Hasan did not formally ask to leave military, Army official says

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 4:44 PM

The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people last week at Fort Hood, Tex., did not formally seek to leave the military as a conscientious objector or for any other reason, an Army official said.

It is unclear whether Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, whose aunt has said he sought to leave the military, made informal efforts to leave through contacts with his immediate superiors, and if so how his chain of command at lower levels might have responded to such efforts.

But any formal request by Hasan to separate early would have been submitted to the Department of the Army, according to the official, who saw Hasan's file before it was recently sealed by Army investigators. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

In 2007, addressing other physicians at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Hasan said that to avoid "adverse events" the military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors instead of fighting in wars against other Muslims. At the time of the shooting, Hasan was about to be deployed to Afghanistan, officials have said.

After the shooting, Noel Hasan said her nephew had sought for several years to be discharged. She said he had consulted an attorney about getting out of the service.

In an interview Tuesday, Hasan's criminal attorney, retired Col. John P. Galligan, declined to discuss whether his client had attempted to secure conscientious objector status or to leave the military.

Even if Hasan had sought to quit the Army over his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army almost certainly would have denied any such request, senior Army officials said. Hasan had a continuing obligation because the Army had provided him with medical training.

In a further indication Hasan was not actively seeking formal discharge, he underwent an Army promotion board in the spring of 2008 that endorsed his performance as an officer as patriotic and elevated him from the rank of captain to major, a promotion that took place in May 2009, according to the official.

The Army faces a severe shortage of officers who hold the rank of major, as Hasan does, and that shortage is particularly acute in some medical branches. The Army this year is short about 2,000 majors needed to fill slots created as the service has grown in recent years, according to Army data. In the field of medical doctors, the Army lacks about 15 percent of the majors it needs, the data show.

To address the shortfall, virtually all Army captains are being promoted to major. The Army's promotion rate from captain to major has been well over 90 percent since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading some officers to describe the trend as the "no major left behind" program.

Hasan joined the Army in 1997, attended Army medical training and then worked as a psychiatry intern and resident at Walter Reed from 2003 until July of this year, when he was transferred to the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood. Hasan's last official performance evaluation took place in June of this year, according to an Army summary of his career known as an "officer record brief."

Maj. Gen. Gina Farrisee, the Army's personnel chief, said in an interview Monday that due to the ongoing investigation, she and other Army officials cannot discuss Hasan's specific situation. However, Farrisee said it would take an extraordinary situation -- such as debilitating illness or the death of a spouse -- for an officer with Hasan's rank and medical training to be allowed to resign before completing his or her service obligation.

It would be "very very unusual" said Paul Aswell, an Army personnel official. "I can't think of any in recent years," he said.

Even after officers complete their service obligations, it is extremely rare for them to be allowed to leave immediately prior to deployments, Farrisee said. In the past three years, "We've had about three officers who asked to depart because their service obligation was over and then they did not deploy with the unit," said Farrisee, speaking of cases that came to the Department of the Army for approval.

The Army has received about 50 conscientious objector applications each year since 2001 from soldiers seeking either not to bear arms or to leave the service entirely because of religious or deeply held moral or ethical beliefs. Of those applications, a little more than half have been approved.

In the past three years, the Army board that decides whether to approve or disapprove such applications has not received any from Army officers with a remaining service obligation, according to the Army official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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