Army: Fort Hood suspect charged with murder
FORT HOOD, TEXAS (AP) – The Army psychiatrist accused in the Fort Hood shootings was charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the military’s legal system, making him eligible for the death penalty if convicted, officials said Thursday.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama ordered a review of all intelligence related to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and whether it was properly shared and acted upon within individual government agencies.
The announcement comes as members of Congress are pressuring for a full investigation in why Hasan was not detected and stopped. A Senate hearing on Hasan is scheduled for next week. The Senate Homeland Security Committee announced it is opening its own investigation this week.
U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command spokesman Chris Grey said at a news conference that additional charges may be filed against Hasan.
Officials told The Associated Press before the news conference that it had not been decided whether to charge Hasan with a 14th count of murder related to the death of the unborn child of a pregnant shooting victim. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case publicly.
Fort Hood officials declined to specify what the other charges against Hasan could be. Under a provision in the military code, a suspect can be charged with death of an unborn child, which is defined as a fetus at any stage of development, said Richard Stevens, a civilian attorney who handles military cases but is not involved in Hasan’s case.
John Galligan, Hasan’s civilian attorney, said his military co-counsel told him that charges were being read to Hasan in the hospital without his lawyers present.
Galligan said military officials had not notified him or sent him documents about any charges.
“What I find disturbing is that my client is in ICU, and he’s 150 miles south of his defense counsel, and he’s being served with the charges,” he told The Associated Press. “Given his status as a patient, I’m troubled by this procedure and that I’m not there. I’m in the dark, and that shouldn’t be the case. I am mad.”
Grey said investigators believe Hasan was the lone gunman. Hasan was not at the Soldier Readiness Center for any pre-deployment activities when he allegedly opened fire last week, Grey said. The readiness center, parking lots and four other post buildings were still being treated as crime scenes, and the investigation remained open.
“We have a duty and obligation to protect the constitutional rights of everyone involved,” Grey said.
The White House review will be overseen by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, and the first results are due to the White House by Nov. 30.
Obama also ordered the preservation of the intelligence. Members of Congress, particularly Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, have called for a full examination of what agencies knew about Hasan’s contacts with a radical imam and others of concern to the U.S., and what they did with the information.
Hoekstra confirmed this week that the U.S. government knew about 10 to 20 e-mails between Hasan and a radical imam, beginning in December 2008.
Months before the shootings, doctors and staff overseeing Hasan’s training reported viewing him at times as belligerent, defensive and argumentative in his frequent discussions of his Muslim faith, according to a military official familiar with several group discussions about Hasan. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hasan was characterized in meetings as a mediocre student and lazy worker, a matter of concern among the doctors and staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a military medical school in Bethesda, Md., the official said.
The concerns about Hasan’s performance and religious views were shared with other military officials considering his assignment after he finished his medical training, and the consensus was to send the 39-year-old psychiatrist to Fort Hood in Texas, the official said.
One of the largest military installations, it was considered the best assignment for Hasan because other doctors could handle the workload if he continued to perform poorly and his superiors could document any continued behavior problems, the official said.
Hasan repeatedly referred to his strong religious views in discussions with classmates, his superiors and even in his research work, the official said. His behavior, while at times perceived as intense and combative, was not unlike the zeal of others with strong religious views. But some doctors and staff were concerned that their unfamiliarity with the Muslim faith would lead them to unfairly single out Hasan’s behavior, the official said.
Some in the group questioned Hasan’s sympathies as an Army psychiatrist, whether he would be more aligned with Muslims fighting U.S. troops. There also was some concern about whether he should continue to serve in the military, the official said.
At one point, Hasan’s supervisors ordered him to attend a university lecture series on Islam, the Middle East and terrorism, hoping to steer him toward productive work addressing potential concerns of Muslims in the military, according to The Washington Post. Hasan attended the lectures late last year or early this year, The Post reported Thursday, quoting a Walter Reed staff member who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
A joint terrorism task force overseen by the FBI learned late last year of Hasan’s repeated contact with a radical Muslim cleric who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The FBI said in a statement late Wednesday that the task force did not refer early information about Hasan to superiors because it concluded he wasn’t linked to terrorism.
The doctors and staff who discussed concerns about Hasan had several group conversations about him that started in early 2008 during regular monthly meetings and ended as he was finishing a fellowship in disaster and preventive psychology this summer, the official familiar with the discussions said.
They saw no signs of mental problems, no risk factors that would predict violent behavior. And the group discussed other factors that suggested Hasan would continue to thrive in the military, factors that mitigated their concerns, the official said.
According to the official, records reviewed by Hasan’s superiors described nearly 20 years of military service, including nearly eight years as an enlisted soldier; completion of three rigorous medical school programs, albeit as a student the group characterized in their discussions as mediocre; his resilience after the deaths of his parents early in his medical education, and an otherwise polite and gentle nature when not discussing religion.
Citing the investigation and the Privacy Act, the Army and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences have released only minimal details of Hasan’s career. He entered the Army in 1997 as a 2nd lieutenant and started the medical school program, according to a service spokesman in Washington.
But school records from Barstow Community College in Barstow, Calif., where Hasan was a student from 1989 to 1990, show his military service began much earlier. Maureen Stokes, a spokeswoman for the college, said the records indicate he was a private first class with an infantry unit at Fort Irwin, Calif. Hasan received 10 credits for his military experience, she said.
John Wagstaffe, a Fort Irwin spokesman, said that based upon the school records it would appear that Hasan was stationed at Fort Irwin. But he said base officials have not been able to locate the military records to verify that.
The Pentagon has found no evidence that Hasan formally sought release from the Army as a conscientious objector or for any other reason, two senior military officials told The Associated Press. Family members have said he wanted to get out of the Army and had sought legal advice, suggesting that Hasan’s anxiety as a Muslim over his pending deployment overseas might have been a factor in the deadly rampage.
Hasan had complained privately to colleagues that he was harassed for his religion and that he wanted to get out of the Army. But there is no record of Hasan filing a complaint with his chain of command regarding any harassment he may have suffered for being Muslim or any record of him formally seeking release from the military, the officials told the AP.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is under investigation.