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Fort Hood: Hasan warns military against Muslims fighting Muslims

Soldiers from Fort Hood fold a American flag inside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, Monday, Nov. 9, 2009 in preparation for President Obama's planned visit on Tuesday. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is suspected of opening fire on fellow soldiers during a rampage that left 13 people dead on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
Soldiers from Fort Hood fold a American flag inside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, Monday, Nov. 9, 2009 in preparation for President Obama's planned visit on Tuesday. Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is suspected of opening fire on fellow soldiers during a rampage that left 13 people dead on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) (Paul Sakuma - AP)

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Dana Priest
Washington Post staff writer
Tuesday, November 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Dana Priest was online Tuesday, Nov. 10, at Noon ET to discuss her story about Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who allegedly killed 13 people at Fort Hood, and the fact that he warned fellow physicians a year and a half ago at Walter Reed Army Medical Center 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.

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Hasan PowerPoint Presentation

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Dana Priest: hi everyone. welcome. let's begin. Dana

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New York: If these people want to enter our services and don't want to fight against their people, then they should not enter the services, and we should not be allowed to give them the good life this country offers.

Dana Priest: In Hasan's case, he was, by all accounts, hoping to make the military a career. At some point, obviously, that changed.

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Glenmont, Md.: I don't see how this terrible situation can do anything but make life much more difficult for Muslims in the U.S. military. Seems to me the issue here though is not so much religion as mental health -- warnings signs ignored, etc.

Dana Priest: I agree. Just because he are religious, and even conflicted about it, means you are capable of killing people like that! So the big unanswered questions have to do with his mental health at Ft. Hood. So far there's been no indication he had a break with reality at Walter Reed.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: Dana -- It appears the U.S. military is in an extremely difficult spot as a result of Hasan's crime. If they begin paying attention to Muslim members of service they may be accused of discrimination. If they do not remain aware as has happened apparently here (and in several other cases, i.e.. 82nd A-B case) lives may be lost. How does the civilian and military command stand on the head of this pin?

Dana Priest: You got that right!

I guess they just repeat their previous statement about this being an act of an individual, and that it's wrong to generalize. I'm sure the Counterintelligence people are going crazy though, as this is what they are there for and they tend to be sort of aggressive about things.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Hassan's presentation, in hindsight, seems like a conscious or unconscious stop-me-now-before-its-too-late message. Tragic.

Doesn't this incident highlight the fact that the U.S.'s multi-pronged security system: the military, the FBI, CIA, etc.. hasn't gotten any better at sharing and analyzing info about suspicious and potentially dangerous individuals?

Dana Priest: Yes, that's how I read it too. Or that it reflected his own emerging conflict with his version of Islam and his military service in an Islamic country. I'm not sure yet whether the proverbial dots were not connected. We still need more info on that.

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Washington, D.C.: Did the Post ever point out that Timothy McVeigh was Christian? Should we be kicking out all the Christians from the military? All white males?

Dana Priest: I don't remember McVeigh's actions being motivated by his faith. He hated the government. As I recall.

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washingtonpost.com: Hasan PowerPoint Presentation

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Richmond, Va.,: Welcome back. You were sorely missed. I was starting to wonder if you had left the Post.

Did you happen to encounter Major Hassan during your previous reporting on Walter Reed?

Dana Priest: Thank you. I'm here. Just doing other things. I did not, but I've talked to people who knew him. Anne Hull and I wrote a story about that on Saturday.

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Toronto Canada: What is really known about Hasan's attempt to negotiate an exit from military service? When did he do this?

Dana Priest: Big question mark as of today. We've been asking the Army if he filed to be a conscientious objector. So far they won't tell us.

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washingtonpost.com: At Walter Reed, a palpable strain on mental-health system (Post, Nov. 7)

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Welcome Back!: Great to see you're keyboarding with us once again after another great article.

Seems clear Hasan was giving warning signals of a man obsessed if not about to break with reality. Anyone who has had experience working with 'mental health' professionals knows that they are often/frequently in that field because they are seeking to tame their own demons and slay their own ghosts from the past or some other less than ideal motive. Could this be a case of everyone around him not seeing clearly because of being too deep in the weeds themselves? Sometimes you can't see what's right in front of you.

Dana Priest: Thanks. Yes it could, and also that, in general, the medical community is so intensely focused on its own issues (medical training, performance, etc.) that the senior docs who heard it may not have viewed his presentation with a threat lense like other, say, infantry or intelligence field soldiers would have.

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Richmond, Va.: In WWII, many soldiers were expected to fight against enemies of their own religion (Lutheran, Catholic, etc.) -- that argument to allow con. objection is flawed. Anyone who sincerely thinks it's wrong to kill Muslims should also think it's wrong to kill Baptists. Con. Objection should be granted based on the deed, not the religion of the recipient -- that's bigotry to give certain religions specials waivers.

Dana Priest: good point

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New York, N.Y.: As a young American Muslim, I was absolutely stunned to browse through the suspect's PowerPoint and learn that the contents didn't alarm any of the many officers enough to direct Hasan to a psychiatrist and Muslim chaplain. The presentation, to anyone with any understanding of Islam, reads like a fifth-grade caricature. It seems so clear to me that in "describing Islam" to his fellow soldiers with such a clunky, warped, and disjointed presentation, Hasan was merely telegraphing his own growing extremism, ambivalence, and confusion.

Is there so much ignorance in the Army about Islam that the entire class just decided that this presentation was something a normal or conventional or mainstream Muslim anywhere would present?

Dana Priest: That could very well be.

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Chicago, Ill.: Great job on this story as always. Did you see Fox's online version, which used your story as a jumping-off point to quote at length from a former classmate of Hasan's who blamed it all on political correctness within the military? Fort Hood Suspect Warned of Muslim Threat Within Military (Fox News, Nov. 10).

"There were definitely clear indications that Hasan's loyalties were not with America," Lt. Col. Val Finnell, Hasan's classmate at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. The issue here is that there's a political correctness climate in the military. They don't want to say anything because it would be considered questioning somebody's religious belief, or they're afraid of an equal opportunity lawsuit. I want to be clear that this wasn't about anyone questioning his religious views. It is different when you are a civilian than when you are a military officer," said Finnell, who is a physician at the Los Angeles Air Force Base. "When you are in the military and you start making comments that are seditious, when you say you believe something other than your oath of office - someone needed to say why is this guy saying this stuff. He was a lightning rod. He made his views known and he was very vocal, he had extremely radical jihadist views," Finnell said. "When you're a military officer you take an oath to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. They should've confronted him - our professors, officers -- but they were too concerned about being politically correct."

As far as you can tell, is there truth in what he says, or should we apply the Fox discount to facts on this one?

Thanks.

Dana Priest: It is true that some people in the military view this has a political correctness issue. similar to say, their views about other minority groups and the way they are treated/mistreated/perceived in the military. I think of it more as a very tricky problem. Certainly it would be outrageous to believe/imply that all Muslim soldiers are potential terrorists/mass murderers. one problem is the lack of open discussion about the religion. Unlike Christianity, people are unfamiliar with Islam so they aren't going to necessarily notice when someone is going off the rails--I guess. And by the way, the US military and US intel community needs more people of Muslim background, not fewer, to actually do a better job in Muslim countries.

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Lake Forest, Ill.: My response to the too frequent public killings -- when I hear media struggle for the cause -- is "he's crazy." But I have trouble with that immediate response with Islamic militants since we have, all over the world, suicide bombings of various types and, by and large, those who do it appear to do it for what they believe are religious reasons. So it remains to be seen if "he's crazy" is the answer or "he's an Islamic militant."

Dana Priest: Ok, and the other important question is was he acting alone or was he connected or inspired by someone else. It's a little unusual for intel/law enforcement people to be telling the media so soon that they see no indication of any other connections. To me this means that they are already sure of that and that they are trying to mitigate a backlash against the Muslim community in and outside the military.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: This is interesting. Apparently, the suspect wanted Muslims discharged from the military as objectors; yet, now there are others calling for banning Muslims from the military. The suspect clearly was troubled. I do not think banning Muslims is the answer. There are good and bad in every religion. Look at Eric Rudolph, Tim McVeigh and the killer of the Wichita doctor, all Christians. It is ridiculous to blame a single religion for the horrible actions of a few.

Why can't the media report on some good actions such as Hassan Askari, Muslim student, who rescued three Jewish students in New York from a bitter racist assault? It received minimal press coverage.

Thank you.

Dana Priest: passing this on

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Anonymous: I think it is a bit of a leap to say Maj. Nasar is affiliated with al-Qaeda because a former imam at the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church has become a vocal critic of U.S. actions since leaving the country in 2002. Dar al Hijrah is one of the largest mosques in the entire United States. Up to 3,000 people attend prayer services there. I believe Nasar was a depressed person who initially gravitated to religion like many troubled people in an attempt to find solace for his anxieties and assurance in the moral absolutism of religion. As he became more and more hopeless and alienated his thinking became delusional which was only heightened by the grandiose good vs. evil nature of religion. Once a person loses touch with reality anything becomes possible.

Dana Priest: Yes, it is a leap. Law enforcement sources are even making that point. But it's still valid for the press to report on this since it is an incremental discovery that might or might not lead somewhere important.

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Anonymous: Maj. Hasan's 50-slide presentation quoted extensively from the Koran, made many theological points, expressed the extremist view of "offensive jihad" and set an emotional tone with its use of exclamation marks and bold letters. To me, this shows that Hasan was not acting merely as a doctor making a detached medical observation about the psychological impact of Islam on Muslim soldiers sent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, he spoke as a "believer" making a passionate religious argument that it is wrong for the U.S. to make Muslim soldiers fight in Muslim lands. In short, the presentation is evidence that Hasan was radicalized. Do you agree?

Dana Priest: Or that he was in the process of radicalizing....it's not entirely clear whether he was trying to say "this is how radicals think" or "this is how all Muslims think, including me."

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Fort Hood, Tex.: Is there any indication that Hasan's rating chain, as opposed to his peers, was aware of this presentation?

Dana Priest: Yes, his supervisors were sitting in on the presentation.

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Arlington, Va.: Would someone like Hasan have been able to successfully claim conscientious objector status? Would he have had to reimburse the federal government for his medical training?

washingtonpost.com: Fort Hood suspect warned of threats within the ranks (Post, Nov. 10)

Dana Priest: He would have to reimburse the government, yes. Don't know if he could have made a success claim of CO status. Am trying to find out.

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Northern Virginia: Dear Dana, I just went through the class presentation. This is unbelievably mediocre academic work combined with obsessive religiosity. The slides that are actually about the potential stresses on (some) Muslim soldiers are, ironically, probably setting out a useful issue to discuss in today's military. But there are so few of these.

What really strikes me are the endless, basically off-topic, rambling slides on Islam -- the number of Muslims in the world, the difference between Sunni and Shia, the basic tenets -- could have come from a high school or junior high presentation, and really have nothing to do with graduate level professional work. If he had not gone on to the heinous acts at Fort Hood, my reaction to this would have been that he was an F student trying to pad a presentation that he didn't have the academic skills or intellectual ability to produce professionally.

Did he actually get a passing grade for this? Did he have an advisor in developing it in the first place? Did anyone in authority ever talk to him about how "off" it was?

Dana Priest: I don't know but I would agree with the lack of professionalism and, of course, it was way off topic.

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Dana Priest: Sorry but I have to run now. Thanks for joining me! Dana

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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