Ft. Hood Suspect Was Army Dilemma

Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, February 22, 2010

Army superiors were warned about the radicalization of Major Nidal Malik Hasan years before he allegedly massacred 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, but did not act in part because they valued the rare diversity of having a Muslim psychiatrist, military investigators wrote in previously undisclosed reports.

An obvious “problem child” spouting extremist views, Hasan made numerous statements that were not protected by the First Amendment and were grounds for discharge by violating his military oath, investigators found.

Examples of Hasan’s radical behavior have previously been disclosed in press accounts based on interviews with unnamed Army officials, including his defense of suicide bombings and assertions that Islamic law took priority over his allegiance to the United States.

But the Pentagon’s careful documentation of individual episodes dating back to 2005 and the subsequent inaction of his superiors have not been made public before.

The Globe was permitted to review the Army’s more complete findings on the condition that it not name supervisory officers who did not act, some of whom are facing possible disciplinary action.

In searching for explanations for why superiors did not move to revoke Hasan’s security clearances or expel him from the Army, the report portrays colleagues and superiors as possibly reluctant to lose one of the Army’s few Muslim mental health specialists.

The report concludes that because the Army had attracted only one Muslim psychiatrist in addition to Hasan since 2001, “it is possible some were afraid” of losing such diversity “and thus were willing to overlook Hasan’s deficiencies as an officer.”

“Several of his supervisors explicitly mentioned Hasan’s potential to inform our understanding of Islamic culture and how it relates to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the investigators found.

In one classroom incident not previously described by the Army–which parallels another episode around the same time that has received press attention–Hasan gave a presentation in August 2007 titled “Is the War on Terrorism a War on Islam: An Islamic Perspective.”

But the presentation was “shut down” by the instructor because Hasan appeared to be defending terrorism. Witnesses told investigators that Hasan became visibly upset as a result.

“The students reported his statements to superior officers, who took no action on the basis that Major Hasan’s statements were protected by the First Amendment,” the investigation found. “They did not counsel Hasan and consider administrative action, even though not all protected speech is compatible with continued military service.”

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But based on Army documents, interviews with witnesses, and sworn statements to the FBI, the review panel’s findings provide the most detailed picture yet of Hasan’s transformation from a bright prospect in the Army’s medical corps to a loner with increasingly extremist views.

They also contain the first official acknowledgement that superiors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he began his residency in 2003, were repeatedly informed of Hasan’s radical statements but did not do anything about it.

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New details also emerge of Hasan’s pattern of radical behavior, the first signs of which were detected in 2005, according to at least four officers who worked with him at the time and spoke to the FBI and Pentagon investigators.

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