Hasan a Muslim First, American Second?
In hindsight, it appears that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the mass murderer who killed 14 (one of the soldiers killed, Francheska Velez, was six weeks pregnant) and wounded another 30 at Fort Hood, had long made it known that he sympathized with the enemy. Bloomberg’s Justin Blum:
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of a shooting spree that killed 13 people at the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas, called the war on terrorism “a war against Islam,” said a doctor who was in a graduate program with him.
While studying for a masters degree in public health in 2007, Hasan used a presentation for an environmental health class to argue that Muslims were being targeted by the U.S. anti-terror campaign, said Val Finnell, a classmate. “He was very vocal about the war, very upfront about being a Muslim first and an American second,” said Finnell, 41, a preventive medicine doctor in Los Angeles, in an interview yesterday. “He was always concerned that Muslims in the military were being persecuted.”
Finnell said he remembered Hasan “vividly” and said of the shooting: “I’m not surprised, based on the things he said in the past. I’m shocked that it happened, but not surprised.”
In conversations, students challenged Hasan on his statements and he would become “visibly upset, sweaty, nervous,” Finnell said. Toward the end of the program, in 2008, Hasan gave a presentation that was billed as a survey of the climate for Muslims who serve in the U.S. military, Finnell said. “It wasn’t really very objective,” Finnell said. “It was like he was trying to prove a point.”
One witness claims Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar!” before he began shooting. Another witness says, “He didn’t say a word.”
Clearly, Hasan was unstable and, at very least, not fit to serve as an Army officer, much less an Army psychiatrist treating returning veterans from a war he hated. So, why was he still serving?
As NPR’s Tom Gjelten reports,
The vital facts of Hasan’s life do not suggest a man determined to kill dozens of his fellows as they sat unarmed in a crowded waiting room. He was born in Arlington, Va. His parents were immigrants, but so are millions of other Americans. His heritage was Palestinian, but he didn’t even speak Arabic. He went to Virginia Tech and in 1997 joined the Army. It was through the Army that he got his medical training. He was due to be deployed to Afghanistan.
Those who look for a ready explanation for the murderous rampage at Fort Hood can choose between two broad narratives: Maybe it had to do with the travails of an Army psychiatrist, dealing with soldiers who had been traumatized, even disfigured, by their war experience; or maybe it had to do with being Muslim.
The portrait of Hasan as a Muslim radical doesn’t entirely make sense to those who knew him well. Imam Faisal Khan, whose D.C.-area mosque Hasan attended over a 10-year period, never got the idea he was ashamed of his Army service.
“He would come in his uniforms many times,” Khan said. “He would come in his uniform and pray. And then I knew he was in the Army. He liked his job. That’s what he was trained for, you know, to serve in the military.”
His psychological evaluations were apparently well within normal range, with “No signs of physical or mental problems in examinations as recently as September,” according to Army records obtained by WaPo.
And yet there were strong signs that things were not right. His alleged comments while away at a civilian* school would likely have escaped military attention. But other officers noticed troubling behavior, too.
Col Terry Lee, a retired officer who worked with him at the military base in Texas, alleged Maj Hasan had angry confrontations with other officers over his views.
“He was making outlandish comments condemning our foreign policy and claimed Muslims had the right to rise up and attack Americans,” Col Lee told Fox News. “He said Muslims should stand up and fight the aggressor and that we should not be in the war in the first place.” He said that Maj Hasan said he was “happy” when a US soldier was killed in an attack on a military recruitment centre in Arkansas in June. An American convert to Islam was accused of the shootings.
Col Lee alleged that other officers had told him that Maj Hasan had said “maybe people should strap bombs on themselves and go to Time Square” in New York.
He claimed he was aware that the major had been subject to “name calling” during heated arguments with other officers.
Federal law enforcement officials have said Maj Hasan had come to their attention at least six months ago because of internet postings that discussed suicide bombings and other threats. The officials said the postings appeared to have been made by Maj Hasan but they were still trying to confirm that he was the author.
Hasan, 39, told relatives he’d been harassed by other soldiers for his faith. Last month, soldier John Van de Walker, 30, was arrested for scratching Hasan’s Honda with a key, police said.
The manager of the Killeen, Tex., apartment complex where Hasan lived said the vandal had returned from Iraq and targeted Hasan because he of a Muslim bumper sticker. “No one should have to deal with that kind of hate. Maybe he snapped,” said Alice Thompson, 53.
One hesitates to psychoanalyze crazies but, rather clearly, Hasan harbored rage years before his car was keyed. And the Army took appropriate action in response to that incident.
In hindsight, it’s pretty clear that the Army didn’t do the same with regard to the signs that Hasan was unfit. But it’s not at all inconceivable that “the Army” had no idea. The fact that several of his colleagues had heard him say highly inflammatory things doesn’t mean that these things were reported up through the chain of command. Further, it’s not entirely clear what his superiors could have done with these reports, aside from confronting and counseling him.
While highly constrained in terms of time, place, and manner, military officers are allowed to disagree with official government policy in casual conversation with one another. Plenty of officers, including those currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, have no doubt expressed bitterness at missions they don’t believe in. Lord knows, a large number of them did so about the various deployments ordered by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. And, while it may not have made Hasan a popular guy on base, one doesn’t have to be a Muslim or want Americans killed to hold the view that citizens have a right to “rise up” against an invading force.
Beyond that, there’s a natural reluctance to be overly aggressive in challenging a Muslim soldier as an enemy sympathizer. Being accused of racial profiling can be damaging to one’s career. Further, it can feed natural resentments against Muslim soldiers, almost all of whom are just as loyal to the country, the uniform, and their fellow soldiers as the next guy.
I’m of course reminded of Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who went into a religious-inspired rage and murdered two 101st Airborne Division officers in 2003. But, as Spencer Ackerman reminds us, Sergeant John Russell, who killed five soldiers in a shooting spree at Camp Liberty back in May, was not a Muslim. So, outlandish claims that “the enemy is infiltrating our military” are unhelpful.
We have a natural desire to want to make sense of tragedy. Unfortunately, we seem to have lone psychopaths going on shooting sprees and committing mass mayhem every now and again. And we only see the “obvious” clues in hindsight.
*UPDATE: A more recent AP report points out that the graduate school where Hasan made the comments was run by the military and adds further fuel to the fire that his seniors should have been aware of that they had a problem.
“I told him, `There’s something wrong with you,'” Osman Danquah, co-founder of the Islamic Community of Greater Killeen, told The Associated Press on Saturday. “I didn’t get the feeling he was talking for himself, but something just didn’t seem right.” Danquah assumed the military’s chain of command knew about Hasan’s doubts, which had been known for more than a year to classmates in a graduate military medical program. His fellow students complained to the faculty about Hasan’s “anti-American propaganda,” but said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a formal written complaint.
“The system is not doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Dr. Val Finnell, who studied with Hasan from 2007-2008 in the master’s program in public health at the military’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “He at least should have been confronted about these beliefs, told to cease and desist, and to shape up or ship out.”
Danquah said he was so disturbed by Hasan’s persistent questioning that he recommended the mosque reject Hasan’s request to become a lay Muslim leader at Fort Hood. But he never saw a need to tell anyone at the sprawling Army post about the talks, because Hasan never expressed anger toward the Army or indicated any plans for violence. “If I had an inkling that he had this type of inclination or intentions, definitely I would have brought it to their attention,” he said.
Finnell said he did just that during a year of study in which Hasan made a presentation “that justified suicide bombing” and spewed “anti-American propaganda” as he argued the war on terror was “a war against Islam.” Finnell said he and at least one other student complained about Hasan, surprised that someone with “this type of vile ideology” would be allowed to wear an officer’s uniform. But Finnell said no one filed a formal, written complaint about Hasan’s comments out of fear of appearing discriminatory. “In retrospect, I’m not surprised he did it,” Finnell said. “I had real questions about what his priorities were, what his beliefs were.”
Hasan received a poor performance evaluation while at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly. And while he was an intern at the suburban Washington hospital, Hasan had some “difficulties” that required counseling and extra supervision, said Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time.
Hasan was promoted from captain to major in 2008, the same year he graduated from the master’s program. Bernard Rostker, a military personnel expert at the Rand Corp., said Hasan’s advancement was all but certain absent a serious blemish on his record, such as a DUI or a drug charge. “We’re short of officers, particularly at the major and lieutenant colonel level because of the war, and we’re short of psychiatrists,” said Rostker, who served as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness during the Clinton administration. “There would have had to be something very detrimental in his record before there would have been a banner that would have said, ‘No, we don’t want to promote him.'”
If senior military leaders knowingly kept quiet about Hasan’s incompatibility for service in order to meet personnel quotas, they’ve aided and abetted the murder of thirteen soldiers.