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Military experts discuss the attack at Fort Hood

Topic A
Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Post asked military experts and others for insights about Thursday's shootings. Below are contributions from Bing West, Alex Gallo, Kayt Sukel, Scott Quilty, Fran Hanlon and Ann Wright.

BING WEST

Military author, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Reagan administration

Maj. Nidal Hasan did not commit murder because he was ordered to serve in Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda plotted the murders of Sept. 11, 2001. Nor was he "disturbed," an escapist word that means he was not fully responsible for his actions. The fact is Hasan had weeks to reflect before he betrayed his two sacred oaths: those he took as a soldier and as a doctor.

His fellow Muslims should be outraged that the media have portrayed him as a "devout Muslim." Murder is a perverse definition of "devout." Time and again, terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan shout "Allahu akbar" -- "God is great!" -- when they attack. Many Islamic leaders have lacked the moral courage to condemn these suicide murderers. Until Islam's most revered clerics preach that murderers go to hell rather than to heaven as martyrs, the Muslim faith will continue to be hijacked by a tiny, evil minority.

The media -- both in the West and in the Muslim world -- unwittingly spread the terrorists' chosen narrative by writing about how "devout" their leaders are. The press should substitute an appropriate adjective such as "satanic," "depraved" or "twisted" to convey the correct message. Hasan bought and loaded guns, drove to a crowded room and opened fire on those who trusted him. He was a rational, evil murderer.

ALEX GALLO

Research associate at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point; U.S. Army combat veteran

It's too soon to know what Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's motives were. But were there warning signs that the Army should have paid attention to? Terrorism experts would find these notable: Hasan authored Internet postings on the nobility of suicide bombings. His colleagues are on record stating that he has made disparaging remarks about the United States and its Middle East policy. And federal authorities have been following Hasan, largely due to his Internet postings. If he spent significant time on extremist Web sites, it will be particularly interesting to learn to what degree, if any, the Internet contributed to his resolve to act -- and why his activities didn't raise more suspicion.

KAYT SUKEL

Freelance writer and military spouse living in Bedesbach, Germany

As details about the shootings streamed across the Web, I noticed how the nature of the messages changed over time. Initially, some military friends lamented that they no longer felt safe on Army posts. But once Maj. Nidal Hasan was identified as the lone gunman, many focused on his name, rank and faith. The fear that had been so palpable diminished. Few of the messages were explicit -- one simply said, "A single shooter and a Muslim?!" But their meaning was clear -- that Hasan's Islamic faith explained what had previously been an unfathomable act of violence. No longer could his actions be attributed to his experiences in the military or some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. I don't believe most of my fellow military spouses are bigots or hate-mongers. On the contrary, most are the biggest-hearted people I've ever known. But I think some need to believe that an incident like this has to be about something Muslim, Jordanian, terrorist -- pick your label -- something foreign to touch us where we are supposed to feel most safe. The alternative -- that this war, or even the idea of this war, might make our cherished ones desperate and nearly unrecognizable, that the Army that vows to protect us while our soldiers are away may not be able to keep that promise, that we need to worry about our soldiers even when they are not deployed to combat zones -- is too much to bear. The ideas are disheartening, yet as a military spouse, I can't deny that I understand it.

SCOTT QUILTY

Retired U.S. Army captain; coordinator of the Campaign for Healthy Homecoming at Survivor Corps

War is violent, of course. In Iraq's "triangle of death" in 2006, I stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost my arm and my leg. That kind of violence is easy for people to grasp. But how do families and our nation comprehend what happened at Fort Hood?

My wife, like me an Army captain, serves as an occupational therapist. Her job is to rehabilitate the injured, physically and mentally.

Friends ask me if I worry that she will deploy. I used to say, no, not at all. She's in the medical corps, it's an entirely different job. It's much safer.

But after the tragedy at Fort Hood, and the May shooting at the Baghdad combat stress unit, it's clear that no matter your role in the military, we all struggle with war's effects.

Lots of people confided in Dr. Hasan, and as a caregiver his job included the high doses of trauma which probably led him to a very dark place. He never went to Iraq, but the war came to him.

FRAN HANLON

Board member of the Fort Hood Support Network, which operates the Under the Hood outreach center in Killeen, Tex.

No matter what the reason for the tragedy at Fort Hood, the attention paid to the base should shine light on the Army's inadequate policies regarding multiple deployments and the treatment of emotionally bereft soldiers.

Fort Hood soldiers, like others in America, have been devastated by repeated deployments. At Under the Hood, we see soldiers every day who are suffering from the emotional and psychological effects of their war experiences who feel isolated and abused by a system that seems concerned only about how soon and how often they can send them back for more. One Iraq veteran suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder: His days are a blur thanks to all the medications he is prescribed. Another soldier, pending his unit's deployment to Afghanistan, lost control and checked himself into a civilian psychiatric unit so that he would not harm himself or others. There are countless others who silently follow orders and try to stay out of trouble, all the while asking themselves whether these wars are worth the sacrifice. They need to know that there are many people who care, that they do have options and that they are not alone.

ANN WRIGHT

Retired Army colonel; former diplomat

Much is being made of the stress placed on the troops at Fort Hood who faced multiple deployments abroad. But the accumulated stress to military medical personnel is also tremendous: Soldiers who have returned from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan can be shattered physically and emotionally, and those who help them also suffer. With eight years of war, the stress on all levels of military personnel, their families and those who help them exceeds the current systems in place to support them.

Maj. Hasan's work may or may not have contributed to this tragedy. But the fact remains that we need to pay more attention to the caregivers -- not only those who support combat soldiers, but those who support departing and returning soldiers, too.

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