I have a friend who is an Army doctor. Turns out he knew Major Nidal Hasan back when they started school together. I asked him if he was surprised to find his former classmate accused of killing 13 Fort Hood soldiers. He told me that while he was completely shocked — as were all the other colleagues who knew him years ago — the ones who had continued their studies with him or who had worked with him more recently were in no way shocked. Apparently they felt that he’d become completely radicalized.
The Boston Globe got a look at previously undisclosed reports that says Hasan transformed from a “bright prospect in the Army’s medical corps to a loner with increasingly extremist views.” And the Army was aware of Hasan’s extreme views but overlooked them because of diversity goals:
Army superiors were warned about the radicalization of Major Nidal Malik Hasan years before he allegedly massacred 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, but did not act in part because they valued the rare diversity of having a Muslim psychiatrist, military investigators wrote in previously undisclosed reports.
An obvious “problem child” spouting extremist views, Hasan made numerous statements that were not protected by the First Amendment and were grounds for discharge by violating his military oath, investigators found.
This isn’t a completely new story — there have been other reports that Hasan had defended suicide bombings, tried to convert his patients and believed that Islamic law took priority over the Constitution. The picture above, incidentally, is the prayer rug Hasan left behind in his Texas apartment.
This story adds a few more details, supporting the idea that the Army was completely aware that Hasan was deficient as an officer but overlooked the problems because of political considerations. What’s more, apparently, his supervisors felt that Hasan was valuable for informing the Army about Islamic culture as it relates to current conflicts.
In one flagged situation, Hasan gave a presentation on the Islamic perspective on the War on Terrorism:
But the presentation was “shut down” by the instructor because Hasan appeared to be defending terrorism. Witnesses told investigators that Hasan became visibly upset as a result.
“The students reported his statements to superior officers, who took no action on the basis that Major Hasan’s statements were protected by the First Amendment,” the investigation found. “They did not counsel Hasan and consider administrative action, even though not all protected speech is compatible with continued military service.”
It added: “Soldiers have rights under the First Amendment, but they are not the same rights as civilians. . . . [T]hese statements violated the Army . . . standard to hold a security clearance.”
Okay, so this is the second time in the story that we learn that soldiers don’t have unabridged First Amendment rights. I have no doubt that’s true, but I’m completely confused as to where and how the Army draws the line. Specifically how did Hasan violate standards? I assume that evangelism is not completely banned in the military — even if broadly proscribed. I assume that soldiers can believe that God comes first in terms of who they report to — with the understanding that people whose religion is completely in conflict with military ideals should not serve. I guess I just want some help understanding how the Army understands soldiers’ First Amendment rights and a look at how that might play out for adherents with varying religiosity.
There’s a hint that it comes down to stated loyalties and whether those loyalties are compatible with continued military service. Hasan wondered if he could qualify for conscientious objector status. But while he opposed the war in Iraq, he was fine (in 2006) with the war in Afghanistan, so his religious views didn’t appear to conflict with all combat, even combat againts Muslims. But the problem got worse:
“[H]e exhibited a single-minded fascination with religion that was inappropriate for an Army officer and one that intensified over time,” the investigators concluded.
I don’t think you’ll find many folks disagreeing with that analysis — particularly in hindsight. But again, I’d like to know more about how the regulations identify “single-minded fascination.” The answer not only protects those Muslims who would never kill their fellow soldiers but all devout soldiers.