November 17, 2009Dallas Morning News
Fort Hood massacre suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sought to have some of his patients prosecuted for war crimes based on statements they made during psychiatric sessions with him, a captain who served on the base said Monday.
Other psychiatrists complained to superiors that Hasan's actions violated doctor-patient confidentiality, Capt. Shannon Meehan told The Dallas Morning News.
One day after the Nov. 5 attack that killed 13 and wounded 29, a Fort Hood official said she had never received complaints about Hasan's job performance. Col. Kimberly Kesling, deputy commander of clinical services at the base's Darnall Army Medical Center, also said he was a "hardworking, dedicated young man who gave great care to his patients."
Fort Hood officials did not respond to interview requests late Monday. They have declined in recent days to say anything about the major, citing the ongoing investigation. . Meehan said he learned of Hasan's prosecution requests from another base psychiatrist. That psychiatrist could not be reached for comment Monday.
The revelations add to a portrait of Hasan as a man at odds with many of those around him -- emotionally, religiously and ideologically. He was, by various accounts, lonely, paranoid and increasingly zealous in his fundamentalist Islamic beliefs. He had been writing e-mails to a radical cleric in Yemen who called the U.S. war on terror a "war against Muslims" and advocated killing Soldiers.
It wasn't clear Monday what information Hasan received from patients and what became of his requests for prosecution. ABC News, citing anonymous sources, reported that his superiors rejected the requests, and that investigators suspect this
triggered the shootings.
Hasan may have been legally justified in reporting what patients disclosed, said Patrick McLain, a Dallas lawyer who specializes in military defense work and is not involved in the Hasan case. But it's impossible to be sure without knowing exactly what they said, he added.
"He was right on his authority to report it," said the ex-Marine, who formerly served as a court-martial judge. The Army teaches all service members that they have a duty to report evidence of war crimes.
Hasan's civilian lawyer in Central Texas, retired Col. John P. Galligan, did not respond to interview requests Monday. His client remains in a San Antonio military hospital, paralyzed from the waist down by police gunfire and facing premeditated murder charges.
Meehan, the Fort Hood captain, expressed skepticism with Hasan's requests that patients be prosecuted. "They're going in there confessing their pain and their guilt," he said, describing Soldiers' postwar visits to therapists. "He's trying to turn it
into a war crime."
Meehan recently wrote a book called Beyond Duty, depicting his traumatic experience as a tank platoon leader in Iraq. It describes a strike he ordered that accidentally killed an Iraqi family with six children -- the sort of "collateral damage" that McLain said was clearly distinct from a war crime.
Later, an improvised explosive device left Meehan with a traumatic brain injury. He received therapy at Fort Hood from people other than Hasan, which he credits with saving him from crippling depression. He is retiring from the military, effective next week.
Meehan said one of his doctors tried to give Hasan a copy of the book last month. Hasan refused. The captain said he had previously avoided Hasan, who was one of a small crew responsible for interviewing Soldiers and writing up summaries of their condition.
"I heard he was not one you wanted to go to" because he didn't finish his work promptly, Meehan said. "Apparently the reason it took so long is he was turning it over to legal."
Meehan said one little-known consequence of the massacre is that Hasan's colleagues must re-evaluate every case he handled. Another challenge, he said, is persuading patients to keep opening up to therapists.
"I really hope Nidal's horrific actions do not give Soldiers pause when considering [whether] to tell their given stories," Meehan said.
President Barack Obama vowed Saturday to examine all the events leading up to the Fort Hood attack, including reports that the Army and FBI missed warning signs about Hasan's extremist sympathies. Several congressional leaders have promised their own inquiries.
A closed-door briefing Monday for the Senate Armed Services Committee was postponed at the administration's request, said committee spokesman Bryan Thomas.
Senate leaders and several committee chairmen are scheduled to receive a classified briefing this morning, said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to testify publicly before Leahy's committee. His appearance had been previously scheduled and wasn't directly prompted by the Fort Hood tragedy.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the panel, said he would ask whether there was evidence Hasan was disloyal and should have been removed from the Army.
"Nobody should be advanced in rank and no one should be kept in the military if their loyalty is to anything other than the United States," the Alabama senator said.