Army psychiatrists ordered Hasan to attend lecture series on Islam

As investigations into the the Nov. 5 massacre at the Fort Hood, Tex. army base ensue, the military community deals with the realities of violence at home and abroad.
By Ann Scott Tyson and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Army psychiatrists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who supervised Maj. Nidal M. Hasan's work as a psychiatric fellow tried to turn his growing preoccupation with religion and war into something productive by ordering him to attend a university lecture series on Islam, the Middle East and terrorism, according to a Walter Reed staff member familiar with Hasan's medical training.

The psychiatric staff at Walter Reed did not discuss kicking him out of the service, according to the staff member. In fact, Hasan was initially considered a good medical school candidate because he had spent time as an enlisted soldier and had cared for his siblings after his parents died, both attributes that supervisors believed indicated he had a healthy work ethic.

An Army official also said that Hasan, who is believed to have killed 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. It is unclear whether 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 the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The idea that Hasan attend the lectures, which he did late last year or early this year, came up during discussions among the psychiatric staffs of the hospital and the Army's medical university about what was perceived as Hasan's lack of productivity and his constant interest in Muslims whose religious beliefs conflicted with their military duties.

"You're at an institution of higher learning. He seems to want to do work in an area no one knows anything about," the staff member, who also requested anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak publicly, said of the order. "You don't want to close him down just because it's different."

Seen as gentle, polite

During those discussions, psychiatrists commented in passing about whether Hasan could be delusional or hurt fellow soldiers, but did not think he was dangerous and never took steps to have him evaluated either for mental fitness or as a security threat. On the contrary, his demeanor was regarded as gentle and polite, and he often responded to inquiries about his well-being by saying, "I'm doing well, thank God."

"He had his struggles, and he embraced his religion with such intensity that one wondered whether he" could have suffered from a form of "delusion," the staffer said. He cited as an example -- without speaking of Hasan in particular -- the belief that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are against Muslims rather than against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's government and then insurgents in Iraq.

Hasan came to the attention of two joint terrorism task forces in December 2008, as he corresponded by e-mail with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and Islamic spiritual leader residing in Yemen who has exhorted followers to pursue violent jihad, or holy war. A Defense Department analyst on one of the task forces concluded that the chatter was innocent and in keeping with Hasan's research interests, two government officials said this week.

In 2007, addressing other physicians at Walter Reed, 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.

Did he seek a discharge?

After the shooting, his aunt Noel Hasan said her nephew had sought for several years to be discharged. She said he had consulted a lawyer 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.

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