Iraqi Gets $240,000 for T-Shirt Incident

An Iraqi-born resident of the United States who was ordered to cover a T-shirt with Arabic script before boarding a plane in New York has received $240,000 in a settlement with two officials of the Transportation Safety Administration and JetBlue Airways.

The Iraqi, Raed Jarrar, was headed for a JetBlue flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Oakland, Calif., in August 2006 when, according to court papers, he was told at a security checkpoint that his T-shirt, which said “We will not be silent” in Arabic and English, would have to go.

One federal employee, according to Mr. Jarrar’s account, told him that wearing a shirt with Arabic script to an airport was like going to the bank in a shirt that said “I am a robber.”

Ultimately, the JetBlue workers gave Mr. Jarrar another T-shirt to wear over the first one, and led him to a seat at the back of the plane, even though his original ticket had been issued for a seat at the front.

In an interview, Mr. Jarrar, 30, a legal resident, called the experience “very painful.” At the time, he said, he was a new immigrant to the United States and had been reading histories of discrimination and the civil rights movement, which he thought of as “things that happened in the past, and in this other place and time.”

“When it happened to me,” he said, “it was very much of a shock.”

The settlement, made public Monday, was reached last month, said Aden Fine, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who represented Mr. Jarrar. The size of the settlement “should send a clear and strong message to all T.S.A. officials and airlines that they can’t discriminate against people for how they look or for the ethnic content of their speech,” Mr. Fine said.

Neither the Transportation Safety Administration officials or JetBlue admitted having done anything wrong, and the settlement agreement states that it “is not an admission of liability or fault or wrongdoing or responsibility.”

The agreement says that the government employees, Garfield Harris and Franco Trotta, “disavow any allegation” that they had violated Mr. Jarrar’s rights, and said that “their actions were at all times reasonable and within their discretion and authority.”

Bryan Baldwin, a spokesman for the airline, said the company was “pleased” with the settlement, although it denied Mr. Jarrar’s version of events. The company settled, Mr. Baldwin said, “to stop incurring future legal cost.”

The incident occurred at a time of heightened tension for air travel, just after the arrests of two dozen people in England who were accused of plotting to detonate liquid explosives on several airliners on flights from London to the United States and Canada.

Mr. Jarrar said he was “disappointed” that the agency and airline did not admit fault or apologize. But, he said, “the point was proven.”

If they had done nothing wrong, he asked, “why did they pay $240,000?”

[ source: NYTimes ]

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  1. #1 by AflacGa on January 8, 2009 - 4:03 pm

    Surely an interesting occurrence because by the fed’s mentioning of the t-shirt saying what it said was like going to the bank in a shirt that said “I am a robber.” shows awareness and a genuine concern for the country. However, at the same time it happens to be sheer prejudice…

    there’s a big gray area in our country security matters, and something should definitely be done about it.

  2. #2 by Randall Arnold on January 13, 2009 - 6:25 am

    Just another example of ignorance and xenophobia. I’m glad they settled, though, because standard denials or not that IS a tacit admission of wrongdoing.

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