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Walter Reed Officials Raised Concerns About Hasan


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Michele Norris.


And Im Melissa Block.

There are troubling new details today about the career of the Army psychiatrist accused in last weeks shootings at Fort Hood. NPR has learned that there was a series of worried meetings and conversations about Nidal Hasan, starting in 2007. Top officials from Walter Reed Army Medical Center took part, so did supervisors from his government fellowship program. The topic of those conversations: What should we do about Nidal Hasan and could he do harm?

NPRs Daniel Zwerdling has been talking with psychiatrists and officials at Walter Reed and the fellowship program, officials who worked with Hasan or monitored committees that oversaw his work, they all refuse to be identified because theres an ongoing criminal investigation. Danny, what have these sources told you?

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Melissa, picture this. More than a year and a half before Hasan allegedly went on that rampage at Fort Hood, the officials who supervised him sat around wondering, could Nidal Hasan be psychotic? One of his key supervisors at Walter Reed reportedly told colleagues, Im worried that if Hasan deploys to Iraq or Afghanistan, he might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists. And another one of Hasans supervisors reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues: I wonder if Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide?

BLOCK: You know, could he actually kill fellow soldiers?

ZWERDLING: Yes, exactly.

BLOCK: And why didnt officials do something that if these were the concerns?

ZWERDLING: Well, my interview suggests there was a whole chain of basically unrelated events and factors that deterred them from taking action.

BLOCK: Okay, were going to talk about that chain of events in a minute, but first, lets talk about this. A timeline really, when exactly did officials really start crystallizing their worries about Nidal Hasan?

ZWERDLING: It really started coming to ahead in March of 2007. Back then, a new psychiatrist took over as the, you know, big boss of the psychiatric residents of Walter Reed. His name is Major Scott Moran. By the way, like all the others, Moran told me, no way, he cant talk. But Morans colleagues told me that he reviewed all the staffs personal files as any new boss does, right? And he was shocked by what he read about Hasan. I mean, supervisors have been reprimanding Hasan for years for doing a bad job. And Moran said to his colleagues, I want to get rid of the guy.

BLOCK: And as we now know that that didnt happened, Hasan was not removed. Why not?

ZWERDLING: The way my sources tell the story, Moran went to two key committees that have to approve it when you want to expel a resident. And those committees said, forget it. You know, theres a very long and cumbersome process for getting rid of a doctor, a resident. Hasan could have hired a lawyer, thered be hearings. The case might drag on and on and on. So, officials told Moran, Im told, look, Hasan is about to leave Walter Reed anyway on a fellowship, lets hope for the best and see how he does there.

BLOCK: Which brings us to what, the fall of 2007, Nidal Hasan goes on to get a masters in public health?

ZWERDLING: Right. He went to a government school called USUHS, thats the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. And right away, the professors and supervisors there were upset with Hasan. We obtained documents from USUHS. And they show that supervisors and professors that his main research project was terrible. They gave him a lousy evaluation.

And at this point, Melissa, they became really troubled about his state of mind. When I asked people to describe Hasan, they keep using the same word, its interesting: disconnected, aloof, a loner, belligerent and sometimes super polite.

Well, then in January 2008, Hasan turned in a paper that really got people worried because they thought it was basically a disjointed religious diatribe and some key officials sat around wondering, could he be descending into psychosis?

BLOCK: At any point in these discussions, did Nidal Hasans supervisors say, you need a mental health evaluation? You need psychotherapy?

ZWERDLING: Amazingly, Ive asked and my sources say, no.

BLOCK: Danny, were talking about a guy here whos going to be treating troops coming back from the war with serious mental health problems. He actually had, at the time, already been treating some of the soldiers. His supervisors, as youre describing it, are worrying that he might be psychotic. Still, as you said, nobody took action.

ZWERDLING: I know. Its puzzling. First of all, there is a long and complicated process I mentioned about, you know, trying to kick out a doctor, okay. Plus, you know, all those media reports about Hasan felt some soldiers harassed him for being Muslim.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

ZWERDLING: Right? Well, it turns out that some of his supervisors and instructors did the opposite. They told colleagues that they repeatedly bent over backward to support and encourage him despite all his problems because, number one, they didnt have firm evidence that he was unstable. Number two, they kept searching their own souls. The instructors wondered what if were discriminating against this guy because were uncomfortable with his religious views.

Oh, and one more thing, Melissa. These officials told colleagues that they did not know anything about those emails that Hasan was reportedly sending to an alleged Islamic extremist overseas. You know, intelligence agency say, they told some people at Walter Reed, but these officials claim they did not hear it.

BLOCK: And ultimately, the military transfers Nidal Hasan to work as a psychiatrist at Fort Hood in Texas.

ZWERDLING: And guess what? They agree that Hasan should go some place where he couldnt really hurt anything. So, they sent him to Fort Hood. Why Fort Hood? Well, it turns out that Fort Hood has more psychiatrists and mental health specialists than most Army bases, or at least than many. And the officials figured thered be plenty of co-workers who could support Hasan and monitor him. Listen to this, one official I spoke with yesterday said, we all hoped Hasan would sort of disappear at Fort Hood.

BLOCK: NPRs Daniel Zwerdling. Thank you very much.

ZWERDLING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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