Thursday, November 12, 2009

Major Nidal Malik Hasan "Psychotic"? "Paranoid"? "Schizoid"?! and This is on NPR?!

News articles about Major Nidal Malik Hasan's fit of self-expression at Fort Hood last week will probably have "allegedly" sprinkled through them for some time. Annoying as it can be, I remember the "good old days" when news services were - sometimes with reason - accused of convicting people before a trial. And, worse, influencing juries and judges.

America is a country where a person is supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. I know: America isn't perfect, and the judicial system hasn't always done what it's supposed to. But that "innocent until proven guilty" is the way it's supposed to work - and newspapers that printed headlines like "SMITH KILLS JONES" weren't helping.

So, we got "allegedly" sprinkled through the news.

Major Nidal Malik Hasan: Why Did He Kill All Those People?

In the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, although it is possible that he was working as part of a larger plan, the only evidence we've got - including those 13 bodies - points to one guy, acting alone, killing over a dozen people.

The big question isn't so much 'who,' as 'why.'

I could assume that Major Hasan's outburst wasn't the act of a Muslim - until news broke that he followed Islam. Or thought he did.

I could assume that the shootings at Fort Hood had nothing to do with Islam - and that the witness who heard Major Hasan say "Allahu akbar" actually heard a handful of other syllables - and put them together as that phrase. No harmful intent - just the sort of mis-hearing that can happen.

I've learned to be leery of assumptions - at least until there's a good-size pile of facts to work with.
Facts, Investigations, "The People Have a Right To Know," and Common Sense
Being a member of the general public, I don't expect to get all the facts that investigators have. Much as I'd like to have all the inside information: that'd be a daft way to conduct a criminal investigation.

Think about it. Let's say that a police force is investigating the murder of Mr. Jones. If they were a kind of Keystone Cops, the lead detective might announce, "Mr. Smith has purchased an airline ticket to Miami. We plan to arrest him at the airport this afternoon, as he is boarding the 4:55 flight." That's not gonna happen.

It makes sense for law enforcement to keep some facts - and particularly speculation - out of public view while an investigation is going on.

So, what investigators tell reporters is a selection of facts they have. Reporters, presumably, can do their own research and root out facts on their own - and may independently discover information that the investigators have.

But a reporter isn't likely to put all the facts into a story. Not necessarily because the reporter doesn't like some of the facts, and thinks they shouldn't be so - but because there are too many facts, many of which really aren't all that important.

Deciding what's important and what's not involves assumptions. And yes, I'm leery of assumptions: but we all have to use them, or we'd be swamped by everyday decisions. Me? I try to make sure my assumptions are few, simple - and consistent with the real world.

I've written about facts, reporters, assumptions and the news before. (January 7, 2009, for starters) Reporters - and editors - have deadlines to consider, and only so many words to use for each article. They've got to use their judgment, and put what's important in - and leave what isn't, out.

I think that old-school, traditional American journalists have a rather narrow and dusty notion of what's important - and what's real - but that's another topic. (October 21, 2008, and other posts)
Back to Major Nidal Malik Hasan
It's getting very hard to ignore the possibility that Major Nidal Malik Hasan wasn't quite right in the head - and/or had signed up on what, for him, was the wrong side in the war on terror. (I know: The War on Terror seems to be a non-event which isn't happening - officially. (March 30, 2009) The rest of us have to deal with the real world.)

I was impressed - very impressed - when I read this article:
"Starting in the spring of 2008, key officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences held a series of meetings and conversations, in part about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man accused of killing 13 people and wounding dozens of others last week during a shooting spree at Fort Hood. One of the questions they pondered: Was Hasan psychotic?

" 'Put it this way,' says one official familiar with the conversations that took place. 'Everybody felt that if you were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you would not want Nidal Hasan in your foxhole.'

"In documents reviewed by NPR and conversations with medical officials at Walter Reed and USUHS, new details have emerged regarding serious concerns that officials raised about Hasan during his time at both institutions...

"When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?

"Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials' radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.

"Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan's behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that "Islam can save your soul."."

And, Whatever You Do, Don't Discriminate Against a Paranoid Psychotic - if He's of the 'Right Sort'

I don't think that many people regard National Public Radio as part of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." So, reading words like "psychotic," "disconnected," "aloof," and "paranoid" in connection with Nidal Malik Hasan seems to indicate that the army's passing this non-WASP along - despite glaring warning signs - isn't some imaginary tale dreamed up by the 'radical right wing news media.'

What was really impressive, to me, was this excerpt:
"...So why didn't officials act on their concerns and seek to remove Hasan from his duties, or at least order him to receive a mental health evaluation? Interviews with these officials suggest that a chain of unrelated events and factors deterred them.

"For one thing, Walter Reed and most medical institutions have a cumbersome and lengthy process for expelling doctors, involving hearings and potential legal battles. As a result, sources say, key decision-makers decided it would be too difficult, if not unfeasible, to put Hasan on probation and possibly expel him from the program.

"Second, some of Hasan's supervisors and instructors had told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him, because they didn't have clear evidence that he was unstable, and they worried they might be 'discriminating' against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs...."
There's a bit about information sharing, too: the people reviewing Hasan didn't - apparently - know about some of the emails he'd sent.

When NPR mentions the possibility that political correctness had something - anything - to do with the Fort Hood shootings, things are getting bad for advocates of the wacky side of America's dominant culture.

I've written, earlier, on America's leaders "treating select groups with the sort of institutionalized deference once enjoyed by European aristocracy and nobility." (November 10, 2009)

Radical an idea as this may seem, I don't think that how a person is treated should depend on who his or her ancestors were, what clubs the person has joined, or his or her faith - or lack of religious beliefs.

In my opinion.

Related posts: News and views:
Updated 12:46 p.m. Central (November 12, 2009)

More about Major Hasan, in the news: According to the paper, prosecutors haven't suggested a motive for the killings, back on November 5.

As for the news, I think we'll be hearing quite a bit about Major Hasan's bumper sticker in the next few weeks:
"...Colleagues and relatives have said that Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was upset about his own looming deployment to Afghanistan. Relatives also said he had been harassed because of his religion.

"At the apartment complex where Hasan lived in Killeen outside Fort Hood, another soldier had vandalized Hasan's car and tore off a bumper sticker that read 'Allah is Love,' prompting Hasan to file a complaint to police, a co-manager of the complex said. The soldier had been in Iraq and reportedly was upset to learn that Hasan was Muslim...."
The Washington Post)
The Washington Post's "soldier" was also a "neighbor:"
"The bumper sticker reading 'Allah is Love' was torn off and the car was keyed.

"A police report was filed in the August 16 incident involving Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's Honda, and a neighbor was charged with criminal mischief. But what kind of impact that incident, and possibly others, had on Hasan remains a mystery...."

"...The bumper sticker incident at Hasan's apartment complex in Killeen, Texas, is the first known example of harassment that has surfaced since the shooting. Apartment manager John Thompson said Friday that he reported the situation to police after the girlfriend of then-resident John van de Walker told him that he did it. Thompson said he saw van de Walker apologize to Hasan and that a police report was filed...."
("Fort Hood suspect's religion was an issue, family says
CNN (November 7, 2009))
Looks like The Washington Post's editors feel that the perpetrator of the bumper sticker crime's being a soldier is important. And, that Mr. van de Walker being one of those people who live in apartments isn't. They're probably right.

But that one incident doesn't seem to add up to a pattern of discrimination and persecution. And you'd think that evidence for such a pattern would have been displayed more prominently, in the news. After all, discrimination is news.

A tip of the hat to mstoneman, on Twitter, for the heads-up on The Washington Post story.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.