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Handling of Ft. Hood shooting suspect could bring discipline

Several Army officers should have taken action when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was clearly having problems in the years before the deadly Texas rampage, a Pentagon review finds.

January 15, 2010|By Julian E. Barnes
  • The Army psychiatrist advanced in his career although he fell short of officer standards for fitness, appearance and work ethics.
The Army psychiatrist advanced in his career although he fell short of officer… (Uniformed Services University )

Reporting from Washington — Between five and eight Army officers are expected to face discipline for failing to take action against the accused Ft. Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, over a series of behavioral and professional problems in the years leading up to the November rampage.

Had corrective action been taken, Hasan's career might have been cut short before the Nov. 5 spree at the Texas Army base that left 13 people dead, an official familiar with results of a Pentagon review said Thursday.

In addition, the review concludes that the Defense Department does not adequately share information about personnel internally. It also found that the department's policies toward internal threats are outdated, focusing more on hunting spies than ferreting out extremists, according to officials familiar with the review.

Top officials plan to discuss portions of the review at a Pentagon briefing today.

The review found that Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, repeatedly failed to meet basic officer standards for physical fitness, appearance and work ethic, but that superiors allowed his medical career to advance.

"Had those failings been properly adjudicated, he wouldn't have progressed," and could have been forced out of the armed services, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the review's findings had not been made public.

Instead, the investigation found that for much of Hasan's career, supervisors were blinded by his resume, believing they had found a rare medical officer: someone with a stellar undergraduate record, prior service in the infantry and intimate knowledge of the Islamic faith.

"The Army thought it had hit the trifecta," the official said.

The officers whose actions may be called into question hold ranks of colonel and below, and could be given letters of reprimand, according to the official familiar with the review.

The review also concludes that the military should work harder to identify threats posed by service members and employees with criminal tendencies, mental problems or extremist beliefs.

Information sharing can be improved by giving commanders broader access to law enforcement checks, financial problems and complaints by co-workers. Investigators said that if Hasan's commanders had such access, they may have been able to take more decisive action.

The report also examines weapons policies. Hasan had two firearms, one given to him by his brother in Virginia and one purchased in Texas when he arrived in Ft. Hood. Because he resided off base, he was not required to disclose that he owned those weapons.

The review does not call for a specific change in weapons policies, but recommends a unified department policy, rather than one that varies by service or installation.

The inquiry raises questions about the Army Medical Corps and how it trains and reviews its officers.

Investigators found that Hasan was promoted because he was an adequate doctor, but that he was a poor officer and should have been forced to take corrective action. The review determined that Hasan was overweight, avoided physical training, was frequently late and did not meet standards for appearance.

During his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, from 2003 to 2007, Hasan was counseled about improperly discussing his religion, the official familiar with the review said. "The feedback he got seemed to be effective," the official said. "[The proselytizing] stopped."

But Hasan was a difficult person to work with and at other times pushed back forcefully against counseling. At one point, the review found, a supervisor insisted that he see a Muslim psychiatrist.

Hasan refused, saying his religious views were none of the Army's business. The supervisor backed down, a decision the review found was a mistake.

Following his Walter Reed residency, Hasan won a military fellowship to continue his studies for two more years. But the review concludes that the honor was intended for high-achieving doctors, so Hasan should instead have been sent into the field or pushed to correct his conduct and behavior.

Despite the failings, the review did not conclude that it was a mistake to send Hasan to Ft. Hood and found no clues that he would become violent.

Hasan's supervisors in Texas were informed of some of his problems; they reportedly counseled him on his work ethic and worked to accommodate his religious needs -- like having a time and a place to pray.

The investigation, according to a second official, found that Hasan's performance at Ft. Hood was good.

Still, investigators believe there was suspicious behavior that in hindsight supervisors at Ft. Hood should have confronted Hasan about -- including his refusal to socialize with colleagues and his decision to rent a rundown apartment in a rough part of town.

"He was such a loner," the first official said. "That is not unusual, but there were enough indicators that we should have taken a closer look. But nobody asked the right questions."

julian.b arnes@latimes.com

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