Daily Archives: November 12, 2009

FBI says Hasan wasn’t involved in terrorist activities

San Antonio Express-News | Nov 12, 2009

By GUILLERMO CONTRERAS

The FBI said today that it appears Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan acted alone in the Fort Hood shootings, and was not involved in terrorist activities when a joint terrorism task force crossed paths with him last year.

“At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Nidal Malik Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot,” the FBI said in a statement. “The investigation to date has not identified a motive, and a number of possibilities remain under consideration. We are working with the military to obtain, review and analyze all information relating to Major Hasan in order to allow for a better understanding of the facts and circumstances that led to the Fort Hood shooting. Understandably, there is a large volume of information in various forms, and it will take us some time to complete this work.”

The FBI also said the investigation includes forensic examinations of Hasan’s computers and any of his Internet activity in hopes of gaining insight into his motivation.

Hasan came to the attention of the FBI and the Defense Department Criminal Investigative Services in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by an FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force.

In that case, agents and analysts reviewed unspecified communications between Hasan and the unidentified subject of the investigation, and determined that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Maj. Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning,” the statement said. “Other communications that the FBI was aware of were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF.”

The FBI declined today to provide further information about the target of the investigation, or to specify whether that probe remained ongoing.

Federal law, regulations and policies state that information gathered by task forces like the JTTF can be disseminated outside the task force — even within the parent agency like the FBI — only with the approval of the FBI supervisor in charge of the particular joint terrorism task force.

“In this case, following the review and analysis conducted by investigators, there was a conclusion made by the investigator and the supervisor that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or planning,” the FBI said. “Further dissemination of the information regarding Major Hasan was neither sought nor authorized.”

Obama orders probe into Fort Hood “intelligence failures”

Obama Wants Probe of Hasan Intelligence

WSJ | Nov 12, 2009

By PETER SPIEGEL and EVAN PEREZ

Nidal Malik Hasan as a 2nd Lt. in 2000WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama ordered a government-wide investigation into whether federal agencies, including the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community, properly handled information on alleged Fort Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan before last week’s shooting that left 13 dead.

Mr. Obama originally asked the heads of the Defense Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct the inquiry during a White House meeting the day after the shooting, according to a White House official. But Mr. Obama formalized the review in a presidential memorandum Thursday.

The White House official wouldn’t say whether Maj. Hasan’s links to a radical imam in Yemen prompted the review, but Mr. Obama was shown copies of some of the emails the alleged shooter sent to the imam, Anwar al-Alakwi, the day of the shooting and ordered the review the following morning.

The communications between Mr. Awlaki and Maj. Hasan consisted of between 10 and 20 contacts over the past year and turned up in an intelligence sweep in a probe of Mr. Awlaki that didn’t target Maj. Hasan. The imam knew three of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and hailed Maj. Hasan as a “hero” after the Fort Hood shooting last week.

But terrorism investigators assigned to an FBI joint terrorism task force, which included a Defense Department investigator, reviewed the communications and concluded the contacts didn’t merit further investigation.

According to a person familiar to the investigation, Mr. Alakwi’s responses to Maj. Hasan’s emails appeared restrained, indicating the imam may have been suspicious about why an U.S. Army officer was reaching out to him.

Terrorism investigators concluded that Maj. Hasan’s research work as an Army psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and his work toward a master’s degree explained why he was communicating with Mr. Awlaki.

The presidential memorandum asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates; FBI Director Robert Mueller; and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to identify all personnel and intelligence files relevant to the Fort Hood shooting, particularly those on Maj. Hasan.

“I directed an immediate review be initiated to determine how any such intelligence was handled, shared, and acted upon within individual departments and agencies and what intelligence was shared with others,” Mr. Obama said in the memorandum.

Mr. Obama met with Messrs. Gates and Mueller and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the night of the shooting, and he asked all three — plus Mr. Blair and Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center — back to the White House the following morning, where he ordered the investigation.

Mr. Blair launched his own examination earlier this week to follow “every lead and [examine] all information” on Maj. Hasan, said DNI spokesman Ross Feinstein.

Mr. Blair would “continue to act in accordance” with Mr. Obama’s order to determine how intelligence was handled and acted upon, he said.

White House officials said Mr. Obama is interested in finding out whether the attack could have been avoided and whether changes are needed to prevent such incidents from happening again.

He has ordered the agencies to report back with their preliminary findings by the end of the month. Although each agency will conduct its own review, Mr. Obama assigned John Brennan, the White House’s top homeland-security and counterterrorism official, to oversee the review’s findings.

China criticized for routinely detaining and beating petitioners in secret jails

China criticized over alleged ‘black jails’

CNN | Nov 12, 2009

china_death_penaltyBEIJING, China (CNN) — Chinese authorities should abolish secret jails used to unlawfully detain citizens who travel to the capital and other major cities to file complaints, Human Rights Watch says.

For the past six years, citizens have been held without communication in so-called black jails, often located in state-owned hotels, nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, according to a new report from the human rights group.

Most of the detainees are from rural areas and travel to major cities to submit grievances at petitions and appeals offices, which address cases without going to court, Human Rights Watch said.

Government officials and security forces often beat, abuse, threaten and intimidate the detainees to ensure that their complaints do not draw attention, according to the report.

“The existence of black jails in the heart of Beijing makes a mockery of the Chinese government’s rhetoric on improving human rights and respecting the rule of law,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.

“The government should move swiftly to close these facilities, investigate those running them and provide assistance to those abused in them.”

China has repeatedly denied the existence of secret jails, and the ministry of foreign affairs reiterated that stance Thursday.

“I’m not sure what evidence the report of Human Rights Watch is based on,” the office said in a statement. “However, I can tell you that there is no such black jails in China.”

The judicial system will deal with relevant cases, the ministry said.

“If there is any suggestion or complaint from Chinese people toward our government, they can appeal to relevant departments through normal and legal channels, and their legitimate rights will be protected.”

But the rights group said the jails are becoming more popular because officials are penalized if too many grievances come from their jurisdictions. Areas with fewer complaints are rewarded, it said.

In the report, titled, “An Alleyway in Hell,” the group said it had interviewed 38 people who have been detained in the facilities.

The detainees include people under 18, which violates China’s commitments to children’s rights, Human Rights Watch said.

A 15-year-old told the group she was seized in Beijing while petitioning on behalf of her crippled father, who was subjected to beatings at his nursing home.

“To visit these kinds of abuses on citizens, who have already been failed repeatedly by the legal system, is the height of hypocrisy,” Richardson said.

The New York-based organization urged the U.S. president to address human rights issues during his trip to Asia, which starts Thursday and will include a stop in China.

“President Barack Obama has spoken forcefully about the importance of defending human rights globally,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. ” … The test now is whether he will do so in a country where the government remains profoundly hostile to these concepts.”

Citizen snoopers recruited to spy on Londoners

Neighbourhood Champions

View from the hill: Harrow is seeking “Neighbourhood Champions” who will report anti-social behaviour using a special website

They could eventually be trained to report child abuse, domestic violence, racial harassment and other “hate crimes”.

thisislondon.co.uk | Nov 11, 2009

by Katharine Barney, City Hall Reporter

A London council is recruiting 2,000 residents to report on their neighbours and join a growing network of “citizen snoopers” in the capital.

“Neighbourhood Champions” will be expected to pass on evidence of graffiti, fly-tipping, litter and excessive noise.

They could eventually be trained to report child abuse, domestic violence, racial harassment and other “hate crimes”.

The plan is expected to be approved this week in Harrow. The council says the scheme, which has the backing of the Met commander for the borough, will increase pride in the community.

But critics today raised fears over civil liberties, warning that it is the latest example of a surveillance society.

Susie Squires, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Community spirit and looking out for your neighbours is one thing, but snooping is another. Residents are already able to report nuisances as part of normal procedure. Taxpayers are sick and tired of being spied on. This creates distrust.”

Harrow is the latest London borough to ask residents to report bad behaviour. Islington has been running an environmental watchdog scheme since 2002 — with up to 1,200 recruits including children. Hillingdon claims to have 4,800 volunteers.

Harrow’s volunteers will log on to a special website to report suspicions. Details will be passed to council departments and enforcement action could be taken against offenders. Participants will be vetted and trained with the help of the police and council. Councillor Susan Hall, Harrow’s spokeswoman for environment services and community safety, said: “This is about extending more influence to our residents to help us deliver cleaner and safer streets.

“We have already invested in anti-social behaviour and cleaning teams, but the reality is that we are not always in a position to know when problems suddenly crop up.

“I believe the Neighbourhood Champions network will help us to deliver cleaner and safer streets. We often talk about the loss of community spirit in our neighbourhoods — I think this is a great way of reclaiming some of that.”

Chief Superintendent Dal Babu, Harrow borough commander, said: “Harrow’s Neighbourhood Watch scheme is one of the largest in London and plays an important role working alongside police to fight crime. I am sure that the Neighbourhood Champion scheme will be equally successful in helping to make Harrow a better place.”

The council said a poll of residents had found 87 per cent backed it and 25 per cent expressed an interest in getting involved. The minimum age for recruits is expected to be 18.

The council, which plans to set aside £100,000 a year to run the scheme, admits volunteers could be targeted by neighbours “particularly if they are viewed…as providing feedback on criminal activities”.

Suicide tips for just €17.50

RNW | Nov 12, 2009

By Robert Chesal

No prospects for the future, tired of life or suicidal? Anyone who wants to take matters of life and death into their own hands can get plenty of information on how to end it all from the Dutch Right to Die Association (NVVE). The association has made suicide tips available on a new website.

Spokesperson for the association Walburg de Jong says the website is meant to give people information so that they can end their lives in a “humane way without resorting to horrific methods like throwing themselves off a roof or in front of a train.”

But doesn’t that encourage people to commit suicide? Not according to Ms De Jong: “Firstly it is only for members, so people can only enter the site with a log-in code.” You only have access to the site if you are a member, which costs €17.50 per year.

But this appears not to be true. This morning, a number of Radio Netherlands journalists managed to log in to the part of the site with these instructions without the log-in code. The association blames this on human error. After we pointed this out to the association, the site was blocked for non-members.

Step-by-step guide

On the site, the association gives detailed information on medicines which can be used for suicide. It also states in which countries they are available and the names they are known under. The methods are also explained step-by-step. This is from the introduction:

There are two main methods for committing suicide using medicines.

In the first method, fast-working and long-lasting sleeping pills are used in combination with a plastic bag over the head, so that you die of suffocation.

In the second method, you take lethal medicine in combination with sleeping tablets and antiemetics, to prevent vomiting. Death is caused by cardiac arrest or apnoea. The information given here only concerns the second method and is based on reliable data, as far as we know.

Huge demand

There are around 1,500 suicides in the Netherlands every year, a large percentage are committed by people over the age of 60. Ms De Jong: “These are people who say ‘my life is over but I do not have a classifiable illness, so I am not eligible for euthanasia’. Or people who are sick, but whose doctor does not want to use euthanasia.”

In the Netherlands both active euthanasia, when a doctor gives a lethal dose of medicine to end the life of a patient, and assisting suicide fall under criminal law. However, doctors who adhere to strict rules are not prosecuted. The doctor has to be convinced that the patient’s request to end his or her life is voluntary and well-considered. The patient has to be suffering intolerable pain with no prospect for improvement. But where many doctors think this refers to physical pain, the Dutch Right to Die Association thinks mental suffering is an acceptable reason for euthanasia or suicide.

Help with suicide

Truus Hoyinck, member of the NVVE since 1991, thinks it is fine for the association to actively help people commit suicide. “I believe in self-determination. Years ago I ordered the Scottish book with suicide tips. I thought it was awful because it said you had to put a plastic bag over your head and wait until you suffocated. So if there is a better way, I’m all for it.”

Aftercare

Suicide can also go wrong. Under the heading ‘Aftercare’ the suicide website says that should the attempt fail, the association’s support service  “is always prepared to talk about the experience.”

Membership of the Dutch Right to Die Association is open to Dutch people and foreigners. A limited amount of information is available in English on the site, but says – after numerous requests from abroad – that it does not prescribe medicines and does not have doctors who offer euthanasia or other help.

NVVE website

ExxonMobil-led consortium nets ‘supergiant’ Iraq oil field

Group wins bid to develop west Qurna as baghdad signs up slew of big contracts

Reuters | Nov 6, 2009

by Ahmed Rasheed and Muhanad Mohammed

BAGHDAD: An ExxonMobil-led consortium has beaten rival Russian, French and Chinese groups to bag initial rights to develop Iraq’s West Qurna field, the Oil Ministry said, adding momentum to Iraq’s bid to unlock its oil riches. With reserves of 8.7 billion barrels, West Qurna is among the prized Iraqi fields eyed by Western oil majors as they face flat or lower output at home and stiff competition from Chinese and Indian oil companies in bidding for oilfields elsewhere.

“The consortium led by ExxonMobil, which includes Shell, won the contract to develop West Qurna Phase One oilfield,” Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said.

The initial deal was signed in Baghdad on Thursday but needs Cabinet approval before it can be finalized.

The 20-year contract is part of a raft of deals Iraq is close to formalizing in a bid to catapult itself to the world’s third largest oil producer after decades of war and economic decline.

There is no guarantee that Iraq’s next government – to be elected in January ­– will honor the deals, but it injects optimism into prospects for Iraq’s battered oil sector and a second oil bid-round in December, after a lacklustre June auction.

ExxonMobil, partnering Royal Dutch Shell, beat Russia’s LUKOIL – which had teamed up with US oil-major ConocoPhillips – and two other groups led by France’s Total and China’s CNPC.

ExxonMobil’s output target for West Qurna Phase One beat those of its rivals and allowed it to clinch the contract, said an Iraqi oil official, who was part of the negotiating team.

“This is better for us,” the Iraqi oil official said. “We need higher production. This is a supergiant field and it has the capacity to produce even more than the target set by Exxon.”

The group plans to raise the field’s output nearly five-fold to 2.325 million barrels per day (bpd) from less than 500,000 bpd at present, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said.

He also said the consortium planed to spend as much as $50 billion in investment and operating costs for the project over six years, but there was no immediate confirmation of the figure from the companies.

The consortium would get a remuneration fee of $1.9 per barrel, the minister said.

The pact on West Qurna comes after British oil major BP Plc. and China’s CNPC on Tuesday signed an agreement for the Rumaila oil field: Iraq’s first major new oil deal since the 2003 US-led invasion.

A group led by Italian oil major Eni also signed an initial agreement on Monday to develop the Zubair oilfield, and Iraq said it also expected to ink an agreement with Nippon Oil Corp on Nassiriya in the coming days.

Analysts said the timing of the deals ahead of the January 16 poll in Iraq was convenient for both the Iraqi government and oil companies.

Corporate agriculture industry plans “organic” genetically engineered crops to fight climate change

Organic GM alternative considered

Freshinfo.com | Nov 11, 2009

Concern was raised over the organic agriculture industry’s ability to cope with the onslaught of climate change while spurning GM technologies, at a high-level debate in the capital last week.

A panel of experts discussed the possibilities for organic food to become “more robust” in front an audience including the government’s chief scientific advisor John Beddington, who last month called for GM crops to ensure global food security.

The panel, in discussing the role of GM in 21st Century Farming at last week’s Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum, suggested that if GM could overcome issues relating to its public image and the vandalism of trials, it could make real progression in replacing fertilisers, which continue to increase in cost and tackling food security.

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, said: “In the US they are way ahead of the game on organic genetically modified foods and then there was a whole load of opposition.

“That was the last opportunity we had on that front before trench warfare set in. It is my concern that you can have a few organisations that scaremonger and make the governments back off.”

Julian Little, chair of the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, told delegates that GM could be vital with changes to the environment impacting on agriculture. He said: “Drought tolerance will definitely be important. Climate change means there will be insect problems in the UK that we have not had to deal with before.

“There were trials into blight tolerance in potatoes in the UK which were trashed twice, but if we could find a potato that gave true blight tolerance then organic growers would have a real option to continue in a difficult climate.”

But Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, hit back at suggestions the lobbying body harness the opportunity. He said: “We looked at the option of GM with interest when it was first debated, but the more we looked at it the more concern grew. The GM debate is a distraction and it is a dangerous issue with the possibility of some of the larger developing companies having a vice-like grip over agriculture. I see no future for GM in the future of UK agriculture and the answers lie in things like plant breeding tactics.”

The debate comes as the Foods Standards Agency embarks on a 12-month consultation exercise looking into the various challenges surrounding GM food.

Dyer added: “A lot of what the Soil Association says is about lifestyles and we are not going to stop people eating meat and creating food shortages tomorrow, so we need to use the world’s resources well. We need to get realistic about the problems we face.”

Global Crisis Makes U.S. More Dependent On China Than Ever

obama-china-advert-cheese-buns

When he visits Beijing, he will try to encourage the Chinese to continue playing their role as the principal driver of the world economy.

freeinternetpress.com | Nov 11, 2009

Posted By: Intellpuke

When U.S. President Barack Obama visits China this weekend, he will encounter a rival that sees the financial crisis as more of an opportunity than a threat. America, on the other hand, has been fundamentally weakened by the global crunch – and is more dependent on the goodwill of the rising superpower than ever.

The scientists at the National University of Defense Technology in Changsha, China, had plenty to celebrate: They had developed a supercomputer that could perform more than a quadrillion calculations per second.

The announcement, released just in time for U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to China this weekend, had symbolic value: With their new computer, dubbed “Tianhe” (“Milky Way”), the Chinese claim they will be the first country to become a direct rival to the superpower.

China is bursting with self-confidence. The new world power sees itself as a winner in the financial crisis, with its economy growing by an impressive 9 percent in the third quarter, while the economies of the West struggle to recover from a deep recession. And while the Americans are focused on their own problems, China is expanding its influence, both in Asia and among resource-rich African countries.

China’s leaders are challenging the Americans more and more aggressively, not least to demonstrate to their own population of 1.3 billion how far the country has progressed under their leadership.

In an article in the party organ of the People’s Liberation Army, Air Force General Xu Qiliang announced China’s plans to expense its defense capabilities deep into space in the future. By the mid-21st century, the general predicted, the People’s Republic will have become a world power, and its air force will be required to defend the country against many kinds of threats.

Shifting Balance

Thirty years after the two major powers established diplomatic relations, the bilateral balance is now shifting in China’s favor. When Obama arrives in Beijing this weekend as part of his first Asian tour since taking office, the Chinese will expect him to behave far more modestly than his predecessor. The president is unlikely to disappoint his hosts.

Judging by what his advisers have indicated in recent weeks, Obama will not inundate the Chinese with demands. The vision of a nuclear weapons-free world will have to wait. The calls for binding climate protection goals will only be mentioned quietly, if they are mentioned at all. The American will continue to press Beijing to revalue its currency, the yuan, but only at the expert level. Rarely has the superpower been this mild-mannered.

Obama describes his foreign policy as a new age of cooperation. He is seeking to develop a relationship with a Chinese leadership that he needs more than it needs him. About two-thirds of China’s foreign currency reserves are denominated in dollars. Any abrupt shift on the part of Beijing would threaten the stability of the U.S. currency. Cheap imported Chinese goods help push up the American standard of living and minimize the risks of inflation.

Washington has been particularly enthusiastic about China’s economic stimulus programs: the Chinese launched the world’s biggest investment program after the start of the financial crisis. Without their spirited course of action, the world economy could very well have imploded. Beijing’s stimulus program amounted to about 13 percent of Chinese gross domestic product, making it almost twice as large as the U.S. program and close to five times the size of its German equivalent. Obama’s economic team has been deeply impressed by the success of China’s stimulus policy.

The discussion that has begun in China over curbing government spending and tightening liquidity is happening too early for Obama’s taste. When he visits Beijing, he will try to encourage the Chinese to continue playing their role as the principal driver of the world economy.

Meanwhile, the Americans see Europe moving from the passenger’s seat to the back seat in terms of the U.S.’ international partners. It was former President George W. Bush who upgraded the Chinese by launching a G-20 summit process to combat the financial crisis, rather than leaving it up to the G-8 member states, as the German Chancellery would have liked him to do.

Full Story

Blackwater bosses approved bribes after guards killed Iraqis, paper claims

blackwater thugs iraq

US security firm describes allegations by New York Times as ‘baseless’

guardian.co.uk | Nov 11, 2009

by Mark Tran

Senior executives at Blackwater Worldwide, the US security company, approved secret payments of $1m (£600,000) to buy the silence of Iraqi officials after its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, it was alleged today.

Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in February, approved the cash in December 2007, the New York Times reported, following an outcry in Iraq over the killings. The paper said that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company had an office, to a top manager in Iraq.

But executives who revealed the payments to the newspaper said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

In the shooting at Nisour square in September 2007, 17 Iraqis were killed when guards protecting a convoy of US diplomats opened fire a crowded at a crowded crossing. The guards were accused of acting like trigger-happy cowboys, who shot with no fear of consequences. The killings shone a harsh light on the role of private contractors in war zones and hardened Iraqi sentiment against the company, which had already been criticised for its mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.

The attempt to bribe Iraqi government officials – which would be illegal under American law – created friction within the company, the Times reported.

Cofer Black, then the company’s vice-chairman and a former top CIA and state department official, confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, when he learned of the plan. Black resigned the following year.

A spokesman for Xe dismissed the allegations as “baseless”, adding that the company would not comment about former employees. Black also disputed the Times’s story, saying that he met US embassy officials to discuss the best course of action after the incident.

“Blackwater was directed to provide some financial compensation to relatives of those Iraqi victims which embassy officials described as called for by Iraqi custom,” Black said in a statement. “During these meetings with embassy officials, Blackwater sought state department leadership in dispensing any such good faith compensation from Blackwater to the victims’ relatives as Blackwater was subordinate to the state department as its security contractor. I never confronted Erik Prince or any other Blackwater official regarding any allegations of bribing Iraqi officials and was unaware of any plot or guidance for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials.”

A senior state department official told the New York Times that US diplomats were unaware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.

Five Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour square shooting are scheduled to face trial on federal manslaughter charges in February in Washington. A sixth guard pleaded guilty in December. Iraqi victims are also suing the company and its founder, Prince.

The Iraqi government suspended the firm’s licence after the shooting and demanded that Blackwater be expelled from the country within six months. The Iraqi government denied Xe an operating licence in early 2009, but the company still has a presence in Iraq. In September the state department announced it had extended a contract with a Xe subsidiary to provide air support for protecting US diplomats in Iraq.

Blackwater grew rapidly from 2001 through security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also carries out classified work for the CIA that included taking part in a now defunct programme to assassinate leaders of al-Qaida and to load missiles on Predator drones. Xe earned more than $600m in revenues last year – about a third of that from its state department contract to provide security in war zones.

Walter Reed Officials Asked: Was Hasan Psychotic?

hasan

A portrait taken of Hasan upon entering the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Disaster and Military Psychiatry Fellowship program in 2007. Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/AP

Walter Reed Officials Raised Concerns About Hasan

None would allow their names to be used.

All Things Considered | Nov 11, 2009

by Daniel Zwerdling

Starting in the spring of 2008, key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences held a series of meetings and conversations, in part about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others last week during a shooting spree at Fort Hood. One of the questions they pondered: Was Hasan psychotic?

“Put it this way,” says one official familiar with the conversations that took place. “Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your foxhole.”

Related

Nidal Hasan Lawyer Doubts Client Can Get Fair Ft. Hood Trial

In documents reviewed by NPR and conversations with medical officials at Walter Reed and USUHS, new details have emerged regarding serious concerns that officials raised about Hasan during his time at both institutions.

Hasan spent six years as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed, beginning in 2003, and he had a fellowship at USUHS until shortly before he went to Fort Hood in the summer of 2009. A committee of officials from both places regularly meets once a month to discuss pressing topics surrounding the psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who train and work at the institutions.

NPR spoke with military psychiatrists and officials who worked closely with Hasan, as well as those who monitored the committee and/or student and faculty matters. None would allow their names to be used, because of the criminal investigation into the Fort Hood shootings.

Deeply Troubling, Schizoid Behavior

When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?

Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials’ radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.

Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan’s behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that “Islam can save your soul.”

Participants in the spring meeting and in subsequent conversations about Hasan reportedly included John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed; Robert Ursano, chairman of the Psychiatry Department at USUHS; Charles Engel, assistant chair of the Psychiatry Department and director of Hasan’s psychiatry fellowship; Dr. David Benedek, another assistant chairman of psychiatry at USUHS; psychiatrist Carroll J. Diebold; and Scott Moran, director of the psychiatric residency program at Walter Reed, according to colleagues and other sources who monitor the meetings.

NPR tried to contact all these officials and the public affairs officers at the institutions. They either didn’t return phone calls or said they could not comment.

But psychiatrists and officials who are familiar with the conversations, which continued into the spring of 2009, say they took a remarkable turn: Is it possible, some mused, that Hasan was mentally unstable and unfit to be an Army psychiatrist?
Shootings at Fort Hood

One official involved in the conversations had reportedly told colleagues that he worried that if Hasan deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. Another official reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim U.S. Army sergeant who, in 2003, killed two fellow soldiers and injured 14 others by setting off grenades at a base in Kuwait.

Bureaucratic And Other Obstacles

So why didn’t officials act on their concerns and seek to remove Hasan from his duties, or at least order him to receive a mental health evaluation? Interviews with these officials suggest that a chain of unrelated events and factors deterred them.

For one thing, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

Second, some of Hasan’s supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn’t have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be “discriminating” against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs.

Third, the officials involved in deliberations this year reportedly were not aware, as some top Walter Reed officials were, that intelligence analysts had been tracking Hasan’s e-mails with at least one suspected Islamic extremist since December 2008.

And finally, Hasan was about to leave Walter Reed and USUHS for good and transfer to Fort Hood, in Texas. Fort Hood has more psychiatrists and other mental specialists than some other Army bases, so officials figured there would be plenty of co-workers who would support Hasan — and monitor him.