Gates orders full-spectrum Pentagon review of Fort Hood massacre
Stars and Stripes November 20, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Pentagon will conduct a department-wide review in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting, taking a broad look at the mental health of the force as well as at procedures for sharing intelligence and assessing personnel performance.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on Thursday the Pentagon would first conduct a 45-day review before launching a wider examination expected to be complete within four to six months.
“The shootings at Fort Hood raise a number of troubling questions that demand complete but prompt answers,” Gates said.
Gates tapped Togo West, former secretary of the Army, and former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark to lead the Pentagon review stemming from the Nov. 5 attack, allegedly committed by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with 13 counts murder.
Gates previously tapped West to co-chair an independent review in 2007 of poor care and conditions for wounded troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, where Hasan previously worked, bolstering a Washington Post investigation that exposed the conditions.
The defense review, Gates said, will look for “gaps” in department procedures for “identifying servicemembers who could potentially pose credible threats to others.”
Gates said the review would determine what servicemembers and their families should do about reporting troubling signs in their fellow troops. But he cautioned against targeting attention to any one group of people.
He added that the Pentagon would proceed without “preconceived notions”, and would review several factors, including stress on caregivers, how to handle communications by servicemembers with suspected terrorist groups, on-base security and response procedures, pre- and post-deployment health assessments, periodic counseling sessions and how to handle “adverse servicemember information.”
The Army will conduct its own simultaneous review.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama already has ordered a review of all intelligence related to Hasan. Gates said a preliminary report from that investigation is due Nov. 30.
And Thursday on Capitol Hill, the Senate continued its own hearings on the Fort Hood shootings, despite White House resistance to such an investigation until the criminal and military reviews are complete.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said a goal of the hearings is to look closer at whether systemic problems prevented Army officials from spotting “red flags” in Hasan’s record.
“If we find errors, it is our duty to make recommendations,” he said.
On Thursday, the Senate committee focused on whether Hasan’s status as a prominent, highly trained Muslim officer may have led to reluctance among his peers and outside investigators to report erratic behavior.
Frances Townsend, a former homeland security advisor to President George W. Bush, told the committee that “political correctness” may have played a role in overlooking indicators of Hasan’s radical religious views, and lawmakers need to find a way to balance signs of danger with religious tolerance.
Senators confirmed that Hasan was being monitored by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for his ties to Anwar al-Awlaqi, an American-Yemeni Muslim imam with known extremist views, but said it’s still unclear if the Army was told of his connection or what they could do with the information.
In addition, after the shootings, Hasan’s co-workers reported that the psychiatrist tried to convert his patients to Islam, reported others for “war crimes” confessed during counseling sessions, and gave presentations suggesting violence by Muslims in the ranks.
However, retired Gen. John Keane, former Vice Chief of the Army, said part of the problem may be limited knowledge of what consitutes radical religious views.
The Army in 2006 revised its pamphlet on extremists in the ranks, but that document focuses largely on racial discrimination and violence. More education of vigilance versus harrassment is needed, Keane said.
“It shouldn’t have to be an act of moral courage for [a soldier] to report behavior that should never be tolerated,” he said. “It should be mandatory.”
Senators said they hope their efforts will result in an update of the military’s education for troops about their role in reporting colleague’s suspicious activities.