning from his home in a Philadelphia suburb to Pomona College in California, where he was studying Arabic, when TSA agents saw the words “bomb” and “terrorist” among his flashcards and called police.
Mr George was detained for nearly five hours, two of them in handcuffs in a city police station at the airport.
Chief Judge Theodore McKee, writing for the three-judge panel, said Mr George clearly had the right to possess and use such flashcards and the book and called the detention by the TSA officials “at the outer boundary” of constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
But he said the agents were justified in detaining Mr George briefly to investigate.
“It is simply not reasonable to require TSA officials to turn a blind eye to someone trying to board an airplane carrying Arabic-English flashcards with words such as `bomb’, `to kill’, etc,” he wrote.
“Rather, basic common sense would allow those officials to take reasonable and minimally intrusive steps to inquire into the potential passenger’s motivations.”
In arguments in federal court in October 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union, representing Mr George, said the search should have ended when it was clear Mr George wasn’t carrying any weapons or explosives. The appeals court acknowledged that “much of the concern dissipated” after Mr George was found to be unarmed but that didn’t mean further inquiry was unwarranted.