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See No Evil

The Pentagon’s Fort Hood investigation is a pathetic whitewash.

Feb 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 19 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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His coworkers began to speak up in the press, too, saying they had been concerned that he was an Islamic extremist with compromised loyalties. On November 11, NPR reported that one of Hasan’s colleagues had worried that Hasan “might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists” if he was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Another had “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.”  

The quality of Hasan’s psychiatric care had also previously come under scrutiny, it was reported. He used his post to proselytize, telling at least one patient that “Islam can save your soul.” Hasan’s supervisors at Walter Reed reprimanded him for the remark, but nothing more came of it. 

Despite all of these warning signs and more, Nidal Malik Hasan was promoted to the rank of major in May 2009. The Defense Department’s vast bureaucracy had failed to synthesize the troubling indicators and consequentially never acted on them. All of this information is in the public domain. Protecting the Force does not discuss any of it.

There is another key detail, widely known, that is missing from the report. In the months leading up to the events of November 5, Hasan repeatedly emailed a well-known al Qaeda cleric, Anwar al Awlaki. (The cleric is currently one of the world’s most hunted men, with counterterrorism forces in Yemen trying to kill or capture him.) Awlaki met Hasan when Hasan’s mother died in early 2001, and Awlaki presided over her funeral. We cannot be sure what transpired between the two in the years that followed, but we know that by December 2008, Hasan was emailing Awlaki regularly.

Counterterrorism officials in the FBI knew about at least some of Hasan’s emails with Awlaki, but dismissed them as consistent with Hasan’s research into the psychological effects of combat on American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was a mistake. Awlaki was the spiritual adviser to at least two of the September 11 hijackers, as well as the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Awlaki has also inspired untold numbers of recruits to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight American forces. There could be no legitimate reason for Hasan to contact Awlaki. 

In recently published interviews, Awlaki has said that Hasan asked “for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army.” There was nothing benign about Hasan’s emails back and forth with Awlaki, as the FBI initially suggested, and the mere fact that the two were communicating should have set off alarm bells.

Did anyone within the military know about Hasan’s suspicious contacts with Awlaki? If not, why not? The Pentagon’s report does not say. There is no mention of Awlaki or Hasan’s emails to him. This omission is especially curious since the report notes that the Defense Department “does not have a comprehensive and coordinated policy for counterintelligence activities in cyberspace.” It would seem to have been worth noting that the failures leading up to November 5 involved an especially conspicuous email trail leading to an al Qaeda cleric and that the Defense Department should be made aware of such communications in the future. 

There has been much speculation that political correctness played a pronounced role in the events leading up to November 5. The problem is that while many were aware of Hasan’s violent ideological worldview no one within the military acted on this information because no one wanted to be labeled a bigot. But Major Nidal Malik Hasan is not your average Muslim and his jihadist ideology should have set him and others like him apart as threats. This may be the biggest problem with the Defense Department’s “system” as it exists today—no one wants to state the obvious. In that vein, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood is symptomatic of the very problem it should be seeking to redress.



Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.



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