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AP: U.S. Teen Runs Off to Iraq by Himself
Associated Press ^ | 12/29/05 | JASON STRAZIUSO

Posted on 12/29/2005 2:07:32 PM PST by presidio9

Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.

But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that traveling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation.

And he didn't even tell his parents.

Hassan's dangerous adventure winds down with the 101st Airborne delivering the Fort Lauderdale teen to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which had been on the lookout for him and promises to see him back to the United States this weekend.

It begins with a high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager — or naively idealistic — student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask.

As a junior this year at a Pine Crest School, a prep academy of about 700 students in Fort Lauderdale, Hassan studied writers like John McPhee in the book "The New Journalism," an introduction to immersion journalism — a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Hassan, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, hung out at a local mosque. The teen, who says he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Muslim men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.

The next trimester his class was assigned to choose an international topic and write editorials about it, Hassan said. He chose the Iraq war and decided to practice immersion journalism there, too, though he knows his school in no way endorses his travels.

"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he told The Associated Press.

Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on Dec. 11.

His goal: Baghdad. Those privy to his plans: two high school buddies.

Given his heritage, Hassan could almost pass as Iraqi. His father's background helped him secure an entry visa, and native Arabs would see in his face Iraqi features and a familiar skin tone. His wispy beard was meant to help him blend in.

But underneath that Mideast veneer was full-blooded American teen, a born-and-bred Floridian sporting white Nike tennis shoes and trendy jeans. And as soon as the lanky, 6-foot teenager opened his mouth — he speaks no Arabic — his true nationality would have betrayed him.

Traveling on his own in a land where insurgents and jihadists have kidnapped more than 400 foreigners, killing at least 39 of them, Hassan walked straight into a death zone. On Monday, his first full day in Iraq, six vehicle bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing five people and wounding more than 40.

The State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens against traveling to Iraq, saying it "remains very dangerous." Forty American citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, of which 10 have been killed, a U.S. official said. About 15 remain missing.

"Travel warnings are issued for countries that are considered especially dangerous for Americans, and one of the strongest warnings covers travel to Iraq," said Elizabeth Colton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Colton said the embassy's consular section can provide only limited help to Americans in Iraq, though once officials learn of a potentially dangerous situation every effort is made to assist.

Inside the safety of Baghdad's Green Zone, an Embassy official from the Hostage Working Group talked to Hassan about how risky travel is in Iraq.

"This place is incredibly dangerous to individual private American citizens, especially minors, and all of us, especially the military, went to extraordinary lengths to ensure this youth's safety, even if he doesn't acknowledge it or even understand it," a U.S. official who wasn't authorized to speak to the media said on condition of anonymity.

Hassan's extra-mile attitude took him east through eight time zones, from Fort Lauderdale to Kuwait City. His plan was to take a taxi across the border and ultimately to Baghdad — an unconventional, expensive and utterly dangerous route.

It was in Kuwait City that he first called his parents to tell them of his plans — and that he was now in the Middle East.

His mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist, said she was "shocked and terrified." She had told him she would take him to Iraq, but only after the country stabilizes.

"He thinks he can be an ambassador for democracy around the world. It's admirable but also agony for a parent," Atiya said.

Attempting to get into Iraq, Hassan took a taxi from Kuwait City to the border 55 miles away. He spoke English at the border and was soon surrounded by about 15 men, a scene he wanted no part of. On the drive back to Kuwait City, a taxi driver almost punched him when he balked at the fee.

"In one day I probably spent like $250 on taxis," he said. "And they're so evil too, because they ripped me off, and when I wouldn't pay the ripped-off price they started threatening me. It was bad."

It could have been worse — the border could have been open.

As luck would have it, the teenager found himself at the Iraq-Kuwait line sometime on Dec. 13, and the border security was extra tight because of Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. The timing saved him from a dangerous trip.

"If they'd let me in from Kuwait, I probably would have died," he acknowledged. "That would have been a bad idea."

He again called his father, who told him to come home. But the teen insisted on going to Baghdad. His father advised him to stay with family friends in Beirut, Lebanon, so he flew there, spending 10 days before flying to Baghdad on Christmas.

His ride at Baghdad International Airport, arranged by the family friends in Lebanon, dropped him off at an international hotel where Americans were staying.

He says he only strayed far from that hotel once, in search of food. He walked into a nearby shop and asked for a menu. When no menu appeared, he pulled out his Arabic phrase book, and after fumbling around found the word "menu." The stand didn't have one. Then a worker tried to read some of the English phrases.

"And I'm like, 'Well, I should probably be going.' It was not a safe place. The way they were looking at me kind of freaked me out," he said.

It was mid-afternoon on Monday, after his second night in Baghdad, that he sought out editors at The Associated Press and announced he was in Iraq to do research and humanitarian work. AP staffers had never seen an unaccompanied teenage American walk into their war zone office. ("I would have been less surprised if little green men had walked in," said editor Patrick Quinn.)

Wearing a blue long-sleeve shirt in addition to his jeans and sneakers, Hassan appeared eager and outgoing but slightly sheepish about his situation.

The AP quickly called the U.S. embassy.

Embassy officials had been on the lookout for Hassan, at the request of his parents, who still weren't sure exactly where he was. One U.S. military officer said he was shocked the teen was still alive. The 101st Airborne lieutenant who picked him up from the hotel said it was the wildest story he'd ever heard.

Hassan accepted being turned over to authorities as the safest thing to do, but seemed to accept the idea more readily over time.

Most of Hassan's wild tale could not be corroborated, but his larger story arc was in line with details provided by friends and family members back home.

Dangerous and dramatic, Hassan's trip has also been educational. He had tea with Kuwaitis under a tent in the middle of a desert. He says he interviewed Christians in south Lebanon. And he said he spoke with U.S. soldiers guarding his Baghdad hotel who told him they are treated better by Sunni Arabs — the minority population that enjoyed a high standing under Saddam Hussein and are now thought to fuel the insurgency — than by the majority Shiites.

His father, Redha Hassan, a doctor, said his son is an idealist, principled and moral. Aside from the research he wanted to accomplish, he also wrote in an essay saying he wanted to volunteer in Iraq.

He said he wrote half the essay while in the United States, half in Kuwait, and e-mailed it to his teachers Dec. 15 while in the Kuwait City airport.

"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction," he wrote.

"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help. Unfortunately altruism is always in short supply. Not enough are willing to set aside the material ambitions of this transient world, put morality first, and risk their lives for the cause of humanity. So I will."

"I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday, so that I may better empathize with their distress," he wrote.

Farris Hassan says he thinks a trip to the Middle East is a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.

"You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible," he said. "When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I'm just going to be, like, ecstatic for life."

His mother, however, sees things differently.

"I don't think I will ever leave him in the house alone again," she said. "He showed a lack of judgment."

Hassan may not mind, at least for a while. He now understands how dangerous his trip was, that he was only a whisker away from death.

His plans on his return to Florida: "Kiss the ground and hug everyone."


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Miscellaneous; US: Florida; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: 200512; 20051211; dumbass; farrishassan; flcell; ftlauderdale; hassan; iraq; iraqiamericans; usembassy
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1 posted on 12/29/2005 2:07:33 PM PST by presidio9
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To: presidio9

The Army would have taken him for fee (sort of).


2 posted on 12/29/2005 2:09:16 PM PST by keithtoo (Leftists/Democrats - Traitors, Haters and Vacillators)
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To: keithtoo

fee = free


3 posted on 12/29/2005 2:09:34 PM PST by keithtoo (Leftists/Democrats - Traitors, Haters and Vacillators)
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To: presidio9

Future candidate for Darwin award if you ask me... Got to admire his guts though!


4 posted on 12/29/2005 2:10:23 PM PST by Danae (Anál nathrach, orth' bháis's bethad, do chél dénmha)
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To: keithtoo

Nothing to see here. Just your typical clean-cut All-american boy. Move along please.

5 posted on 12/29/2005 2:10:27 PM PST by presidio9 (Islam is as Islam does)
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To: presidio9

Dumb-a$$ alert!!!!!


6 posted on 12/29/2005 2:11:06 PM PST by Kimmers
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To: presidio9

Dumb-a$$ alert!!!!!


7 posted on 12/29/2005 2:11:07 PM PST by Kimmers
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To: presidio9

Whatever happened to taking the family station wagon out for a spin with friends, a six pack of beer, girls and loud rock n roll?


8 posted on 12/29/2005 2:11:55 PM PST by Redcitizen (My tagline can beat up your honor tagline)
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To: presidio9

9 posted on 12/29/2005 2:11:57 PM PST by dead (I've got my eye out for Mullah Omar.)
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To: presidio9

Teen-aged boys and common sense seem to be sworn mortal enemies.


10 posted on 12/29/2005 2:12:37 PM PST by steelcurtain
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To: presidio9

I nominate him for the 'Huck Finn' award.


11 posted on 12/29/2005 2:13:32 PM PST by Spok (Est omnis de civilitate.)
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To: keithtoo
Winner of the Future Geraldo Jounalism Award

Dumb stunt - but the boy has hutzpah! (mixing Yiddish with an Arab-American boy).

12 posted on 12/29/2005 2:13:41 PM PST by llevrok (Keep your stick on the ice.)
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To: Redcitizen

It is so much cooler when one of these pulls up to your house and has a talk with your parents.

13 posted on 12/29/2005 2:14:17 PM PST by presidio9 (Islam is as Islam does)
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To: presidio9

Another "brave innocent". Well, he did have better luck than the last young airhead. Probably his ethnicity saved him, since unless he opened his mouth nobody knew he was a yank. He does seem to have drawn the right lessons but something tells me his wanderlust is not sated.

"Kids did it".


14 posted on 12/29/2005 2:14:59 PM PST by sinanju
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To: presidio9

I have to admire his guts ... not so sure about his judgement.


15 posted on 12/29/2005 2:15:20 PM PST by ArrogantBustard (Western Civilisation is aborting, buggering, and contracepting itself out of existence.)
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To: presidio9

16 posted on 12/29/2005 2:15:37 PM PST by HighWheeler ("Would I turn on the gas if my pal Mugsy were in there?" "Ye might rabbit, ye might." Bugs, 1954)
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To: All

Not the first kid to do something crazy; won't be the last.

Parents lived in the US 35 yrs and he's a native born American. And . . . now he's one that has seen more of the world than 90% of other Americans.

A very tough read, but it's real hard to find something to condemn when a 16 yr old does something gutsy.


17 posted on 12/29/2005 2:16:20 PM PST by Owen
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To: presidio9
Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket...

That's some allowance.

18 posted on 12/29/2005 2:16:52 PM PST by randog (What the....?!)
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To: presidio9

Cool I always wanted one of those, but I got an M-978 HEMTT instead. I went to Iraq as a package deal with Uncle Sam as my travel agent back in 1991. That kid could have gone to so many different better places.


19 posted on 12/29/2005 2:18:18 PM PST by Redcitizen (My tagline can beat up your honor tagline)
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To: presidio9

I like this kid, though I' glad he's not mine.


20 posted on 12/29/2005 2:19:17 PM PST by the Real fifi
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To: presidio9

I admire what he did but would kill my kid for doing it. Just wondering, is it really that dangerous for any American that everyone was surprised he was alive after a couple of days? We do have some friendly population there I assume, and he barely left the international hotel, plus they let him fly into the country. Are you telling me being there is a sure death sentence for any American?


21 posted on 12/29/2005 2:19:31 PM PST by Williams
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To: Redcitizen
Cool I always wanted one of those, but I got an M-978 HEMTT instead.

There's always next year sport.

22 posted on 12/29/2005 2:19:46 PM PST by presidio9 (Islam is as Islam does)
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To: presidio9
"There is a struggle in Iraq between good and evil, between those striving for freedom and liberty and those striving for death and destruction," he wrote.

"Those terrorists are not human but pure evil. For their goals to be thwarted, decent individuals must answer justice's call for help. Unfortunately altruism is always in short supply. Not enough are willing to set aside the material ambitions of this transient world, put morality first, and risk their lives for the cause of humanity. So I will."

I am sure he got an "F" for this inclusion in his essay...

23 posted on 12/29/2005 2:21:07 PM PST by antaresequity ((PUSH 1 FOR ENGLISH, PUSH 2 TO BE DEPORTED))
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To: presidio9
His mother, however, sees things differently.

"I don't think I will ever leave him in the house alone again," she said.

LOL, I know this was dangerous, but this kid has some real guts and I'd be willing to bet he's doing to have quite an impact on the world.

24 posted on 12/29/2005 2:21:48 PM PST by McGavin999 (If Intelligence Agencies can't find leakers, how can we expect them to find terrorists?)
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To: presidio9
Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket ... "In one day I probably spent like $250 on taxis," ... a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 fare.

So, his parents gave him thousands of dollars "at one point" and he took off to Iraq.

Something smells here. If nothing else, his parents are not paying attention to what their kid is up to.

I think we'll be seeing more of this kid, and not in a good way.

25 posted on 12/29/2005 2:23:16 PM PST by airborne (If being a Christian was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?)
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To: Owen

I agree.

This kid was stupid and is lucky he didn't get killed.

OTOH, he had some incredible life experiences from doing this.


26 posted on 12/29/2005 2:23:17 PM PST by MplsSteve
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To: presidio9

Whatever happened to running off and joining the circus?


27 posted on 12/29/2005 2:23:23 PM PST by WestVirginiaRebel (The Democratic Party-Jackass symbol, jackass leaders, jackass supporters.)
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To: Redcitizen

Well at least he did not go to Aruba


28 posted on 12/29/2005 2:24:19 PM PST by al baby (Father of the beeber)
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To: presidio9
Hassan walked straight into a death zone.

Well, I'm glad they decided not to be overly dramatic or anything. If anything, this article proves that Iraq isn't all the dangerous and that death doesn't lurk around every corner.
29 posted on 12/29/2005 2:24:47 PM PST by Daus
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To: al baby

Aruba is for blond and pretty teenage girls...


30 posted on 12/29/2005 2:25:30 PM PST by Redcitizen (My tagline can beat up your honor tagline)
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To: presidio9

My Lord, a wannabee journalist.


31 posted on 12/29/2005 2:25:50 PM PST by toddlintown (Lennon takes six bullets to the chest, Yoko is standing right next to him and not one f'ing bullet?)
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To: Danae
He goes on an idealistic adventure...alone. No"We're Left Over From the Sixties, We Like To Demonstrate, Wear Birkenstocks and Trash the USA" organization standing behind him to handle the expenses, the pressstitutes, the bribes.

This kid's got chutzpah! If he were mine....well, let's just say he'd not be sitting for awhile! House arrest would look good..for a while. And then I'd do everything I could to encourage him to channel his enthusiasm appropriately.

Don't we need more humint in the Middle East? The Geneva Convention will have to be amended, tho, to include the allowed question: "Does your mommy know where you are?"!

32 posted on 12/29/2005 2:26:06 PM PST by blu (People, for God's sake, think for yourselves!)
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To: Daus

No, but whatever you do, stay the hell away from the "death zone!!!"


33 posted on 12/29/2005 2:26:15 PM PST by presidio9 (Islam is as Islam does)
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To: presidio9
First, where did this kid get the money to finance such a venture? Does he have his own credit card and a megga account to make these flights? Why didn't his parents contact the authorities and embassy in Kuwait when they knew he was there and cut off his funds and have him sent home from there?

Second, as to this, I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday, so that I may better empathize with their distress

Well, Farris, you cannot really do that with a ten thousand dollar credit card account letting you fly the heck in and out of there whenever you please...whenever you decide you have experienced enough. Knowing them would only come when you had no such option and then experienced what they experienced day in and day out for years. I don't think you really want that.

Finally, as to this: he also wrote in an essay saying he wanted to volunteer in Iraq.

I applaud this if it is relly true...the nearest recruiting station will help you realize those very ambitions and desires if they are truly what you want to do.

34 posted on 12/29/2005 2:26:28 PM PST by Jeff Head (www.dragonsfuryseries.com)
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To: presidio9

Wow!

I at least hope he gets an 'A' out of it!


35 posted on 12/29/2005 2:26:40 PM PST by VeniVidiVici (What? Me worry?)
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To: presidio9
As a junior this year at a Pine Crest School, a prep academy of about 700 students in Fort Lauderdale, Hassan studied writers like John McPhee in the book "The New Journalism," an introduction to immersion journalism — a writer who lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Diving headfirst into an assignment, Hassan, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, hung out at a local mosque. The teen, who says he has no religious affiliation, added that he even spent an entire night until 6 a.m. talking politics with a group of Muslim men, a level of "immersion" his teacher characterized as dangerous and irresponsible.

Why would that be dangerous? It's a religion of peace, after all. Didn't the teacher properly read the No Child Left Behind educational guidelines?

36 posted on 12/29/2005 2:27:25 PM PST by inquest (If you favor any legal status for illegal aliens, then do not claim to be in favor of secure borders)
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To: al baby

lol


37 posted on 12/29/2005 2:28:29 PM PST by meanie monster (http://guptonator.myvideochat.net)
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To: presidio9

His mother is a psychologist, which might wxplain why he's so screwed up.


38 posted on 12/29/2005 2:29:07 PM PST by ozzymandus
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To: presidio9
I'm surprised the AP didn't turn him over to insurgents for beheading just for the propaganda value.
39 posted on 12/29/2005 2:30:26 PM PST by manwiththehands (My Christmas wish: I wish Republicans were running the country.)
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To: steelcurtain
Teen-aged boys and common sense seem to be sworn mortal enemies.

I think our civilization would be in some pretty serious trouble if that was not the case.

40 posted on 12/29/2005 2:30:52 PM PST by inquest (If you favor any legal status for illegal aliens, then do not claim to be in favor of secure borders)
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To: presidio9
"No, but whatever you do, stay the hell away from the "death zone!!!"

Yaaaaaaah!! Not the DEATH ZONE!!!


41 posted on 12/29/2005 2:31:05 PM PST by HighWheeler ("Would I turn on the gas if my pal Mugsy were in there?" "Ye might rabbit, ye might." Bugs, 1954)
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To: presidio9

Give the kid a little credit, it sounds like he learned
some lessons, AND he will kiss the ground when he lands in
the USA.







42 posted on 12/29/2005 2:32:01 PM PST by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: Kimmers

We were all dumbasses at 16. He was just dumber and luckier than most.


43 posted on 12/29/2005 2:33:30 PM PST by Blood of Tyrants (G-d is not a Republican. But Satan is definitely a Democrat.)
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To: presidio9
Stupid kid, but also brave, lucky and probably a card carrying conservative after writing that paper and going through that experience.
44 posted on 12/29/2005 2:34:43 PM PST by Centurion2000 (Conservative, a liberal that was mugged. Liberal, a conservative that was arrested.)
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To: presidio9

"Farris Hassan's Day Off"- coming to a theater near you.


45 posted on 12/29/2005 2:35:15 PM PST by Sisku Hanne (The Old Media, Democrat party & the Left are grim MILLSTONES for our troops)
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To: HighWheeler

lol


46 posted on 12/29/2005 2:36:15 PM PST by JessieHelmsJr
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To: steelcurtain
>>>Teen-aged boys and common sense seem to be sworn mortal enemies.<<<

He probably was less likely to get into trouble than his contemporaries that borrow a bottle of bourbon and the car keys while their parents aren't watching.

47 posted on 12/29/2005 2:36:35 PM PST by HardStarboard
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To: Kimmers; dead
A dumbass, yeah, but a clever one. He'll probably have a bright future once his common sense catches up with his intelligence.

C'mon, do you think any of the teenagers you know could have pulled off going to Iraq on their own? Hell, the ones working for me couldn't find their asses with both hands and a roadmap.

48 posted on 12/29/2005 2:37:02 PM PST by Alien Gunfighter (Socialist liberals never imagine themselves as peasants under their 'perfect' socialist regime)
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To: presidio9
His mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist

I think she's got a bit of work to do on her son . . .

He again called his father, who told him to come home. But the teen insisted on going to Baghdad. His father advised him to stay with family friends in Beirut, Lebanon, so he flew there, spending 10 days before flying to Baghdad on Christmas. His ride at Baghdad International Airport, arranged by the family friends in Lebanon

Family FRIENDS?!?!?!? And they didn't physically restrain the boy until his parents could come and fetch him?

His mother, however, sees things differently. "I don't think I will ever leave him in the house alone again," she said. "He showed a lack of judgment."

NOW she gets it. Shouldn't a psychologist have noticed a bit earlier on that her 16 year old son was not quite all there, and shouldn't be given thousands of dollars in cash to get himself in trouble with?

49 posted on 12/29/2005 2:38:00 PM PST by GovernmentShrinker
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To: presidio9

Cool stuff. If he really wanted a dangerous trip, he could have just wandered around Compton for a few days.


50 posted on 12/29/2005 2:38:49 PM PST by Central Scrutiniser (Won't you eat my sleazy pancakes, just for Saintly Alfonzo)
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