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High School Bans Air Force Recruiters

Education: The military is investigating why officers detained a Washington Prep pupil.

April 18, 2002|ERIKA HAYASAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

U.S. Air Force recruiters have been banned from a Los Angeles high school campus after they briefly detained a student they mistakenly thought was praising Islamic terrorists. In fact, the 17-year-old had typed his own name, plus a little joke, into a computer that was part of a Air Force display.

Hassan Ali Bahar III, a senior at George Washington Preparatory High School in South-Central, entered his name last week and added the words "can't be stopped." An Air Force officer, suspecting a nasty reference to the Sept. 11 attacks, allegedly put a plastic restraint on Bahar's wrists and led him outside the trailer the Air Force had parked on campus.

Once the officer and an accompanying recruiter realized what Bahar had really done, they let him go, according to Lt. Col. Bill Williams, deputy commander for 372nd Recruiting Group, based in Utah.

Bahar, who is Christian, said he thinks he was targeted because of his Arab name. A member of the Junior ROTC program for five years, he contended that other students also added the phrase "can't be stopped" after their names, but were not restrained.

He said the officer told him the phrase sounded too similar to "Osama bin Laden can't be stopped."

"I told him I don't have anything to do with Osama bin Laden," Bahar said. "I said I think [Bin Laden] should be killed for what he did."

Bahar's mother, Tasha Holt, protested the incident. The school sponsored a meeting Tuesday with her, her son and Air Force officials.

Washington Prep will ban Air Force recruiters for an unspecified time, said Principal James Noble.

"It is unfortunate that the actions of an overzealous officer from the U.S. Air Force turned a routine visit to our campus into an apparent case of harassment for one of our students," Noble said.

Other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District will not join the ban, officials said.

The Air Force is investigating the matter, Williams said, adding that the service "in no way shape or form tolerates any racial profiling or discrimination."

He said he hopes the school will allow recruiters back soon to offer students "the opportunity of a career."

Holt called the actions unacceptable.

"I'm not saying the whole Air Force is wrong," she said. "I'm saying they should not send people like that to deal with children."

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