Did Alleged Fort Hood Shooter Warn Of Violence?

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/120344748/120344742" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

As details emerge in the aftermath of the recent Fort Hood shootings, questions loom as to whether colleagues and associates of alleged gunman Nidal Hasan failed to raise concerns of warning signs about his earlier behavior because of 'political correctness. Host Michel Martin talks with Dana Priest, of The Washington Post. Priest recently wrote an article detailing Hasan's warning of threats within Military ranks.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program, my conversation with Mo'Nique. We'll talk about her new late night talk show and why she says she took on her most provocative film role yet in the film "Precious." And we will talk about Lou Dobbs. The controversial CNN anchor has decided to step down. We'll try to learn more. That's all later in the program.

But first, we return to the tragedy at Fort Hood last week, and we examine an issue that has arisen in the wake of the shooting that left 13 people dead and more than 40 wounded. The question is this: Did colleagues and associates of Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the shooting fail to raise warning flags about him because of concerns about being, quote, "politically incorrect," which is to say because of fears that raising concerns would be seen as prejudiced or insensitive to Muslims? Conversely, did fellow Muslims with whom he associated and worshipped fail to raise warning signs about him because of their fear about being seen as causing dissention or disharmony in their community? We'll examine both sides of this sensitive question with a number of people who have been thinking about it and writing about it over the past few days.

First, though, we want to talk about just what some of those warning signs were. Washington Post reporter, Dana Priest, wrote a piece for the paper earlier this week about a PowerPoint presentation Major Hasan gave as a senior psychiatry resident at Walter Reed Army Hospital when he was posted there. Dana, welcome, thank you for joining us.

DANA PRIEST: Nice to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: What was this PowerPoint presentation and what was in it that has caused some concern in retrospect?

PRIEST: Well, he was a fourth year resident. And during that year, all residents are supposed to give a medical presentation to all of the physicians that they work with. And instead of giving a medical presentation, he decided to write about the Quranic world view and implications for the U.S. military. So, he is first giving some history about the Quran explaining some things, but you see soon that his version of the Quran's world view is very much a radical extremist version in which people cannot live in harmony in which believers are okayed to fight against non-believers. And that there is an inherent conflict among Muslims themselves over fighting in a war that involves other Muslims.

Well, first of all, he admonished the army to identify these people and then to figure out a way to resolve their conflict which he gave as a recommendation allowing them to leave the service as conscientious objectors. The question that you raised about political correctness is really spot on, because the people who heard this from what I know is that some of them didn't know how to approach him about it for that very reason, that they felt that touching on the subject, even talking about Islam with Muslims would be somehow politically incorrect and certainly questioning or criticizing even the extremist version that he was giving would not be acceptable.

And so that issue I think really is at the crux of why the Army and his colleagues didn't say to him, you know, in a more in-depth way, you know, what is your thought? What is going on? And furthermore, I think that it really points to the fact that the people in the Army are so unaware of what Islam really is that they're not even sure how to ask the question.

MARTIN: That was going to be my next question. Do you, in your reporting, those who spoke with you, do they recall being uncomfortable at the time and were they uncomfortable at the time because they did not agree with his findings or because they thought it was just outside of the scope of the presentation? Because I must say, when I read the report, it occurred to me that some of the things he was saying are the same things that have been said by some conservative pundits...

PRIEST: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...who suggest that there is a dissonance for some observers, for some and therefore that dissonance between the military mission, the current mission and their beliefs may cause anxiety and has to be reconciled. Can you identify what is it that you think caused these people distressed at the time?

PRIEST: Well, I haven't talked to enough of the people that sat in the room to be certain of this. What I do know is that the supervisors were unhappy because of the nature of the presentation. Now whether or not they caught on to the extremist views that were in there that I'm not sure about. And the people that I did speak to who themselves were there said they certainly felt uncomfortable. They thought it was really weird. It's not that they linked those feelings with him in particular, but they thought it was really strange that he was taking that view.

And the other thing is that once the presentation was, you know, we put it on our Web site, there are other Muslims soldiers there who they spent a lot of time asking a very honest, you know, upfront, what does this mean? What does that mean? And really it again points to this issue of not even having the basic understanding of the religion to know even how to address issues that might make you feel uncomfortable?

And in that sense, it's like any other discussion between a minority and majority groups. If you don't know how to begin it, you know, you're likely not even to start because you might make a mistake and make a fool of yourself.

MARTIN: Dana Priest is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who writes for the Washington Post. If you want to read the piece that we've just been talking about, we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org, click on programs, and then on TELL ME MORE. Dana Priest joined us from her home office. Dana, thank you so much for speaking with us.

PRIEST: Thank you, Michel.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Walter Reed Officials Asked: Was Hasan Psychotic?

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. i

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. Hasan was transferred to Texas in July. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years.

Alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Hasan worked at Walter Reed Medical Center for six years. Hasan was transferred to Texas in July.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Heard On 'All Things Considered'

Starting in the spring of 2008, key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences held a series of meetings and conversations, in part about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others last week during a shooting spree at Fort Hood. One of the questions they pondered: Was Hasan psychotic?

"Put it this way," says one official familiar with the conversations that took place. "Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your foxhole."

In documents reviewed by NPR and conversations with medical officials at Walter Reed and USUHS, new details have emerged regarding serious concerns that officials raised about Hasan during his time at both institutions.

Hasan spent six years as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed, beginning in 2003, and he had a fellowship at USUHS until shortly before he went to Fort Hood in the summer of 2009. A committee of officials from both places regularly meets once a month to discuss pressing topics surrounding the psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who train and work at the institutions.

NPR spoke with military psychiatrists and officials who worked closely with Hasan, as well as those who monitored the committee and/or student and faculty matters. None would allow their names to be used, because of the criminal investigation into the Fort Hood shootings.

A portrait taken of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in 2007 i

A portrait taken of Hasan upon entering the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship program in 2007. Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP
A portrait taken of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in 2007

A portrait taken of Hasan upon entering the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship program in 2007.

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP

Deeply Troubling, Schizoid Behavior

When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?

Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials' radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.

Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan's behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that "Islam can save your soul."

Participants in the spring meeting and in subsequent conversations about Hasan reportedly included John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed; Robert Ursano, chairman of the Psychiatry Department at USUHS; Charles Engel, assistant chair of the Psychiatry Department and director of Hasan's psychiatry fellowship; Dr. David Benedek, another assistant chairman of psychiatry at USUHS; psychiatrist Carroll J. Diebold; and Scott Moran, director of the psychiatric residency program at Walter Reed, according to colleagues and other sources who monitor the meetings.

NPR tried to contact all these officials and the public affairs officers at the institutions. They either didn't return phone calls or said they could not comment.

But psychiatrists and officials who are familiar with the conversations, which continued into the spring of 2009, say they took a remarkable turn: Is it possible, some mused, that Hasan was mentally unstable and unfit to be an Army psychiatrist?

  • Mourners attend the memorial service Tuesday in honor of 13 victims of the shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas.
    Hide caption
    Mourners attend the memorial service Tuesday in honor of 13 victims of the shooting rampage in Fort Hood, Texas.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • During the memorial service, President Obama named each of the 13 who died and shared personal stories about them and their families with the crowd of about 15,000.
    Hide caption
    During the memorial service, President Obama named each of the 13 who died and shared personal stories about them and their families with the crowd of about 15,000.
    Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
  • Kolleen Alldridge (from left), Gavyn Alldridge, Kim Rosenthal and Alice Thompson light candles Saturday at a small memorial in the courtyard of the apartment complex where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan lived prior to the Fort Hood shooting.
    Hide caption
    Kolleen Alldridge (from left), Gavyn Alldridge, Kim Rosenthal and Alice Thompson light candles Saturday at a small memorial in the courtyard of the apartment complex where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan lived prior to the Fort Hood shooting.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Soldiers bow their heads in prayer during a vigil at Fort Hood on Friday.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers bow their heads in prayer during a vigil at Fort Hood on Friday.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Some of the first responders to the mass shooting at Fort Hood gather to give interviews Friday morning. Thirteen people were killed and 30 were injured in Thursday's shooting.
    Hide caption
    Some of the first responders to the mass shooting at Fort Hood gather to give interviews Friday morning. Thirteen people were killed and 30 were injured in Thursday's shooting.
    Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • A frame grab from a security video shows suspected shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, early Thursday morning, before the attack. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    Hide caption
    A frame grab from a security video shows suspected shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, early Thursday morning, before the attack. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    CNN via AP
  • Patricia Villa, next-door neighbor to Hasan, stands in her apartment doorway in Killeen. A day before Hasan allegedly went on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army Base, he gave Villa furniture, clothing and a copy of the Quran.
    Hide caption
    Patricia Villa, next-door neighbor to Hasan, stands in her apartment doorway in Killeen. A day before Hasan allegedly went on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army Base, he gave Villa furniture, clothing and a copy of the Quran.
    Jack Plunkett/AP
  • Federal agents search Hasan's apartment in Killeen early Friday. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    Hide caption
    Federal agents search Hasan's apartment in Killeen early Friday. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
    LM Otero/AP
  • This 2007 picture shows Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected shooter, when he entered the program for his Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship.
    Hide caption
    This 2007 picture shows Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspected shooter, when he entered the program for his Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship.
    Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP
  • Jamie Casteel and her husband, Scotty, of Duncan, Okla., wait to hear news about their son-in-law Thursday outside the Scott and White Hospital emergency room in Temple, Texas.
    Hide caption
    Jamie Casteel and her husband, Scotty, of Duncan, Okla., wait to hear news about their son-in-law Thursday outside the Scott and White Hospital emergency room in Temple, Texas.
    Tony Gutierrez/AP
  • Daniel Clark kisses his wife, Rachel Clark, while they wait for Fort Hood to reopen after Thursday's shooting so they can pick up their 5-year-old child at a day care center.
    Hide caption
    Daniel Clark kisses his wife, Rachel Clark, while they wait for Fort Hood to reopen after Thursday's shooting so they can pick up their 5-year-old child at a day care center.
    Michael Thomas/AP
  • Monica Cain, 44, tries to get in touch with her husband, Sgt. Darren Cain, who is stationed at Fort Hood.
    Hide caption
    Monica Cain, 44, tries to get in touch with her husband, Sgt. Darren Cain, who is stationed at Fort Hood.
    Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
  • Sgt. Fanuaee Vea (center) embraces Pvt. Savannah Green outside the base.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. Fanuaee Vea (center) embraces Pvt. Savannah Green outside the base.
    Ben Sklar/Getty Images
  • An ambulance passes the main gate at Fort Hood following the shooting.
    Hide caption
    An ambulance passes the main gate at Fort Hood following the shooting.
    Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald via AP
  • A SWAT team enters the main gate at Fort Hood. The shooting occurred at the Soldier Readiness Center, where troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan receive last-minute medical checkups.
    Hide caption
    A SWAT team enters the main gate at Fort Hood. The shooting occurred at the Soldier Readiness Center, where troops deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan receive last-minute medical checkups.
    Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald via AP

1 of 15

View slideshow i

One official involved in the conversations had reportedly told colleagues that he worried that if Hasan deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. Another official reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim U.S. Army sergeant who, in 2003, killed two fellow soldiers and injured 14 others by setting off grenades at a base in Kuwait.

Bureaucratic And Other Obstacles

So why didn't officials act on their concerns and seek to remove Hasan from his duties, or at least order him to receive a mental health evaluation? Interviews with these officials suggest that a chain of unrelated events and factors deterred them.

For one thing, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

Second, some of Hasan's supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn't have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be "discriminating" against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs.

Third, the officials involved in deliberations this year reportedly were not aware, as some top Walter Reed officials were, that intelligence analysts had been tracking Hasan's e-mails with at least one suspected Islamic extremist since December 2008.

And finally, Hasan was about to leave Walter Reed and USUHS for good and transfer to Fort Hood, in Texas. Fort Hood has more psychiatrists and other mental specialists than some other Army bases, so officials figured there would be plenty of co-workers who would support Hasan — and monitor him.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.