Chapter V: Strengthening DoD Policies And Training To Prevent Radicalization Of Servicemembers To Violent Islamist Extremism
Hasan's case illustrates that servicemembers are not immune from radicalization to violent Islamist extremism. In fact, Hasan's radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism was so clear that he could and should have been removed from military service under policies then in force even though such policies addressed violent Islamist extremism only indirectly and imperfectly. As such, DoD needs to revise its personnel policies to ensure that they address radicalization to violent Islamist extremism clearly and provide its personnel with sufficient training concerning violent Islamist extremism and how it differs from the peaceful practice of Islam.
A. Major Hasan Should Have Been Removed From Military Service Despite Deficiencies In Policy And Training Concerning Violent Islamist Extremism Among Servicemembers.
The failure to respond to Hasan's radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism was a failure of officer judgment. As described earlier in this report, there was compelling evidence that Hasan embraced views so extreme that he did not belong in the military, and this evidence was more than enough for his superiors to have disciplined him and even to have removed him from service. Although Army policies did not address violent Islamist extremism specifically, Hasan's superiors had the authority to discipline or remove him from the military under general provisions of key policies governing command authority and officership. Concomitantly, the completion of officer evaluation reports that grossly distorted Hasan's competence as an officer concealed his deepening radicalization.
Hasan's exhibition of signs of violent Islamist extremism was incompatible with military service and access to classified or sensitive information according to DOD's own Defense Personnel Security Research Center. An April 2005 report by that Center, Screening for Potential Terrorists in the Enlisted Military Accessions Process, concluded that "the allegiance to the U.S. and the willingness to defend its Constitution must be questioned of anyone who materially supports or ideologically advocates the legitimacy of Militant Jihadism."104 That report also stated that the "determination of participation in or support or advocacy of Militant Jihadist groups and their ideologies should be grounds for denial of acceptance into the Armed Forces of the U.S. and denial of access to classified or sensitive information."105 Of course, Hasan was never disciplined or discharged nor had his Secret-level security clearance revoked despite his conduct.
There were several DoD and Army policies that gave Hasan's superiors the authority to discipline or discharge him.
First, the Army policy on Command Authority106 gives commanders broad authority to take action in response to "any . . . activities that the commander determines will adversely affect good order and discipline or morale within the cornmand."107 Extremist activities include "advocat[ing] ... hatred or intolerance ... [or] the use of force or violence or unlawful means to deprive individuals of their rights.108 The policy lists "[p]rovoking speeches or gestures" as conduct violative of military laws that warrants action from commanders. Commanders' options under the policy include "[i]nvoluntary separation for unsatisfactory performance or misconduct, or for conduct deemed prejudicial to good order and discipline or morale."109 Hasan's conduct fell within these categories of prohibited behavior because of his justifications for suicide bombings during his class presentations, his series of presentations on violent Islamist extremism, and the numerous complaints and disruptions that resulted from his actions. Moreover, Hasan's written work leaves little question that he was sympathetic with views antithetical to military service, and this alone should have precipitated decisive action.
Second, the version of DoD's policy on extremism, Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces,110 in effect prior to the Fort Hood attack applied to Hasan. The policy primarily prohibited "active participation" in extremist organizations but also prohibited activities "in furtherance of the objectives of such organizations that are viewed by command to be detrimental to the good order, discipline, or mission accomplishment of the unit.. .."111 Hasan's statements that showed support for Osama Bin Laden and that accorded with violent Islamist extremism generally could legitimately have been viewed as furthering the objective of al-Qaeda and other violent Islamist extremist groups.
Based on this DoD policy against extremism, the Army issued an implementation policy, Extremist Activities,112 in 1996 after the racially-motivated murder of an African-American couple by two Army soldiers. That implementation policy did not discuss violent Islamist extremism specifically, and the examples listed in it centered on white supremacist activities. However, similar to the underlying DoD policy, this Army implementation policy had a catch-all phrase stating that "commanders have the authority to prohibit military personnel from engaging in or participating in other activities that the commander determines will adversely affect good order and discipline or morale within the command.113 Thus, although this implementation policy was not specific, its broad grant of command authority provided a basis to discipline Hasan for his conduct.
Third, Hasan's superiors had authority to discharge him from the Army under the policy concerning separation of officers. That policy, Separation of Regular and Reserve Commissioned Officers, governs the separation of officers and includes general standards of officership. The policy states that officers are to have the "special trust and confidence" of the President in "patriotism, valor, fidelity ..."114 The policy goes on to state that it is DoD policy to "separate from military service those commissioned officers who will not or cannot . . [m]aintain those high standards of performance and conduct through appropriate actions that sustain the traditional concept of honorable military service ... [or] [e]xercise the responsibility, fidelity, integrity or competence required of them."115 Hasan's presentation charging the United States with a war on Islam, his statements indicating that loyalty to his religion took precedence over his sworn oath as a military officer to support and defend the Constitution, and his sympathy for violent Islamist extremists against whom U.S. forces are fighting meant he was subject to discharge under this policy.
Ultimately, although policies in existence at the time of Hasan's service were sufficient to support discipline and discharge of Hasan, it is clear that DoD lacks an institutional culture, through specific policies and training, sufficient to inform commanders and all levels of service how to identify radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and to distinguish this ideology from the peaceful practice of Islam. Present policies are vague, and we have no evidence that Major Hasan's supervisors and associates received training concerning the specific threat and indicators of violent Islamist extremism in the military.116
DoD policies and guidance provided his superiors with sufficient justification to discipline or discharge Hasan. Nonetheless, as the Hasan case indicates, without improved guidance the behavioral tendency among military superiors could be to avoid application of the policies and directives to evidence of radicalization to violent Islamist extremism — particularly because adherents to violent Islamist extremism may also commingle their ideological views with Islamic religious practices.
B. DoD's Review Of The Fort Hood Attack And DoD's Follow Up To The Review Do Not Confront The Threat Of Violent Islamist Extremism Among Servicemembers Directly.
DoD has examined its actions leading up to the attack and adopted policy changes across a wide range of areas as a result. Fifteen days after the Fort Hood attack, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates appointed an independent review panel led by former Secretary of the Army Togo West and the former Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Vern Clark (ret.), to review the causes of the Fort Hood shootings.117 The panel issued its report in January 2010, including a fifty-four page analysis of DoD's force protection and emergency response capabilities and a twenty-seven page annex concerning Hasan's conduct. The West/Clark review demonstrates, however, that DoD is reluctant to confront directly the threat of radicalization to violent Islamist extremism among servicemembers. DoD's review glosses over evidence of Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and mutes the concerns and reports that were made by his superiors and colleagues who were alarmed.
As part of DoD's follow-up to the review, Secretary Gates instituted a process to examine the review's recommendations, issued two memoranda directing adoption of many of these recommendations, and created a methodical process to monitor implementation. Neither of Secretary Gates' two memoranda directing implementation of particular West/Clark recommendations mentions violent Islamist extremism explicitly. Both memoranda continue to downplay the unique threat of violent Islamist extremism by portraying it as a subset of a more general threat — either workplace violence or undefined "extremism" more generally. We remain concerned that DoD will not appropriately revise policies to address violent Islamist extremism among servicemembers and that DoD personnel will not be specifically trained concerning violent Islamist extremism.
We are concerned that DoD's failure to address violent Islamist extremism by its name signals to the bureaucracy as a whole that the subject is taboo and raises the potential that DoD's actions to confront radicalization to violent Islamist extremism will be inefficient and ineffective. DoD leadership's failure to identify the enemy as violent Islamist extremism explicitly has ripple effects for how the defense bureaucracy will handle this challenge. This problem was illustrated on November 9, 2010, when each Military Service issued its final report on their respective response to the Ft. Hood shootings and the DoD recommendations. None of the reports mentioned violent Islamist extremism or proposed changes in policy or procedure that would specifically educate servicemembers on how to identify violent Islamist extremism and what to do in response. This confirms our concern that DoD, by continuing to avoid the necessity of addressing violent Islamist extremism directly and without ambiguity, is sending a message to the entire military to do the same. It will be more difficult for the military to develop effective approaches to countering violent Islamist extremism if the identity and nature of the enemy cannot be labeled accurately.
C. DoD Should Update Its Policies And Training To Identify And Protect Against Violent Islamist Extremism Among Servicemembers.
We believe that the most significant change the military must make is to reform religious discrimination and other equal opportunity policies to distinguish violent Islamist extremism from legitimate, protected religious observance of Islam so that commanders will not be reluctant to deal with displays of violent Islamist extremism among servicemembers when radicalization occurs. (The West/Clark review stressed the need for distinguishing between extremist activities and religious practice,118 but to date DoD has not implemented this recommendation). Servicemembers at all ranks should receive specific training concerning the ideology and behaviors associated with violent Islamist extremism — and how they differ from the peaceful practice of Islam. To achieve this, the Army and the other Military Services should issue a pamphlet, as the Army did in 1996 after racial supremacism among servicemembers led to fatal attacks, that states explicitly that the prohibition on extremism includes violent Islamist extremism and explains violent Islamist extremist ideology and behavior.119
Such specific policies and training are essential to protect the thousands of Muslim-Americans who serve honorably in the military from unwarranted suspicion arising from their religious practice. Failure by DoD to center policies on violent Islamist extremism and to focus training on distinguishing clearly between the peaceful practice of Islam and violent Islamist extremism could exacerbate that unwarranted suspicion. By contrast, specific policies and training will help servicemembers understand the real threat and thus protect the thousands of Muslim-American servicemembers serving our country. Not confronting violent Islamist extremism directly risks permitting any biases, ignorance, or suspicions to operate unchecked.
Finally, given the gross inaccuracy of Hasan's Officer Evaluation Reports, DoD should revise its policies and their implementation to ensure that personnel records accurately reflect concerns with violent Islamist extremism. Violent Islamist extremism has thus far been extremely rare in our military, but as we saw at Fort Hood it can cost dearly in lives. In other cases, it may compromise military operations.
DoD policies provided Hasan's superiors with sufficient authority to discipline or discharge him based on his conduct as witnessed by fellow servicemembers and his superiors. However, DoD lacked an institutional culture, through policies and training, sufficient to inform commanders and servicemembers on how to identify radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and to distinguish this ideology from the peaceful practice of Islam.
DoD avoided referencing violent Islamist extremism explicitly in the West/Clark inquiry into the Fort Hood attack or in the recommendations issued by DoD in response to the review. It will be more difficult for the military to develop effective approaches to countering violent Islamist extremism if the identity and nature of the enemy cannot be labeled accurately.
DoD leadership should identify the enemy as violent Islamist extremism explicitly and directly in order to enable DoD to confront it effectively and efficiently. DoD should reform religious discrimination and other equal opportunity policies to distinguish violent Islamist extremism from legitimate, protected religious observance of Islam so that commanders will not be reluctant to deal with displays of violent Islamist extremism among servicemembers and in order to protect the thousands of Muslim- American servicemembers from unwarranted suspicion. Servicemembers should receive specific training concerning the ideology and behaviors associated with violent Islamist extremism — and how they differ from the peaceful practice of Islam. Finally, DoD should ensure that personnel evaluations are accurate with respect to any evidence of violent Islamist extremist behavior.
104 - 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.
106 - Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy
107 - Id., Section 4-12c.
108 - Id., Section 4-12a.
109 - Id., Section 4-12d(2).
110 - DoD Directive 1325.6, Guidelines for Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces (issued October 1, 1996).
111 - Id., Section 3.5.8.
112 - Army Pamphlet 600-15, Extremist Activities.
113 - Id., Section 2-4.
114 - DoD Instruction 1332.3, Separation of Regular and Reserve Commissioned Officers.
115 - Id., Sections 4b, 4c.
116 - McManigle Briefing, Schoomaker Briefing, Schneider Briefing.
117 - Report of the DoD Independent Review, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Ft. Hood (January 15, 2010) ("West/Clark Report").
118 - Report of the DoD Independent Review, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Ft. Hood, January 15, 2010, at 16-17.
119 - Army Pamphlet 600-15, Extremist Activities.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|