US Army: hard look at itself

2009-11-17 21:17

Washington - The Army is preparing to do an internal investigation to examine whether it missed warning signs about the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood rampage, but top Pentagon officials may want a broader review of lessons from the tragedy.

Though it's still undecided who would do such a review and exactly what it would include, officials are working to make an announcement on it soon, a senior defence official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity because plans are still fluid.

Maj Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is accused of killing 13 people in the November 5 shooting rampage at the Texas base.

The Army is thinking about doing an internal investigation to examine Hasan's career and to determine whether warning signs were missed, a military official said on Tuesday, also on condition of anonymity. Army Chief of Staff Gen George Casey had said earlier that the service would take a hard look at itself following the November 5 shooting.

But Defence Secretary Robert Gates and other top Defence Department leadership also have held a number of meetings on the tragedy, and Gates has not yet decided whether the Army's proposed study fully addresses his concerns, the defence official said. The official said there could be an Army study, a broader Pentagon study, or both.

Any new review would have to be careful not to interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation, the defence official said. And so it could look at things outside that realm such as personnel policy and practices and whether there are adequate health services for troubled troops, the official said.

A top priority, he said, likely would be to look at red flags missed in Hasan's case, with an eye toward ensuring there are not other similar missed cases out there waiting to happen.

"A tragedy like this certainly gives this institution an opportunity to reflect on whether we are doing everything that we can and should to prevent something like this from happening," said Defence Department spokesperson Bryan Whitman. He said Gates has not made any decision on a defence-wide review.

Raised alarm

Two military officials said on Tuesday that Casey is looking at forming an investigative panel. It would look at Hasan as a whole, his career development and at what point someone should have or might have raised an alarm, one of the officials said. The other said the terms of what the panel would do have not been defined.

The proposed Army probe would focus on Hasan's six years at Washington's Walter Reed Medical Centre, where he worked as a psychiatrist before he was transferred to Fort Hood in July, one said.

The doctors who oversaw Hasan's medical training had discussed at a meeting concerns about Hasan's overly zealous religious views and strange behaviour months before the attack, a military official told The Associated Press last week. Hasan also was characterised as a mediocre student and lazy worker, but the doctors saw no evidence that he was violent or a threat. The military official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to speak publicly about the meeting.

The FBI learned late last year of Hasan's repeated contact with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen who encouraged Muslims to kill US troops in Iraq. President Barack Obama already has ordered a review of all intelligence related to Hasan and whether the information was properly shared and acted upon within government agencies.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday will hold its first public hearing about the incident. Obama on Saturday urged Congress to hold off on any investigation, pleading for lawmakers to "resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theatre".