WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – An army psychiatrist, who treated shock, horror, and other symptoms among soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (PTSD) from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now stands accused of leaving the entire nation and the U.S. military in shock as officials at Fort Hood, Texas–the largest military base in this country–sort out the bloody details of a November 5 shooting which left 13 dead and more than two-dozen others injured.
Maj. Nidal M. Hasan is accused of going to the base readiness facility, shortly after noon where soldiers were waiting to see doctors to prepare for their deployments into the battle zones. There he allegedly opened fire with two pistols, committing what is believed to be the largest mass shooting on a U.S. military facility.
Maj. Hasan was said to be a devout Muslim who prayed daily at a mosque near the Walter Reed Army hospital where he trained and practiced medicine until his transfer to Fort Hood this summer. Muslim leaders, military and government officials all expressed condolences and offered solace to the families of the victims and to the survivors, while condemning the alleged actions as criminal and anti-Islamic.
But some anti-gun groups also noted the shootings were conducted with guns readily available for purchase by almost anyone, not military weapons. They called for tighter gun control as a way to avoid future tragedy.
“We cannot fully know what leads a man to do such a thing. But what we do know is that our thoughts are with every single one of the men and women who were injured at Ft. Hood,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly media address Nov. 7. “Our thoughts are with all the families who’ve lost a loved one in this national tragedy. And our thoughts are with all the Americans who wear–or who’ve worn–the proud uniform of the United States of America; our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coast guardsmen, and the military families who love and support them.”
Mr. Obama ordered flags flying over the White House, and other federal buildings to be lowered to half-staff for a week, until Veterans Day Nov. 11. The White House announced that the president would attend the Nov. 10 memorial service for those killed in the mass shooting at Fort Hood, even if it meant Mr. Obama would have to delay his scheduled trip to China in order to attend the memorial.
Advocates worry about gun violence
Ironically, one day after the Fort Hood shootings, a gunman opened fire in the offices of an engineering firm in Orlando, Fla. where he was fired more than two years ago, authorities there said, killing one person and injuring five others. Jason Rodriguez surrendered later that day.
“This is a tragedy, no doubt about it, especially on the heels of the tragedy in Fort Hood that is on our minds,” Orlando Police Chief Val Demings told reporters.
“When I heard of the tragedy yesterday, we were in the midst of planning a response to the latest dangerous legislative proposal from the gun lobby in the United States Senate–language to automatically restore access to guns to veterans designated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Justice Department as ‘mentally incapacitated’ or ‘mentally incompetent,’ ”said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement issued Nov. 6.
“America has seen an epidemic of horrific gun violence at churches and synagogues, workplaces, health clubs, high schools, universities, police stations and now Army bases.This latest tragedy, at a heavily fortified army base, ought to convince more Americans to reject the argument that the solution to gun violence is to arm more people with more guns in more places.Enough is enough,” he said.
Two leading national gun violence prevention organizations, Freedom States Alliance and the Violence Policy Center, said in a joint statement: “The handguns used in yesterday’s rampage shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, demonstrate the deadly firepower available to any American–whether that person is a member of the military or a private citizen. Initial news reports describe the handguns possessed by the shooter as a semiautomatic pistol and .357 revolver, apparently neither was military issue. Like the Luby’s massacre in neighboring Killeen, Texas that occurred 18 years ago and left 23 dead and 20 injured, the facts are as simple as they are disturbing: easy access to unmatched firepower allows angry individuals to kill and wound at will,” said the groups.
“The answer to gun violence is not more guns. This most recent shooting serves only to demonstrate that all places where people gather are vulnerable to mass shootings–whether a school, church, shopping mall, or military base. This shooting also demonstrates the fallacy that mass shooters will avoid venues where people are likely to be armed or that mass shooters can be stopped easily by armed individuals. Ignoring the lessons of this most recent tragedy will only guarantee that the pattern will be repeated at yet another location,” said the organizations.
Condolences, caution from U.S. congressmen
There were swift messages of condolence and caution from the two Muslim members of Congress–Andre Carson of Indiana, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota. “Our condolences go out to the victims and the victim’s familes,” Rep. Carson told The Final Call. “I come from a family of Marines. I’ve worked in homeland security myself, and intelligence and counter-terrorism, and I think we need to make note to the great contributions that Muslims are making every day to this country. We have over 3,500 Muslims in active duty in the U.S. military, right now, as we speak serving this nation. So, we can’t isolate this situation and say it’s all Muslims.”
Rep. Ellison concurred. “This is a matter of a tragedy that families are suffering through. Our hearts are with the families and the victims. The fact is, horrible tragedies like this have happened, even today. I think the concern should be for the families, and I think it’s absolutely legitimate for people to be concerned about their families who may be in the area. I think that it’s important that this thing needs to be condemned.
“But people shouldn’t fear that they would be under suspicion because of their religion. I know I respect the impulse to worry about that, but the worry needs to be with the families. The worry needs to be with the families. The concern needs to be with how, we as Americans come together and stand with the victims of this tragedy and to send our condolences to all of the members of the armed forces.
“PTSD treatment is a very critical thing. As a matter of fact you’ve had massive numbers of suicides, you’ve had a tremendous toll taken, but to tell you the truth, I think it’s a little bit premature to even talk about that. I think that sympathy for the families is where we should maintain our focus.
“Prayers for the families of the victims, that’s where we should keep our focus. Later in the week we can start unpacking, policy around PTSD and other important issues like that, but now, people need a shoulder, they need an arm around them, they need somebody to say they care, and they are concerned. That’s what we need to do now. There will be days to deal with all that other stuff,” Rep. Ellison concluded.
Maj. Hasan was born in nearby Arlington, Va. 39 years ago. He trained at military hospitals in Bethesda, Md. and Washington, D.C., after graduating from Virginia Tech University. His practice as a psychiatrist was to salve the emotional wounds of troops returning from U.S. wars in two Muslim countries even as he objected to those wars. He was also said to be so concerned about his own looming deployment to Afghanistan, that he reportedly hired an attorney to help him legally get out of the Army.
He recently underwent a peer review in which his fellow doctors found no fault with his professional work. “He was a dedicated, hard-working provider who did really care for his patients,” Col. Kimberly Kesling, the deputy commander for clinical services said of him, according to a published report. “Sometimes people have demons we don’t know about and make bad choices . . . People who take care of people with problems can develop problems of their own.”
Maj. Hasan counseled soldiers returning from combat, suffering from stress. But there are reports that he disagreed sharply with fellow soldiers who support U.S. war policies. He once reportedly required counseling because of difficulties he had dealing with some patients, said Army officials who know him professionally and personally, including a former supervisor.
This incident may call attention to the very real strains on the entire military structure after eight years of war in far-off lands.
“Well, I think that there’s no question that the Army is incredibly stressed and at the breaking point, after six years of war in Iraq and eight years of war in Afghanistan,” Aaron Glantz an editor at New America Media told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!”
“And one thing that we see again and again and that I think we’re going to see more and more of is distressing incidents, where people have served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and then they turn to violence, more likely against themselves and then occasionally against others,” he said.
“It’s a troubling time, especially when we have to feel uncomfortable because of your name, or whatever,” said Rep. Carson. “You know Muslims have been a part of this country since the inception of this country, from the Muslim slaves to many of the Muslims who helped build the country. That’s another subject, but at the same time, we have great contributions which have been made to this country and we should be proud of those contributions as we speak.
“I think we have to get away from the tendency to put people in boxes, and not isolate this incident and attribute it to the religion of Islam, which by the way, condemns these kind of actions.”
Arab-Americans are already on the defensive, according to one source. They expect a racist backlash according to the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in the Military, formed after 9/11, said in a statement. That same concern has been expressed by another representative of active-duty Muslim military personnel.
“First of all, I would like to state that our hearts and our prayers go out to the family members and the victim, as well as the Fort Hood community, in this unfortunate tragic event that has occurred yesterday,” Qaseem Uqdah, a former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who heads the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council told “Democracy Now!”
“Some of our chief concerns are the potential backlash with respect to our soldiers, sailors and airmen that are within the armed forces, because this is an incident that was labeled as Muslim or Islam.
“Thus far, for the various bases that I’ve surveyed, there has not–there hasn’t been any incidents reported. In fact, down at Fort Bragg, for example, the command has reached out to the community, the Islamic community that’s stationed there. So it’s been a very favorable response. But that doesn’t negate what possibly could occur within the next several days and weeks and months.”
The family of the alleged Fort Hood shooter held his mother’s funeral at the same Virginia mosque that two Sept. 11 hijackers attended in 2001, at a time when a radical imam preached there.
Whether the Fort Hood shooter associated with the hijackers is something the FBI will look into, according to a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile Sen. Joseph Lieberman, of Connecticut, announced plans to probe whether the Army missed signs Maj. Nadal “had become an Islamic extremist.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)