Hasan: A Simple Puzzle

How do you solve a problem like Nidal Hasan?  This was the question that U.S. Army Captain/Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan’s fellow students in medical school and his superiors at the Walter Reed Medical Center asked themselves over and over. In the long run, all were afraid to confront and deal with both his poor performance as a psychiatrist and his radicalized concept of his Muslim faith, so they promoted him to Major and shipped him off to Ft. Hood.  

He would be someone else’s problem, and none of them would be looked upon as somehow discriminating against him because he was a Muslim American.  And no one ever thought to pool all the available information concerning the problem doctor to allow a full assessment of the threat, if any, that he could present.  His fellow medical students, his coworkers and his supervisors, along with military investigators, the FBI, and other concerned agencies should have all brought their pieces of the puzzle, their “dots” to the table to connect and determine what the actual problem was.  But now, too late, we all know the answer.

Political correctness has been called the handmaiden of terrorism, and in the case of Maj. Hassan, she served him well.  Dr. Hasan was allowed to complete medical school, at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer, while at the same time receiving substandard performance reports reflecting he was a mediocre student and a lazy worker. These were evidently fine credentials for a man trusted to treat emotionally wounded Americans as they returned from the horrors of war.  Those who worked with and around him described him as defensive and argumentative concerning his Muslim faith, belligerent, intense, combative, disconnected, aloof, schizoid and paranoid, this coming from men and women who had the training and experience to correctly diagnose such issues and illnesses.  

Had he been a patient of these professionals, it is doubtful he would have been allowed to stay in the military, but he was, after all, one of them, and medical doctors have a hard time testifying against their peers.  

When he attempted to proselytize soldiers under his care, telling one or more that “Islam can save your soul,” he was met with a silenced rebuff by his superiors.  Imagine if a Christian medical doctor or, God forbid, a chaplain had told one of the 3,500 Muslim Americans in the U.S. Military that Jesus Christ could save their souls.  It would have been “Hasta la vista, Padre.”

For the record, Dr. Hasan never filed an official report with the U.S. Army suggesting that he had been the victim of harassment because of his faith, nor had he ever officially requested to be released from military service because of his opposition to war, especially one he characterized as a war against Islam.  

Those who knew him at Walter Reed openly questioned his loyalty to America and to the Army. Others asked if he might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim American soldier did in Kuwait in 2003 when he threw grenades into a tent housing other soldiers, killing two and wounding another 15, as a religious protest to the conflict in Iraq.  

Yet others who knew him wondered to themselves, since he had a secret security clearance, might he leak military information to Islamic extremists as part of his personal religious protest.  Little did they know he would exchange emails with a radicalized fugitive Muslim cleric hiding out in Yemen, a religious leader he had once attended religious services with in America.

It was his exchange of emails with Anwar al-Awlaki that first flagged Dr. Hasan to U.S. intelligence services. Awlaki — who preaches jihad against America and was tied to at least two of the 9-11 hijackers — responded at least twice to Hasan’s e-mails (about twenty were sent.) But officials, evidently within the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Intelligence Service, read the emails and found them to be “benign,” reflecting only someone in conflict with his thoughts and emotions.  

H-m-m-m-m…and he was a medical doctor expected to help heal others?  The FBI also took a distant look at Captain, soon to be Major Hasan, and did not find the evidence necessary to launch a full investigation.  

Question: Why didn’t U.S. Army CID or the FBI ever sit down with Dr. Hasan and ask him about his emails, his questionable actions, and his overtly anti-American and anti-war statements?  How would that have violated his rights?  It seems that we learned nothing from the 9/11 hijackers who we knew wanted to learn how to fly an airliner, but did not care to learn how to land such an aircraft.  That behavior, like the statements of Dr. Hasan, somehow did not rise to the level of triggering a simple confrontational interview to assess such a person’s loyalty or motivation.  

While Major Hasan does not represent the vast majority of avowed peace loving Muslims in America, we should not be afraid to ask the obvious when such behavior could endanger others. Dr. Hasan did not murder and wound over 50 unarmed U.S. soldiers and civilians at Ft. Hood, Texas, because he listened to the post traumatic stress of others, nor did he do it because of some psychotic break or because of alleged incidents of harassment due to his ethnic and religious background. He murdered because he wanted to make a statement in support of his distorted religious belief system and because he blamed the U.S. Army, represented by his many victims, for his own failures in life.

Dr. Hasan had told relatives that he did not like weapons and chafed at the thought of using one against a fellow Muslim.  (Dr. Hasan, you were being deployed to Afghanistan to heal members of the military engaged in operations there, not to shoot anyone.)  This is the same avowed peace loving medical doctor who on August 1, 2009, purchased one of the two handguns he would use to commit the most significant act of mass murder in America since the attacks of 9/11.  

He paid $1,000 for an FN5.7 mm semiautomatic pistol with laser sight, known by South American drug lords as a “cop killer” because it can shoot through the Kevlar vests worn by police officers.  His second gun was a .357 magnum revolver, a weapon capable of punching a hole in the engine block of an automobile.  As the military, in the extreme, would have provided him with all of the guns he could ever want once deployed in a combat zone, and as soldiers are not allowed to take personally owned weapons with them to war, these purchases appear to provide proof of his ongoing, premeditated plan to commit mass murder, one that had evolved as part of his personal religious belief system as a radical Islamic fundamentalist.

As a former FBI profiler, I was asked to assess motive on the part of criminals and crazies who were also killers. In the case of Dr. Hasan, the available information appears to suggest that he willingly allowed the U.S. government to pay his way through medical school, something he volunteered for after the events of 9/11 and the U.S. conflict in the Middle East.  
As his medical education drew to a close, he was asked to complete the rest of his commitment, one that was to run through 2016. He apparently then became a man more and more conflicted between his faith as a Muslim, his loyalty as an American, and his responsibility as a soldier. There are already apologists in the media and government who have suggested that he suffered from “consulting fatigue,” his own form of battle fatigue or PTSD transferred onto him as he listed to the trials of soldiers returning from war with deep emotional wounds.  These same apologists will point to allegations of harassment (one dumb soldier evidently keyed the side of Dr. Hasan’s car) or personal torment in going to war against fellow Muslims.

But he had no trouble going to war against the soldiers he was responsible for at Ft. Hood. One Internet article posted by a Nidal Hasan (believed to be Maj. Hasan), compared the acts of suicide murderers with those of a soldier who jumps on a live grenade to save his/her fellow soldiers.  Hasan is similarly linked to statements suggesting that Muslims should rise up and attack Americans in retaliation for the U.S. war in Iraq, telling former coworkers that he was "happy" when a U.S. soldier was murdered in an attack on an Arkansas military recruiting office by a fellow Muslim American.  Others allegedly heard him say that "maybe people should strap bombs on themselves and go to Times Square" in New York City. But it was on this same questioned radical web site that Dr. Hasan is alleged to have written about the sacrifice of suicide bombers, suggesting that if "one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard, that such would be considered a strategic victory."

Should this statement be the actual words of Major Hasan, it bears an amazing resemblance to his own actions, i.e., catching hundreds of soldiers off guard and killing them.

Dr. Hasan may well have been conflicted between his religion and his duty as an American and as a military officer, but this conflict was not due to some kind of harassment of him because to his religious faith. His murderous actions do appear, however, to have been an aberrant expression of his religious faith, further evidenced when he allegedly shouted "Allahu Akbar!" as he gunned down dozens of soldiers around him.  

He fired more than 100 rounds before he was shot down by two responding civilian police officers. It was the actions of these two brave officers that probably stopped Hasan from even more bloodletting.

Yes, Major Hasan was conflicted. He wanted a Muslim wife who would be more religious than even he, but his efforts to find such a woman failed to meet with success. He made himself a lightning rod for controversy by his statements and actions and his highly vocal opposition to the actions of the U.S. military turned into his own self-fulfilling prophesy.  He spoke against his country and his fellow soldiers, therefore they were less than social with him; actions he then incorrectly defined as discrimination and harassment, but something that nonetheless supported his twisted belief system.

In the final days before committing his horrific act of mass murder, he gave his personal belongings away, something "normally" seen in individuals who plan to intentionally end their life.  As the date for his deployment approached, he could have applied for conscience objector status, or refused to serve, or went AWOL, or, in the extreme, committed suicide in his own lonely apartment.  Faced with these choices, he instead chose to live out his outrageous statements against his fellow soldiers, holding all of them — men, women, black, white and Hispanic, young and old alike — responsible for his own personal problems and professional failures. He used the blood of his victims to write his own personal religious statement, shouting a popular Muslim battle phrase as he shot soldier after soldier, actions that over 60% of the Americans polled believe tie his religious belief system to his attack.      

Major Hasan’s statements and subsequent actions give little reason to believe him to be anything other than a radicalized Islamic terrorist.  Dr. Hasan, like the murderous and twisted domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh before him, killed because he could. Dr. Hasan’s former cleric and e-mail pen pal, Anwar al-Awlaki, has called Hasan a hero and an example for other Muslim Americans.  Osama bin Laden and his associates have challenged members of the U.S. military to commit such atrocities and Dr. Hasan, unfortunately, has provided them all with an early Christmas present wrapped in the bloodied flag of this country.

What policies will the Pentagon put in place to ensure that future Nidal Hasans are detected, and their acts of terrorism interdicted?  We — and every member of the armed services, their families and friends — deserve a straight answer, and soon.


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