While no one yet knows what ignited Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous
rage Thursday afternoon, Nov. 5, at Fort Hood, the kindling was hiding in plain
sight. The Army had ordered Hasan, wrestling with the conflicting demands of
being a soldier, a psychiatrist and a Muslim, to the post with the highest
toll of Army suicides. Fort Hood is one of the Army’s most stressed posts
because of its units’ revolving-door deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Finally, the Army made clear that Hasan couldn’t escape his own pending
deployment to Afghanistan, where he’d have to salve the mental wounds of
fellow soldiers killing members of his own faith.
Soldiers nursing the mental and emotional scars of war have overwhelmed
the central Texas base, the Army’s largest. Cases of post-traumatic stress disorder
quadrupled from 2005 to 2007, and PTSD affects even those like Hasan
who haven’t gone off to war. “Mental-health issues are a real problem for
the Fort Hood population,” an Army study concluded last year. “Soldiers
don’t live in a vacuum,” it added, noting that they have “families and
friends who are also affected by the trauma the soldiers experience.”
Hasan had spent six years dealing with the mental wreckage of war at the
Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and, since July, at Fort
Hood’s Darnall Army Medical Center. His own susceptibility to mental
problems was likely heightened because he was pretty much a loner: he wasn’t
married or in a relationship. After his parents died a decade ago, he seemed
to become more religious. Absent close family, he spent much of his time
counseling soldiers whose minds and bodies were scarred in combat. See pictures of U.S. troops’ 6 years in Iraq.
His growing opposition to the wars which apparently spiked when
President Barack Obama decided not to pull U.S. troops out of region, as Hasan had
hoped crystallized when he received orders for his first combat
deployment. “We’ve known for the last five years that that was probably his
worst nightmare,” Nader Hasan, a cousin, told Fox News. “He would tell us
how he hears horrific things … that was probably affecting him
psychologically.” Authorities took note six months ago when someone with
Hasan’s name posted messages on the Internet likening suicide bombers to
soldiers who protect their buddies by diving atop a live grenade, although
no formal inquiry was launched. See pictures of suicide in recruiters’ ranks.
Any opposition Hasan had toward the wars could have deepened because of his
constant contact with soldiers suffering from PTSD, that 2008 Army study
suggested. More broadly, an Army study released in July found that major
crimes have been on the rise at U.S. Army bases since 2003. It noted that
crime rates and mental illnesses are rising with increased
deployments and casualties.
Exactly what role Hasan’s faith played in the shooting, if any, is
unknown. Since well before 9/11, the U.S. military has welcomed Muslims into
its ranks, and nearly all have served as fine soldiers, sailors, airmen and
Marines. But since the 2001 attacks, there have been concerns that some
Muslims, once in uniform, would put religion above country. In April 2005,
Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar was sentenced to death for killing two officers in
Kuwait just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Prosecutors said
he launched the attack because he was concerned about U.S. troops killing
fellow Muslims. That is apparently the only recent case of a Islamic soldier
citing his faith as a reason for killing fellow troops. See pictures of the U.S. Army Reserve.
Muslim scholars have long believed it is proper for Muslims to serve in a
military force fighting other Muslims so long as they remain free to
practice their faith. “If the leadership says another country is a threat,
then the Muslim has the obligation to defend his country,” says John Voll,
an Islamic historian at Georgetown University, “… even if the other country is
Islamic.” But concerned over “the hatred that could come out,” Representative Chet
Edwards, a Texas Democrat whose district is near Fort Hood, told TIME he
and Representative Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota and the lone Muslim in Congress, are seeking
data on how many Muslims are now serving
and how many have been killed or wounded in combat. Hasan probably wouldn’t
appear on such a list, because he didn’t specify a religion in his Army file.
It will take years to ease the trauma Fort Hood suffered Thursday. The
Army will have to deploy more psychiatrists to deal with the surge of PTSD
cases sure to come. The post recently has taken steps to ease stress on the
home front, including creating “Phantom Family Time.” It occurs every
Thursday at 3 p.m. That was 86 minutes after one of those psychiatrists
dispatched to central Texas to help ailing troops instead began shooting and
shouting “Allahu Akbar” God is great at those counting on him for
With reporting by Bobby Ghosh / Washington, Hilary Hylton / Fort Hood
and Karen Tumulty / San Antonio
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