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Declassify and Release the Fort Hood Emails

9:48 AM, Dec 28, 2009 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Less than two weeks after the Fort Hood shooting, a man who was identified as Anwar al Awlaki spoke through an intermediary with the Washington Post. Awlaki, of course, has been tied to Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Numerous published reports have cited Awlaki's emails with Hasan in the months prior to the Fort Hood attack. Those emails should have set off alarm bells as Awlaki is a known al Qaeda recruiter with ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. Instead, the FBI dismissed the emails as being consistent with Maj. Hasan's research on the effects of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan on soldiers.
 
But how could correspondence with an al Qaeda cleric be a legitimate part of this research? As far as the deleterious effects of combat on American soldiers is concerned, Anwar al Awlaki is all for them.
 
The Washington Post's November 16 account of Awlaki's purported description of his emails with Hasan provided some additional color. Awlaki claimed that he did not instigate the attack, and that Maj. Hasan already had deep knowledge of sharia law. The implication was that Hasan did not really need guidance from Awlaki. According to the Post, the intermediary (Abdulelah Hider Shaea, "a Yemeni journalist and terrorism expert with close ties to" Awlaki) relayed this description of the contents of the emails:


[Awlaki] described Hasan as a man who took his Muslim faith seriously, and who was eager to understand how to interpret Islamic sharia law. In the e-mails, Hasan appeared to question U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and often used "evidence from sharia that what America was doing should be confronted," the cleric told Shaea.
 
"So Nidal was providing evidence to Anwar, not vice versa," said Shaea. "Anwar felt, after seeing Nidal's e-mails, that [Hasan] had wide knowledge of sharia law." Shaea said he interviewed [Awlaki] in his house on Saturday in Shabwa, a province in southern Yemen that has become an extremist stronghold and where al-Qaeda is seeking to create a haven.

The description that was given to the Post certainly downplayed Awlaki's involvement with Hasan. But even this description was more troubling than the FBI had let on in its public statements. Hasan reached out to Awlaki, according to the Post's account, to question ongoing American military operations and to suggest that America "should be confronted." This is hardly consistent with the views of a loyal American serviceman or a doctor who is just doing research.
 
According to another account in ABC News, Hasan also wrote to Awlaki, "I can't wait to join you" in the afterlife. Again, we are far from the realm of legitimate research interests.
 
Now Awlaki has come forward to directly discuss his emails with Major Hasan. There is even more reason to worry about the contents of those emails. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Awlaki had the following Q&A session (translation provided by MEMRI):


Q: "What did the correspondence contain?"
 
A: "He was asking about killing American soldiers and officers. [He asked] whether this is a religiously legitimate act or not."
 
Q: "So he asked you that question about a year before the operation was carried out?"
 
A: "Yes. And I wondered how the American security agencies, who claim to be able to read car license plate numbers from space, everywhere in the world, I wondered how [they did not reveal this]."

Awlaki's reference to the failure of the "American security agencies" could easily be read as boast.
 
The interview continued (emphasis added):

Q: "What did Nidal want from you in his messages?"
 
A: "Naturally, as I told you, the first message was asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army. In other messages, Nidal was clarifying his position regarding the killing of Israeli civilians. He was in support of this, and in his messages he mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles. Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could transfer some funds to us [and by this] participate in charitable activities."

This is a very different description of the emails than the one provided to the Post. In the Post's account, Hasan was "providing evidence to Anwar, not vice versa." Here, Awlaki explicitly says that Hasan came to him for advice concerning the permissibility of killing American soldiers. The "edict" Awlaki referred to is in all likelihood a religious fatwa, which is frequently sought out before any specific terrorist operation is undertaken. (The last part of Awlaki's description, concerning the transfer of funds, is consistent with an account that appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Major Hasan reportedly did transfer funds to Pakistan. Published accounts still do not reveal who was on the receiving end of those transfers.)
 
At this point, the government should declassify and release the emails between the Fort Hood shooter and Anwar al Awlaki - an al Qaeda cleric who has openly praised the attack. We should not have to rely on Awlaki's description of the emails, or the FBI's. If there is anything in the emails that is deemed too sensitive to release, then that only further buttresses the idea that the emails cannot be dismissed out-of-hand as the FBI initially did. Select portions of the emails can also be redacted if need be.
 
But it is doubtful that there is any legitimate reason for the emails to be kept from the public. Anwar al Awlaki himself may have been killed in a recent airstrike. Even if he wasn't killed, and we do not know for certain one way or the other as of now, the mere fact that he was targeted demonstrates the gravity of the threat he poses.
 
It is time to see what Major Hasan and Anwar al Awlaki corresponded about  just months before 13 Americans were killed.