Fairfax County prosecutors yesterday dropped charges against a George Mason University student who was arrested by campus police in September while protesting military recruiting at the school.
After investigating the case, George Mason officials asked last month that the charges against Tariq Khan, 27, be dismissed. Fairfax prosecutors complied in a brief hearing in Fairfax General District Court. Neither school officials nor prosecutors would explain why yesterday.
Khan, who served four years in the Air Force after graduating from Park View High School in Sterling, said yesterday after the hearing that his military service gave him a new perspective on the promises made by recruiters.
Khan said he "made bombs" that were dropped on Iraq after the Persian Gulf War. "We were not fighting for freedom. We were acting the same way every tyrannical government acts anywhere in the world, trying to impose the view of an elite few."
So at lunchtime on Sept. 29, Khan stood near a military recruitment table in the Johnson Center on campus, holding fliers and wearing a sign on his chest that said, "Recruiters Lie, Don't Be Deceived." He said he had done the same thing three times before without incident.
This time, Khan said, two students ripped the sign off his chest, tore it up and tossed it in the trash. Campus police arrived and "started assaulting me," Khan said. He said the students who had ripped the sign joined in while some ROTC students stood nearby and cheered.
Campus police took Khan to the county jail and charged him with disorderly conduct and trespassing. He said one of the officers told him, "You people are the most violent people in the world." Khan is a Pakistani American who grew up in Sterling and now lives in Falls Church.
George Mason officials initially said that Khan was "considered to be distributing literature" and "creating a disturbance," according to university spokesman Daniel Walsch. Walsch said Khan was asked to leave, refused and was arrested.
Khan, a junior sociology major, said he had not been harassing the recruiters or handing out literature indiscriminately, which would have required a permit.
The incident sparked an outburst of support for Khan and for free speech. More than 100 faculty members and students held a teach-in last month to endorse Khan's right to challenge the government's policies.
Since his arrest, Khan said, "Recruiters haven't been back on campus. Just that in itself makes it worth it." He also said a number of students had volunteered to join him in counter-recruiting.
But Khan said the university "has yet to admit to doing anything wrong." He said he spoke to the school's police chief, Michael F. Lynch, who told him that campus police had acted properly and had not used excessive force.
Lynch did not return a phone call yesterday.
Walsch also did not return calls yesterday. He said last month that the school believed that the matter should be handled internally rather than in the courts.
Robert F. Horan Jr., the Fairfax commonwealth's attorney, did not return a phone call yesterday to explain why prosecutors dismissed the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union was prepared to defend Khan in court. Rebecca K. Glenberg, the legal director for the ACLU in Virginia, said, "We really look forward to seeing what kind of changes GMU makes in its policies."
Khan said that he planned to resume protesting military recruitment on campus and that his group was in the process of getting a permit for a table to distribute literature. "We just stand there with our signs," Khan said. "We don't go out and get into people's faces."