Nicholas George, a Pomona College student in California, was abusively interrogated, handcuffed and detained for almost five hours at the Philadelphia International Airport in August 2009 for carrying English-Arabic flashcards, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The flashcards were in connection with his college language studies. The ACLU filed a lawsuit Feb. 10 on George's behalf.


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Here is what happened, according to an ACLU press release:

George was on his way back to school in California in August 2009 when he was prompted by Transportation Security Authority (TSA) agents to empty his pockets at an airport security screening point. After producing a set of English-Arabic flashcards, which each had an English word on one side and the corresponding Arabic word on the other, George was detained by the TSA agents in the screening area for 30 minutes. A TSA supervisor then arrived and aggressively questioned George, asking him questions such as how he felt about 9/11, whether he knew "who did 9/11" and whether he knew what language Osama bin Laden spoke.

A Philadelphia police officer then arrived, handcuffed George and led him through a terminal to the airport police station where he was left in a locked cell for two hours in the handcuffs, and for two more hours with the handcuffs removed. George was then interrogated for half an hour by two FBI agents. He was never informed of why he was handcuffed, detained or arrested, and he was not informed of his rights. By the time he was released, George had long since missed his flight and was told by airline officials that he would have to wait until the next day to travel.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the TSA officials, the Philadelphia police and the FBI violated George's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and his First Amendment right to free speech.