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Ft. Hood shooter's documents show accolades, allege 'war crimes'

August 22, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, in beard, is shown with a military attorney who is advising him, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, at Fort Hood, Texas, during Hasan's court-martial. Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 during a rampage at the Ft. Hood Army base in 2009.
U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, in beard, is shown with a military attorney… (Brigitte Woosley / Associated…)

FT. HOOD, Texas—A few days before he gunned down fellow soldiers at this central Texas Army base four years ago, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sent an email to superiors about something that had been troubling him: suspected war crimes.

And one day before the rampage, the Army psychiatrist had received a glowing evaluation from superiors who recommended him for promotion and future assignments as chief of psychiatry or commander of a combat stress team.

In one of Hasan's emails, he wrote that soldiers had shared with him disturbing accounts of troops contaminating the Iraqi water supply, of medics killing an injured insurgent and a soldier killing a female bystander.

“I’m still not clear on the exact guidelines of when and what to report,” Hasan wrote in one of the emails, supplied to The Times by Hasan's civil attorney, John Galligan.

“I think I need a lot of reassurance for the first few times I come across these," the email said.

The email was dated Nov. 2, 2009. Three days later, Hasan walked into a medical processing center at the base and shot scores of soldiers, killing 13 and wounding more than 30.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He has been representing himself at trial, and he rested his case Wednesday, a day after prosecutors finished.

Prosecutors called nearly 90 witnesses and presented more than 700 pieces of evidence. Hasan rarely cross-examined witnesses or objected, speeding proceedings that have lasted about two weeks instead of more than a month, as the judge had expected. He presented no witnesses of his own, but did introduce one piece of evidence: his glowing evaluation. 

Prosecutors had argued that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, was motivated by radical religious beliefs to target soldiers that day, shouting “Allahu akbar” -- Arabic for “God is great” -- before opening fire.

Hasan grew a beard before trial and refused to shave, in violation of Army regulations, citing his religious beliefs. He admitted to the shooting at trial, but said he attacked soldiers to protect Taliban leaders overseas.

“War is an ugly thing,” he declared in his opening statement, noting that evidence would show he “was on the wrong side, that I then switched sides.”

The military judge rejected Hasan’s "defense of others" legal strategy and barred him from using it. As the trial started, Hasan tried to discuss the emails while cross-examining one of the supervisors who received them, Lt. Col. Ben Phillips.

Hasan began by questioning Phillips about the last officer evaluation report he and another supervisor completed on Nov. 4, 2009.

The report was supplied to The Times this week by Galligan. It contains laudatory evaluations of Hasan's work and recommends him for promotion and high-ranking future positions such as chief of psychiatry.

In the four months Hasan had been assigned to Ft. Hood’s Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, the evaluation said, his “strong work ethic, professionalism, sound judgment and willingness to take on various responsibilities and tasks have been critical in the overall delivery of behavioral healthcare.”

According to the evaluation, Hasan reduced wait times for soldiers’ medical evaluations, streamlined psychiatric evaluations, helped with drug treatment and filled in as chief of inpatient psychiatry. It said Hasan had “unlimited potential for advancement and leadership” and should be “groomed for those roles.”

“Maj. Hasan is an outstanding physician who has the potential to excel,” the evaluation concluded, “promote now.”

Hasan questioned Phillips on the stand about the evaluation, noting that he had received the highest of four ratings: “outstanding performance, must promote.” Phillips said that was routine “with any officer unless I wanted to end their career."

Hasan noted that he was also rated “best qualified."

“Because if you check off any other, it’s basically the end of that officer’s career,” Phillips said, downplaying the positive recommendation.

Finally, Hasan raised the issue of the emails. A prosecutor interrupted, objecting to the questions. 

“Your honor, it goes to motive,” Hasan said.

The judge disagreed, and Hasan never raised the issue again. 

In his emails, Hasan had asked Army supervisors and legal staff for advice on how to handle three disturbing accounts he had heard from soldiers.

One soldier told him fellow troops had poured 50 gallons of fuel into the Iraqi water supply “as revenge.” Another told him about medics killing a severely injured insurgent, (a potential "mercy killing," Hasan speculated). A third described killing an Iraqi woman because “he was ordered to kill anything that approached.”

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