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Ft. Hood inquiry focuses on military's evaluation system

A Pentagon report will look at why the shooting suspect's performance reviews did not reflect concerns about his inappropriate behavior.

January 12, 2010|By Julian E. Barnes
  • A flag flies at half mast during a memorial for the Ft. Hood shooting victims in Texas.
A flag flies at half mast during a memorial for the Ft. Hood shooting victims… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Washington — A Pentagon report on the Ft. Hood massacre that left 13 people dead will pinpoint the military's administrative failings leading up to the attack, including how the accused shooter repeatedly earned favorable performance ratings in spite of mounting concerns about his views and behavior.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to announce preliminary findings in the investigation Thursday. Among other issues, investigators have examined how Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, received reviews that allowed his career to advance despite concerns about inappropriate behavior -- including charges that he proselytized to patients and discussed extremist Islamic views with colleagues, defense officials said.

The investigation was led by retired Adm. Vernon Clark, a former chief of naval operations, and Togo West, a former secretary of the Army.

Because the criminal investigation is ongoing, a Defense official said, the findings to be released Thursday will not include details about Hasan's actions. But the report is expected to explore why concerns about his performance at Walter Reed Army Medical Center were not passed on to supervisors at his next assignment at Ft. Hood, Texas.

The investigation also is supposed to point to ways to overhaul the military performance evaluation system.

In the Army, few performance reviews contain negative comments. However, at senior levels and in competitive fields, an evaluation that is less than effusive in its praise can derail an officer's promotion. In less competitive fields and at junior levels, the Army has promoted the vast majority of its officers. And because of a shortage of mental health personnel, few such experts are blocked from promotion.

The culture that encourages mainly positive reviews has undercut the usefulness of the system for evaluating officers' strengths and weaknesses, according to some military officials who requested anonymity when discussing the case.

Hasan's performance at Walter Reed should have raised red flags and prevented his promotion and transfer to Ft. Hood, many inside and outside the military have argued since the Nov. 5 rampage.

For instance, Hasan's superiors faulted his light caseload and said he shirked professional responsibilities. He was admonished for discussing religion with his patients and criticized for at least one research paper he wrote on the internal conflicts of Muslim soldiers.

At the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, he was put on academic probation shortly after he began, and took six years to graduate from a four-year program.

Despite those problems, Hasan was promoted to captain in 2003 and major last year. Even superiors who had raised questions about his work wrote references that he was competent.

julian.barnes@latimes.com

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