Throughout the aftermath of the Ft. Hood shooting, I’ve argued that we shouldn’t rush to judgment blaming Islam for Nidal Hassan’s aberrant behavior. If anyone was at fault it was Hassan himself and the tremendous stress under which he was placed as an army psychiatrist about to be deployed to the Afghan war zone.
Now NPR has broken open a new aspect of this story (audio). As early as 18 months ago, Hassan’s supervisors at Walter Reed Hospital met regularly and discussed Hassan’s bizarre behavior and substandard performance. Hassan was consistently given substandard evaluations and reprimanded for proselytizing patients. His superiors even worried whether he might leak military secrets to the enemy if he deployed to the war zone. They pondered whether he might be capable of the type of fragging incident another Muslim soldier perpetrated against fellow soldiers. They also noted bizarre, disjointed communication and behavior.
The chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed attempted to begin the process of getting rid of Hassan by approaching two key academic committees. They both refused. Instead, they told the chief that Hassan was about to leave Walter Reed on a fellowship. They should let him go and hope he does better there.
Instead the faculty at the new institution thought his work was “terrible” and they were troubled about his “state of mind.” They called him “disconnected,” belligerent,” “aloof.” After handing in a research paper that his professors found little more than a “religious diatribe,” supervisors worried that he might be “descending into psychosis.”
Despite all this and extraordinarily, none of these individuals ordered Hassan to have a mental health exam or therapy. Talk about dysfunction. And further, Hassan’s supervisors knew nothing of the 20 e-mails he sent to the radical Imam Al-Awlaki in Yemen. Intelligence officials claims they told Walter Reed officials about the e mail traffic (though Hassan was at the time no longer working there and the message seems not to have been relayed to those he was working with). This seems like a repeat of the compartmentalization dividing the FBI and CIA, which enabled 9/11.
The NPR reporter notes that Hassan’s supervisors wanted him sent away “where he wouldn’t hurt anyone.” So they sent him to Ft. Hood because, ironically, it had a full complement of psychiatrists and other mental health personnel who could “support and monitor him.” One of those supervisors even said, “we all hoped that Hassan would sort of disappear at Ft. Hood.” Indeed.
Look, if you’re Daniel Pipes or Steve Emerson there’s plenty here for you to feast on. But if you’re a reasonable person you realize that Nidal Hassan was not Osama bin Laden. Instead, he was a mentally ill individual whose sickness allowed him to twist and distort his religious beliefs to serve his psychosis. Clearly, the army is deeply to blame for this mess. The system of passing substandard personnel on to the next post out of bureaucratic lethargy; and hoping they will somehow disappear or magically heal themselves and become benign, brought this catastrophe.
In fact, this reminds me a bit of Hurricane Katrina: you have a once a century natural disaster compounded by the utter incompetence of those officials who were supposed to protect public safety. The hurricane was bad enough. But when you realize how many things could have been done both before and after the disaster to ameliorate the problem and weren’t; then a disaster becomes a man-made tragedy.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.