Ft. Hood: The latest from the Pentagon

Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, November 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post staff writer Ann Scott Tyson was online Friday, Nov. 6, at 11 a.m. ET with the latest news from the Pentagon about what happened at Ft. Hood, where an army psychiatrist killed 13 people and wounded 31.


Arlington, Va.: What does this incident tell us about the security on our military bases?

Ann Scott Tyson: Good morning Arlington. Because large military bases such as Fort Hood are similar to towns or even small cities, including residential areas, schools, and office buildings, it is difficult to require stringent security. My observation has been that security was heightened in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks but since then has grown more relaxed.


St Johnsbury, Vt.: Is there a list of the names of the deceased and the wounded?

Parents are understandably worried about the welfare of sons and daughters. They would like to be reassured that their loved ones are OK.

Thank you.

Ann Scott Tyson: My understanding is that the military is following its procedures for notifying next of kin of the deceased, and on the wounded they need to protect patient privacy, so I am not aware of any list at this time.


Falls Church, Va.: Why does it matter if the suspected shooter was a devout Muslim? Would that be part of the headline if he were Catholic or atheist or Jewish? I think not. I hate the fact that we are once again promoting a fear and distrust of Muslims in out nation.

Ann Scott Tyson: I believe that as many details as possible that could reveal the shooter's motives are relevant, including his training, his deployment status, and also his religious beliefs, because those could form part of the motivation. At the same time, I agree that there is a risk that this horrible incident could generate a backlash against Muslims and hopefully efforts are underway to prevent that.


On any Base, USA: What do you think of the NRA approach that if these soldiers were armed that this tragedy wouldn't have occurred?

Ann Scott Tyson: I suspect that the restrictions on weapons on military bases help prevent accidents, and more people would probably be hurt without those restrictions.


Fairfax, Va.: So do we believe that he was a "lone gunman"?

Ann Scott Tyson: Currently that seems to be the main theory - but the FBI and Army's criminal investigators are now collecting ballistics information that should help clarify further.


Burke, Va.: Every news source (including, I believe, the Washington Post) reported yesterday that the gunman was killed (and at various times, reported that there were multiple gunman in multiple attacks).

Has the twenty-four-hour news cycle completely erased any concerns about "getting it right" versus "getting it first"?

Ann Scott Tyson: In this case, it was the Army that got it wrong -- and there remain a lot of questions how that happened. The Fort Hood commander announced that the shooter was dead, and so news organizations reported that because it should have been accurate information. It then it took a few hours for the Army to reveal that he was in fact alive.


Anonymous: There were lots of reports of multiple shooters. Were they officially deemed untrue? I realize cable news stations felt they needed to give the story prominence, but they seemed to go to extremes to say something -- anything -- and to bring in authorities to say something -- anything. Fox News brought in the woman who was White House press secretary under Pres. Bush to explain how the president would be informed of such an incident. And others have retired military personnel who were not at Ft. Hood when the incident occurred. It was not informative. There was, of course, lots of speculation about terrorism. Not helpful without facts.

Ann Scott Tyson: The Army first stated officially that there was more than one gunman. Here is the quote from an Army release yesterday afternoon: "One of the gunmen has also been shot and killed; two others have been apprehended." Later, however, the Army said those two who were apprehended were released. So again, apparently they were suspects but it was determined they were not gunmen.


Washington, DC: "Why does it matter if the suspected shooter was a devout Muslim?"

I agree we need to watch out against backlash against the Muslim community, as this incident isn't a reflection of mainstream Islam.

But this poster needs to understand that whether it was on 9/11, our embassies in the 90s, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, etc. ...a distorted view of Islam has been used to target Americans, and non-Muslim believers or "infidels."

This guy didn't want to be deployed, and the fact we were fighting Muslims might have had something to do with it, as does his religious views including ant potential extremist views.

It is important to find this out. The mainstream Muslim community has to understand we need to investigate this link.

Ann Scott Tyson: I agree that it will be vital to dig deeper into the motivations, and ultimately if possible to hear from Maj. Hasan himself.


Kalamazoo, Mich.: What happened to the two people the Army said they gad in custody after the shootings.

Ann Scott Tyson: Good question -- I don't think we have the answer to that apart from that they were released


Re: the shooter's beliefs and recent actions: Ann, too much attention is being paid to the fact that he's Muslim, but what appears to be of importance are the reports of inflammatory statements he's made to colleagues and online, especially after being given overseas deployment orders. What would the Army normally do with someone making these kinds of statements? Are these grounds for discharge or more severe action? What, if anything, had the Army done to that point?

Ann Scott Tyson: The Army so far is stating that although Maj. Hasan was in a "deployment window" there were not signs from colleagues, etc, that he was particularly troubled about serving in the Army or deploying, but of course that is not the entire story. Overall, my understanding is that soldiers make all kinds of inflammatory statements, including stating that they do not want to deploy, and that those are fairly common and so might not raise red flags unless coupled with actions.


Odenton, Md.: After this mass murder, would it be prudent to examine the Web posts and blogs of active-duty soldiers to determine if their loyalties are suspect? I know this can lead to claims of bias against Muslims, but we didn't allow communists to serve as senior army officers in World War II, either.

Ann Scott Tyson: As a practical matter, I believe that might be overly time consuming and invasive of privacy. There have been some restrictions on blogging by active duty soldiers for security reasons, but they are hard to enforce. Given that the vast majority of soldiers are loyal to each other and the country, I think that monitoring web activity would have to come after a soldier took some other questionable actions or expressed ideas that made them suspect.


Winnipeg, Canada: Regarding 'getting it right', I watched about 2 minutes of CNN last night. Wolf Blitzer mentioned some of the speculation that a previous poster in this chat objected to, with the caution that what he just said was speculation and that in this type of story, speculation often proves to be wrong. Fair enough. Then he continued an interview with a woman who was a senator (don't know if he was a state or American senator). She repeated some of the briefing information she had received from the military, and then Blitzer asked her if there was anything she wanted to add -- an opportunity to express condolences, I suppose. Instead she said that it was tragic that an event like this occurred on a military base, and speculated that the shooter(s) might have been infiltrators. I guess I am saying that although CNN and other news outlets probably went public with information before they should have, that doesn't excuse an elected official for speculation that might have fed into public hysteria about 'foreigners' especially given the shooter's last name. After her comment I shut the TV off. There's no point in watching the news immediately after an event; there are too many immature people out there willing to speak before their brains have caught up with their emotions.

Ann Scott Tyson: I share your frustration with the demand for instant analysis, before many of the basic facts are known. One reason I believe that there were interviews with the female senator from Texas was that she had spoken directly with the commander at Fort Hood and so her information was considered fairly authoritative - although of course the Fort Hood commander also got some initial facts wrong.


Charlotte, N.C.: First of all my prayers for those killed and wounded in the attack. The fact that the alleged shooter is Muslim may or may not be pertinent to why he did what he did. Only he can address this question. My question is, how were so many (43-45) either killed or wounded by one shooter with semi-automatic weapons. Is it possible that there was friendly fire involved here?

Ann Scott Tyson: Good questions. We are trying to find out more about how so many people were killed and wounded. There have been suggestions that one reason is that the space was crowded and enclosed -- but again it seems that would have made it easier for someone to tackle the shooter.

On the friendly fire, that is a possibility and we are asking about that as well, and it has not been ruled out.


Rockville, Md.: Dear Ms. Tyson, Does the military deal well with "soft" issues like diversity and tolerance. Clearly, the military is a deeply integrated institution with men and women, soldiers and officers of different races and ethnicities, and the like. Is "tolerance" presumed or taught? How much credence should be lent to the claims that the shooter experienced harassment based on his religion? Thanks.

Ann Scott Tyson: The military is a microcosm of society, so on one hand it has suffered from serious tolerance problems, but at the same time because it is a hierarchical institution and can order people to do things, it has been quite proactive in training service members in the need for diversity. My experience has been that the levels of tolerance for race, gender and ethnicity are fairly good in the military compared with the rest of society.


Northern Virginia: Worth noting that the shooter's inflammatory comments online (if he wrote them) actually HAD been spotted by investigators six months ago and he was questioned about them. So they are not just coming to light now and this does not show that they "should" have been caught earlier -- they actually were.

The problem is that his name is apparently as common as Bob Smith, so even though someone with that name made the comments openly and using his own name on some Web site, the FBI had no way at all to know if it was some totally unrelated person with the same name, since it's so common. He denied making the comments, and in fact, it's still possible he didn't.

Ann Scott Tyson: Interesting, thanks


Dallas, Tex.: I think the media needs to be careful of addressing this man as a soldier. He was an Officer, only answerable to those above him (Lt. Col, Col, Gen). No enlisted man would think about questioning him as he entered the base. It would be against the UCMJ for people to make fun of him for his religion, and the military takes those type things very seriously.

Ann Scott Tyson: My experience is officers all consider themselves soldiers, and in fact many of the highest ranking officers like to refer to themselves as soldiers -- but I agree that as an officer he would be treated differently than an enlisted soldier.


Fairfax County, Va.: The many hours during which the shooter was reported dead by the Fort Hood commander, but wasn't, are not the main story, of course. But at the same time, such an error (stating someone is dead, who isn't) really shouldn't happen again. It reminds me a little of Mayor Nagin and the New Orleans police chief announcing rumors as fact after Katrina.

My question on this issue (which again I realize is not the big story here)... why are we even hearing from the Fort Hood commander? Isn't there a press officer (maybe they call them public affairs officer) whose job it is to talk to the public and who would be far less likely to make a factual mistake? I think that's what we taxpayers are paying the press officer for.

Ann Scott Tyson: They do have public affairs officers, who are also answering questions. But given the magnitude of this incident they believe that the commander himself should provide the information in part to demonstrate that he is taking responsibility for the situation.


Boston, Mass.: Weapons restrictions on military bases DO help prevent accidents. It also prevents suicides, and domestic violence homicides. It's a sound policy and should not be changed.

Ann Scott Tyson: I would agree with you on that.


USA: I have always been concerned about the psychiatrists that serve our soldiers. The soldiers that go overseas, particularly to the Middle East, often suffer stress -- sometimes severe stress -- as a result of what they see and experience. Each soldier has to deal with his own memories and traumas. If we're lucky, they see a psychiatrist and work through it. The psychiatrists, though, have to hear what the soldier went through, and share his pain -- and not just for the one soldier, but for many. It seems like it would be like being deployed 100 times, hearing 100 stories and helping 100 soldiers cope. I can't imagine the stress.

Ann Scott Tyson: That is an excellent point and I think it is recognized that the care givers also need care. I believe the Army does address the psychological problems of care givers, but the Army still has a shortfall of mental health professionals and I would guess that many care givers would tend to put their patients first and perhaps not week care for themselves.


Mental health problems: I think another thing that might be important is mental health issues in the military in general. I keep getting the impression from stories such as this that mental health issues are swept under the rug, with results ranging from horrific events such as this to PTSD that rips families apart, ends in suicide, depression, etc.

Ann Scott Tyson: The Army is really not sweeping those issues under the rug, and in fact suicide, PTSD, etc, are very high up on the list of priorities of Army leaders. However, significant stigma problems remain so that military personnel remain reluctant to admit that they have mental health problems. I think the care is improving, although much more needs to be done.


Harrisburg, Pa.: The CBS Morning Show with Harry Smith reported this morning that the Major uttered "God is great" during the shooting. Has this been confirmed?

Ann Scott Tyson: I have not heard that officially confirmed yet.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Ann, thanks for the chat. I read reports where Major Hasan wanted to leave the Army and even had hired lawyers to help him. I always believed that officers could resign their commissions unlike enlisted men and women who serve for a particular time period. Do you know this to be the case and why wouldn't the Army accept his resignation?

Ann Scott Tyson: Yes, officers can resign their commission after they have completed their mandatory service time of eight years. However, in some cases if they are called to deploy as Hasan was they are not allowed to resign until after the deployment. During the course of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I have been aware of times when Army leaders have placed restrictions aimed at preventing the resignation of officers in certain badly needed occupations. Also, there is a big shortage of majors in the Army now, so he may have faced difficulty if he tried to get out for all of those reasons.


Hate crimes: We're already hearing the kneejerk reaction that he's a homegrown terrorist/Muslim extremist, etc. It seems to me that there were plenty of signs that he was moving toward a mental breakdown that were ignored and have little or nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim extremism. There are also reports surfacing now that he had repeatedly been the victim of religion and race-based abuse. The effect of this should also be considered in determining motive. Nothing will ever, in my mind, justify what this person did, but instead of jumping to the conclusion that this is another reason to not trust Muslims, we should remember that we don't make the same rushes to judgment with Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh's religious or social affiliations.

Ann Scott Tyson: Good points -- there could have been a complex combination of motives -- we just don't know yet.


Green Bay, Wisc.: To your first questioner: how do you provide 100 percent security anywhere? This guy was an Army major, known on the base, and free to go probably most anywhere... he was a major! Your first instinct upon seeing an army major is to salute, not duck.

Ann Scott Tyson: Yes, I agree --


Ann Scott Tyson: Thanks to everyone for your great questions. I am signing off now to do some more reporting. Ann


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