TSA agents are attempting to appeal a dismissal by a district judge who has denied their motion to dismiss a law suit pursued by a Pomona College Student. The student, Nicholas George was “perp walked” through the airport after Transportation Security Administration agents saw the words “bomb” and “terrorist” written in English and Arabic among his flashcards in 2009 and called police.
George was detained in handcuffs at Philadelphia International Airport for several hours over the Arabic language flashcards on his return to Pomona from his home in Philadelphia he has asked a U.S. appeals court last Friday to let him pursue his lawsuit against five federal agents, three TSA agents and two FBI agents individually.
George’s lawsuit accused the agents, Philadelphia police and a Joint Terrorism Task Force of violating his free speech rights and conducting an improper search and arrest.
According to George’s father, since the incident George, a 24-year-old Google programmer, has used the Arabic language skills that he learned at Pomona College to work in Egypt through a State Department program.
“I just don’t want people to think he’s some sort of a John Walker Lindh type,” said the father, Paul George, a Philadelphia defense lawyer who attended the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court oral arguments last Friday and was referring to the American-born Taliban fighter. His son did not attend.
In the arguments, the judges said airport security stops do have different guidelines than drug stops because the public risk is greater if a questionable suspect boards an airplane, something that we are reminded of daily in a post 9-11 world. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, representing George, said that the search should have ended when it was clear George wasn’t carrying any weapons or explosives. His detainment for several hours was questioned, but the judges wondered if concerns about reading material might be enough to warrant a more in-depth search.
“What if you’d stopped Mohamed Atta and he had a detailed manual on how to fly a 747?” Chief Judge Theodore McKee asked, referring to a 9-11 hijacker.
The three-judge panel also assumed that city police may have been holding George until terrorism experts could arrive to assess the situation. Sharon Swingle, a senior trial lawyer with the Justice Department who argued on the agents’ behalf, said the department took no position on the hours that George was detained by city police in the cell.
What the situation does do, however, is bring up the discussion again about the line between freedom and security especially in a post 9-11 world. It puts the issue of protecting everyone civil liberties with the defense and safety of others in the same conversation about what is right and just.
In this particular case, the judges did not indicate when they would rule. So tell us, do you believe the agents were in the right and should continue to claim immunity in the case of George’s detainment, or do you believe George shouldn’t have been detained as long after the initial search done by the TSA found no evidence of actual weapons or explosives?