III. "A Ticking Time Bomb:" DoD's Failure To Respond To Major Hasan's Public Displays Of Radicalization To Violent Islamist Extremism.
Major Nidal Hasan's public displays of radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism during his medical residency and post-residency fellowship were clear and led two officers to describe him as a "ticking time bomb."37
Born in Arlington, Virginia, in 1970, he graduated from Virginia Tech with an engineering degree in 1992 and began active duty with the U.S. Army in 1995. In 1997, he entered medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences ("USUHS"), the Military Services' leading educational institution for medical professionals, and graduated in 2003. From 2003 to 2007, Hasan was a resident in the psychiatric program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and from 2007 to 2009 he was a fellow in a post-residency graduate program at USUHS. During his medical residency and post-residency fellowship, his views were no secret to his superiors and colleagues, and he showed clear evidence of escalating radicalization to violent Islamist extremism. Witnesses reported that Hasan expressed support in open class presentations for many of the principles of violent Islamist extremism, and this support is reflected in written academic papers Hasan prepared during this time frame.
That conduct disturbed many of his superiors and colleagues, yet no action was taken against him. In fact, his Officer Evaluation Reports were uniformly positive — and even described his exploration of violent Islamist extremism as something praiseworthy and useful to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Notwithstanding his manifestations of violent Islamist extremism and his concomitant poor performance as a psychiatrist, Hasan was not removed from the military but instead was promoted to the rank of major in May 2009 and eventually ordered to be deployed to Afghanistan in the fall of 2009.
Many servicemembers have deeply held religious views (whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist), but such views are not a cause for concern. The issue that must be countered is the adoption of radical ideology that is a corruption of religion and leads to intolerance or violence or is detrimental to military operations. An individual who embraces violent Islamist extremist ideology clearly is unfit to serve in the U.S. military.38 What follows is a summary of the key facts regarding Hasan's deepening embrace of violent Islamist extremism and DoD's failure to respond.
While Hasan's evident radicalization to violent Islamist extremism occurred gradually and escalated over time, the fact that he obviously had strong religious views that created conflicts with his military service manifested during the early part of his residency (2003-2006). One classmate told investigators that Hasan openly questioned whether he could engage in combat against other Muslims.39 During the third year of his residency, Hasan's conflicts with service obligations ripened to the point that one of his supervisors tried twice to convince him to leave the military. The first time, Hasan's superior told him, "I don't think you and the military will fit," and offered Hasan "a way out" to "just say goodbye."40 Later, after that adviser and Hasan unsuccessfully explored whether Hasan qualified for conscientious objector status, that supervisor again tried to convince Hasan to resign.41
The next two years were the final year of Hasan's Walter Reed residency and the first year of his USUHS fellowship (2006-2008), and it was then that his radicalization to violent Islamist extremism came into plain view. In the last month of his residency, he chose to fulfill an academic requirement to make a scholarly presentation on psychiatric issues by giving an off-topic lecture on violent Islamist extremism.42 The presentation was a requirement for graduation from the residency, commonly referred to at Walter Reed as "Grand Rounds."43 Ham's draft presentation consisted almost entirely of references to the Koran, without a single mention of a medical or psychiatric term.44 Hasan's draft also presented extremist interpretations of the Koran as supporting grave physical harm and killing of non-Muslims.45 He even suggested that revenge might be a defense for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.46 Hasan's superiors warned him that he needed to revise the presentation if he wanted to graduate47 and concluded that it was "not scientific," "not scholarly," and a mere "recitation of the Koran" that "might be perceived as proselytizing."48
At about the same time, the Psychiatric Residency Program Director, who was one of the superiors who reviewed the draft Grand Rounds presentation, questioned whether Hasan was fit to graduate.49 He thought Hasan was "very lazy" and "a religious fanatic."50 Ultimately, Hasan improved the presentation sufficiently to receive credit, although a review of the PowerPoint presentation and a video of the event shows that it was still essentially a collection of Koranic verses with minimal scholarly content.51 According to the Program Director, a major reason that his presentation was acceptable was because standards for such presentations did not yet exist.52 He graduated despite the Program Director's reservations.
The most chilling feature of both the draft and final presentation was that Hasan stated that one of the risks of having Muslim-Americans in the military was the possibility of fratricidal murder of fellow servicemembers.
Hasan advanced to a two-year fellowship at USUHS. As a threshold matter, had established procedures been followed, he would not have been accepted into the fellowship. According to the Army Surgeon General, fellowships are typically reserved for elite medical professionals.53 Officers involved in the fellowship selection process recounted that Hasan was offered a fellowship because he was the only Army applicant and the Army did not want to risk losing that fellowship if it was not filled.54 Hasan confided to a colleague that he applied for the fellowship to avoid a combat deployment in a Muslim country; one of Hasan's supervisors realized that he had the wrong motivation for applying and warned against accepting him.55
Hasan's radicalization became unmistakable almost immediately into the fellowship, and it became clear that Hasan embraced violent Islamist extremist ideology to such an extent that he had lost a sense of the conduct expected of a military officer. Classmates — who were military officers, some outranking Hasan — described him as having "fixed radical beliefs about fundamentalist Islam" that he shared "at every possible opportunity" or as having irrational beliefs.56
Less than a month into the fellowship, in August 2007, Hasan gave another off-topic presentation on a violent Islamist extremist subject instead of on a health care subject. This time, Hasan's presentation was so controversial that the instructor had to stop it after just two minutes when the class erupted in protest to Hasan's views. The presentation was entitled, Is the War on Terror a War on Islam: An Islamic Perspective? Hasan's proposal for this presentation promoted this troubling thesis: that U.S. military operations are a war against Islam rather than based on non-religious security considerations.57 Hasan's presentation accorded with the narrative of violent Islamist extremism that the West is at war with Islam. Hasan's paper was full of empathetic and supportive recitation of other violent Islamist extremist views, including defense of Osama bin Laden, slanted historical accounts blaming the United States for problems in the Middle East, and arguments that anger at the United States is justifiable.58 Several colleagues who witnessed the presentation described Hasan as justifying suicide bombers. These colleagues were so alarmed and offended by what they described as his "dysfunctional ideology" and "extremist views" that they interrupted the presentation to the point where the instructor chose to stop it.59 The instructor who stopped the presentation said that Hasan was sweating, quite nervous, and agitated after being confronted by the class.60
Hasan's promotion of violent Islamist extremist beliefs continued after the presentation. One classmate said that Hasan supported suicide bombings in another class.61 He told several classmates that his religion took precedence over the U.S. Constitution he swore to support and defend as a U.S. military officer. It is critically important to view Hasan's statements in the context of all of his conduct. His statement was not part of an abstract discussion on the relationship between duty to religion and duty to country, nor was it framed within the context of faith-based following of the military directive that servicemembers not follow illegal orders. Rather, Hasan's statements about the primacy of religious law occurred as he was supporting a violent extremist interpretation of Islam and suggesting that this radical ideology justified opposition to U.S. policy and could lead to fratricide in the ranks. Perhaps for this reason, Hasan's comments on his loyalty to religious law, which he made more than once, were so disturbing to his colleagues that they reported Hasan to superiors.62
Later in the fellowship, Hasan pursued another academic project in the ambit of violent Islamist extremism.63 Hasan's written proposal for this project framed it in clinical terms, namely as a research study of whether Muslims in military service had religious conflicts. It was perceived as less controversial than his prior presentations. Nonetheless, it was the third project in the span of a year that Hasan dedicated to violent Islamist extremist views. Moreover, Hasan proposed to give Muslim soldiers a survey which implicitly questioned their loyalty and was slanted to favor the violent Islamist extremist views he had previously expressed. In one question, Hasan wanted to ask whether the religion of Islam creates an expectation that Muslim soldiers would help enemies of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.64 And again, Hasan raised the ominous possibility of fratricide by Muslim-American servicemembers against fellow servicemembers as a central reason for his survey.65
In sum, Hasan engaged in the following conduct in front of or as reported to his superiors within little more than one year:
- Making three off-topic presentations on violent Islamist extremist topics instead of medical subjects.
- Giving a class presentation perceived as so supportive of violent Islamist extremist conflict against the United States that it was almost immediately stopped by an instructor after classmates erupted in opposition to Hasan's views.
- Justifying suicide bombings in class at least twice, according to the accounts of classmates.
- Suggesting in writing in his proposals for presentations that some actions of Osama bin Laden may be justified.
- Telling several classmates that his religion took precedence over the U.S. Constitution he swore a military oath to support and defend.
- Stating three times in writing that Muslim-Americans in the military could be prone to fratricide.
Despite Hasan's overt displays of radicalization to violent Islamist extremism, Hasan's superiors failed to discipline him, refer him to counterintelligence officials, or seek to discharge him. One of the officers who reported Hasan to superiors opined that Hasan was permitted to remain in service because of "political correctness" and ignorance of religious practices.66 That officer added that he believed that concern about potential discrimination complaints stopped some individuals from challenging Hasan.67 We are concerned that exactly such worries about "political correctness" inhibited Hasan's superiors and colleagues who were deeply troubled by his behavior from taking the actions against him that could have prevented the attack at Fort Hood. However, none of the superiors cited "political correctness" as the reason for not acting against Hasan. Instead, the reasons given for their failure to act varied and included:
- A belief that Hasan's ideological views were not problematic or were at least understandable: Several of Hasan's superiors were simply not concerned with his views. One superior concluded that he was devoutly religious but not an extremist,68 adding that he was not alarmed by his religious expressions because similar expressions of other religions would be accepted.69 Another superior thought that his religion was part of his identity and that Hasan's inner conflict concerning military operations in Muslim countries was an understandable internal reaction by a servicemember to combat against that servicemember's co-religionists.70
- Academic freedom and absence of academic standards: Hasan was given a passing mark for his Grand Rounds project in his residency despite the fact that some of his superiors believed it virtually ignored legitimate psychiatric issues and was unscientific in its analysis.71 His superiors offered the following reasons for giving Hasan academic credit for the presentation: (1) it fit within broad parameters of academic freedom to study subjects of choice,72 (2) he presented a controversial subject with thoughtfulness and reflection,73 (3) there were no set standards for judging such projects, 74 (4) spirituality was part of mental health,75 and (5) although it was not among the best projects, it was good enough to pass.76
- A desire to preserve the USUHS fellowship by filling it with an Army applicant: According to officers involved in the fellowship selection process, Hasan was admitted to the USUHS fellowship because (1) he was the only Army candidate for the position he sought,77 (2) the fellowship director was concerned that the fellowship would be terminated if it went unfilled,78 (3) he received recommendations from senior officials,79 and (4) it would have been problematic to rescind the fellowship offer once Hasan was accepted.80
- A belief that Hasan provided understanding of violent Islamist extremism as well as the culture and belief of Islam: Some of Hasan's superiors thought that his controversial projects on violent Islamist extremism were constructive. A senior Walter Reed official concluded that Hasan's Grand Rounds presentation addressed "a controversial topic with a degree of thoughtfulness and a degree of reflection that...was evenhanded."81 One superior regarded Hasan's proposed USUHS survey on Muslim servicemembers' conflicts as a challenging but legitimate public health project that contributed to cultural understanding." Even Hasan's final Program Director at the Walter Reed residency, who questioned whether Hasan should be permitted to advance, felt that "Hasan was a unique individual who could help understand Muslim culture and beliefs."83
- A belief that Hasan could perform adequately in an installation with other psychiatrists to assist him: Hasan was assigned to Fort Hood in part because some superiors thought it would be best to place him at a large base where there would be many psychiatrists to monitor and report on his performance,84 and in part because he seemed motivated to do patient care which was needed at Fort Hood.85
Hasan was a chronic poor performer during his residency and fellowship. The program directors overseeing him at Walter Reed and USUHS both ranked him in the bottom 25 percent.86 He was placed on probation and remediation and often failed to meet basic job expectations such as showing up for work and being available when he was the physician on call.
Yet Hasan received evaluations that flatly misstated his actual performance. Hasan was described in the evaluations as a star officer, recommended for promotion to major, whose research on violent Islamist extremism would assist U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
- His Officer Evaluation Report for July 2007 to June 2008 described Hasan as "among the better disaster and psychiatry fellows to have completed the MPH at the Uniformed Services University."87 The report described how Hasan had "focused his efforts on illuminating the role of culture and Islamic faith within the Global War on Terrorism" and that his "work in this area has extraordinary potential to inform national policy and military strategy."88 The report also stated, "His unique interests have captured the interest and attention of peers and mentors alike."89
- His Officer Evaluation Report for July 2008 to June 2009 gave him passing marks for all seven Army Values and all 15 Leadership Attributes.90 "Islamic studies" was listed under the category of "unique skills" Hasan possessed.91 The evaluation commented on Hasan's "keen interest in Islamic culture and faith and his shown capacity to contribute to our psychological understanding of Islamic nationalism and how it may relate to events of national security and Army interest in the Middle East and Asia."92
These evaluations bore no resemblance to the real Hasan, a barely competent psychiatrist whose radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism alarmed his colleagues and his superiors. The lone negative mark in the evaluations was the result of Hasan failing to take a physical training test.93 Other than that, there is not a single criticism or negative comment of Hasan in those evaluations.
Thus, despite his overt displays of radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and his poor performance, Hasan was repeatedly advanced instead of being discharged from the military. He graduated from the residency in 2007, was enrolled in the fellowship that same year, received his promotion to major in 2008, was assigned to Fort Hood later that year, and ultimately was selected for deployment to Afghanistan in October 2009 — all by officers who had knowledge of his poor performance and expressions of violent Islamist extremism. Hasan had stated that he was comfortable with a deployment to Afghanistan as opposed to Iraq.94 The same officer who assigned Hasan to Fort Hood — and who witnessed at least one of Hasan's expressions of violent Islamist extremist radicalization at USUHS and was aware that there were serious concerns about Hasan — made the decision to deploy Hasan to Afghanistan.95 In other words, despite Hasan's history of radicalization to violent Islamist extremism, Hasan was scheduled for deployment to provide psychiatric care under stressful conditions in a combat zone in which the U.S. military is battling violent Islamist extremists.
In sum, the officers who kept Hasan in the military and moved him steadily along knew full well of his problematic behavior. As the officer who assigned Hasan to Fort Hood (and later decided to deploy Hasan to Afghanistan) admitted to an officer at Fort Hood, "you're getting our worst."96 On November 5, 2009, 12 servicemembers and one civilian employee of DoD lost their lives because Hasan was still in the U.S. military.
During the investigation, Committtee staff was briefed by DoD about relevant military policies and procedures. These briefings will be referenced by the name of the briefer. In addition, DoD provided three Hasan-specific briefings to HSGAC staff. Two of these briefings provided the contents of 30 interviews of witnesses conducted by the DoD Criminal Investigative Division (CID) and the FBI in November 2009 immediately after the Fort Hood attack. Those briefings will be referenced as "CID-FBI Briefing, Witness _" and "CID-FBI Briefing 2, Witness _". The third Hasan-specific briefing provided the contents of 34 interviews that were carried out by the staff conducting the DoD internal review, headed by former Secretary of the Army Togo West and Admiral Vern Clark (ret.), the former Chief of Naval Operations, which led to the Protecting the Force report and separate DoD Hasan Annex. That briefing will be referenced as "Panel Review Briefing, Witness _".
37 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 14 and Witness 19.
38 - Kelly R. Buck et al, Screening for Potential Terrorists in the Enlisted Military Accessions Process, Defense Personnel Security Research Center (April 2005), at 6-7.
39 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 2.
40 - Id., Witness 27.
41 - Id.
42 - Id., Witness 20.
43 - Id.
44 - Using the Koran to Understand Muslims and the Establishment of an Islamic Slate, DoD Production, Stamp DoD 000973-001020 ("Draft Presentation"). Documents that were produced by DoD to HSGAC during the investigation are cited as "DoD Production, Stamp DoD #"
45 - Id.
46 - Id., Stamp DoD 001016.
47 - Memorandum for CPT Nidal Hasan, Re "Scholarly Project," From Program Director, NCC Psychiatry Residency Training (May 21, 2007), Hasan DoD File, Stamp 20091202-127. Documents from Hasan's personnel, training and credentials files, which were made available by DoD for HSGAC review, but which were not kept or retained by HSGAC, are cited as "Hasan DoD File, Stamp # ".
48 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 17.
49 - CID-FBI Briefing, Witness 20.
50 - Id.
51 - Draft Presentation, Stamp DoD 001018; Powerpoint presentation, The Koranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military , at 13, 50.
52 - Panel Review Briefing, Winless 20.
53 - Schoomaker Briefing.
54 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 9 and Witness 20.
55 - Id., Witness 2 and Witness 27; CID/FBI Briefing, Witness 2.
56 - Id, Witness 25.
57 - Nida1 Hasan. Is the War on Terror a War on Islam: An Islamic Perspective?, DoD Production, Stamp DoD 20100205-466.
58 Id., at 1-3.
59 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 19; CID-FBI Briefing, Witness 10 and Witness 25.
60 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 19.
61 - Id., Witness 14.
62 - C1D-FBI Briefing, Witness 10, Witness 14, and Witness 25.
63 - Nidal Hasan, Religious Conflicts Among US Muslim Soldiers, June 2008, DoD Production, Stamp DoD 20100205-469.
64 - Id., at 23.
65 - Id., at 3.
66 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 14.
67 - Id.
68 - Id., Witness 3.
69 - Id.
70 - Id.
71 - Resident Evaluations for Psychiatry Scholarly Activity, Oral Presentation, June 20, 2007, Nidal Hasan, MD., Hasan DoD File, Stamp 20100224-490R-488R; Email, Subject Re: Hasan Scholarly Project (UNCLASSIFIED) (June 22, 2007), DoD Production, DoD Stamp 20091202-307; Email, Subject Re: Hasan Scholarly Project (UNCLASSIFIED) (June 21, 2007), DoD Production Stamp 20091202-309.
72 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 3.
73 - Id.
74 - Id.; Witness 20.
75 - Id.
76 - Id., Witness 2.
77 - Id., Witness 3 and Witness 20.
78 - Id., Witness 3.
79 - Id., Witness 9.
80 - Id., Witness 3.
81 - Id.
82 - Id., Witness 9; Witness 13.
83 - Id., Witness 20.
84 - Id., Witness 3.
85 - Id., Witness 9.
86 - Id., Witness 20 and Witness 9.
87 - Officer Evaluation Report, Nidal Hasan, covering period from July 1, 2007-June 30, 2008, Hasan DoD File, Stamp 20100108-331.
88 - Id.
89 - Id.
90 - Officer Efficiency Report, Nidal Hasan, covering period from July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009 (July 1, 2009), Hasan DoD File, Stamp 20100108-330.
91 - Id.
92 - Id.
93 - Id.
94 - Panel Review Briefing, Witness 3.
95 - Id., Witness 40 and Witness 21. One witness stated that the officer who ultimately made the deployment decision previously instructed a course at USUHS in which Major Hasan justified suicide bombings. Id., Witness 14.
96 - Id., Witness 21.
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