Concerns About Behavior, Competence Didn't Slow Fort Hood Shooting Suspect's Career

Pentagon review of shooting obtained by AP

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP

    In late December 2004, one of the officers overseeing Army Maj. Nidal Hasan's medical training praised him in an official evaluation as a qualified and caring doctor who would be an asset in any post.

    But less than a week later, a committee at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center that oversees student performance met behind closed doors to discuss serious concerns about Hasan's questionable behavior, poor judgment and lack of drive.

    Disconnects such this were a familiar pattern throughout Hasan's lengthy medical education in the Washington area, according to information gathered during an internal Pentagon review of the shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and obtained by The Associated Press.

    The review has not been publicly released, but the emerging picture is one of supervisors who failed to heed their own warnings about an officer ill-suited to be an Army psychiatrist, according to the information.

    As Hasan's training progressed, his strident views on Islam became more pronounced as did worries about his competence as a medical professional. Yet his superiors continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks and led to his eventual assignment at Fort Hood.

    Hasan, 39, is accused of murdering 13 people on Nov. 5 at Fort Hood, the worst killing spree on a U.S. military base.

    What remains unclear is why Hasan would be advanced in spite of all the shortcomings. That is likely to be the subject of a more detailed accounting by the Defense Department. Recent statistics show the Army rarely blocks junior officers from promotion, especially in the medical corps.

    Hasan showed no signs of being violent or a threat. But parallels have been drawn between the missed signals in his case and those preceding the thwarted Christmas attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner. President Barack Obama and his top national security aides have acknowledged they had intelligence about the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but failed to connect the dots.

    The Pentagon review is not intended to delve into allegations Hasan corresponded by e-mail with Yemen-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki before the attack. Those issues are part of a separate criminal investigation by U.S. law enforcement officials.

    In telling episodes from the latter stages of Hasan's education, he gave a class presentation questioning whether the U.S.-led war on terror was actually a war on Islam. And fellow students said he suggested that Shariah, or Islamic law, trumped the Constitution and he attempted to justify suicide bombings.

    Yet no one in Hasan's chain of command appears to have challenged his eligibility to hold a secret security clearance even though they could have because the statements raised doubt about his loyalty to the United States. Had they, Hasan's fitness to serve as an Army officer may have been called into question long before he reported to Fort Hood.

    Instead, in July 2009, Hasan arrived in central Texas, his secret clearance intact, his reputation as a weak performer well known, and Army authorities believing that posting him at such a large facility would mask his shortcomings.

    Four months later, according to witnesses, he walked into a processing center at Fort Hood where troops undergo medical screening and opened fire with a pair of handguns. Thirteen people were killed and many more were wounded.

    Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Authorities have not said whether they plan to seek the death penalty.

    After the Fort Hood shooting, Gates appointed two former senior defense officials to examine the procedures and policies for identifying threats within the military services. The review, led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vernon Clark, began Nov. 20 and is scheduled to be delivered to Gates by Jan. 15.

    Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to comment on the West-Clark review because it's not complete.

    John Galligan, Hasan's attorney, declined to comment Monday, saying he had not received the report.

    Hasan's superiors had a full picture of him, developed over his 12-year career as a military officer, medical student and psychiatrist, according to the information reviewed by AP.

    While in medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences from 1997 to 2003, Hasan received a string of below-average and failing grades, was put on academic probation and showed little motivation to learn.

    He took six years to graduate from the university in Bethesda, Md., instead of the customary four, according to the school. The delays were partly due to the deaths of his father in 1998 and his mother in 2001. Yet the information about his academic probation and bad grades wasn't included in his military personnel file, leaving the impression he was ready for more intense instruction.

    In June 2003, Hasan started a four-year psychiatry internship and residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and he was counseled frequently for deficiencies in his performance. Teachers and colleagues described him as a below-average student.

    Between 2003 and 2007, Hasan's supervisors expressed their concerns with him in memos, meeting notes and counseling sessions. He needed steady monitoring, especially in the emergency room, and had difficulty communicating and working with colleagues. His attendance was spotty and he saw few patients.

    In one incident already made public, a patient of Hasan's with suicidal and homicidal tendencies walked out of the hospital without permission.

    Still, Hasan's officer evaluation reports were consistently more positive, usually describing his performance as satisfactory and at least twice as outstanding. Known as "OERs," the reports are used to determine promotions and assignments. The Army promoted Hasan to captain in 2003 and to major in 2009.

    At Walter Reed, Hasan's conflict with his Islamic faith and his military service became more apparent to superiors and colleagues, according to the information. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a trip expected of all Muslims at least once in their lifetimes. But he was also cited for inappropriately engaging patients in discussions about religious issues.

    Hasan presented a project, titled "Koranic World View as It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military," despite a supervisor's concerns that the project wasn't appropriate.

    Hasan graduated from the Walter Reed residency program in June 2007 and began a two-year fellowship in preventive and disaster psychiatry. Hasan completed the fellowship on June 30, 2009, and his OER predicted that if he pushed himself, he would become a solid soldier and doctor.

    Two weeks later he was at Fort Hood.
        ___

    Associated Press writer Angela K. Brown in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.