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Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Thoughts on the Fort Hood Massacre

It's been nine days. It has taken me that long to feel I could even begin to formulate my first clear thoughts on what took place at Fort Hood Novemember 11. We know now that fourteen died. Several are still hospitalized, some in critical condition. Some have been released. The assailant, Dr. Nidal Hasan, major, psychiatrist, U.S. army, Muslim, was shot four times and is currently hospitalized. His family has retained an attorney for him, retired Col. John Gilligan. He has been charged with fourteen counts of murder. The military prosecutor is seeking the death penalty. Currently
army officials have stated, " investigators believe that he acted without the knowledge or guidance of any terror groups." It is also known that Dr. Hasan had email communications with a radical imam in Yemen who had been at the same Virginia mosque where Dr. Hasan's mother's funeral service was held and two of the 9/11 hijackers attended. We have also been told that authorities knew of this communication but have stated that it was within the realm of Dr. Hasan's research.

We have also been told that Dr. Hasan gave a power-point presentation while attending a masters degree program in 2007 (HERE is the presentation) Slides #49 and 50, the most ominous, "Muslim soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly>>>will vary! Recommendation: Department of Defense should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as "consciencious objectors" to increase troop moral and decrease adverse events". The Washington Post has more to say HERE.

We also know that approximately 3500 declared Muslims are currently serving in the military, with estimates as high as 20,000 because the military does not demand an enlistee to state their religious affiliation. Although the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans is made up of Muslims and Christians, it was founded shortly after 911 by Jamal S. Baadani, a Muslim American. We know that the armed services depend heavily on Arabic speaking service men and women to aid in transalation and cultural awareness. The same holds true in Afghanistan, where Muslims are serving. We know that Muslims are serving honorably in both arenas. (This is a well known fact, why am I even writing this other than to remind anyone reading here who may be looking for the reason to cast doubt on all Muslims?)

Caveat, these are not my thoughts on Dr. Hasan's proclivity to commit a horrendous act because he is Muslim. Nothing could be further from the truth. My former husband from whom I am amicably divorced is Muslim, my eldest daughter is Muslim, many of my closest friends and loved ones are Muslim. I do not in any way shape or form believe that Islam had anything to do with Dr. Hasan's murderous rampage. I do however believe that he was an extremely conflicted man who was being forced to do something he simply was not willing to do, this however, let me make this most clear, does not in any way absolve him from what he chose to do. Read, "chose", because as human beings we are born with the power of choice in all we do. Life is not always so simple though. Often times outside influences bear upon our choices. In the case of Dr. Hasan's choice to open fire upon his fellow soldiers, I do believe there were circumstances, had they been different, Dr. Hasan's actions also could have been different.

My thoughts concerning this crystalized when Richard Silverstein posted a question,
"Could Army Have Offered Hasan a Way Out Short of Deployment". In his post he refers to a report from NPR that it is possible that Dr. Hasan made a call last year to the Center on Conscience and War. The caller had asked if there was a way out of the military as a Muslim who objected to fighting a war against Muslims. The NPR report states:

What McNeil said that day, however, no doubt would have offered little
encouragement to Hasan, who was charged Thursday with 13 counts of premeditated murder for allegedly gunning down a dozen fellow service members and a civilian last week at Fort Hood in Texas.

"An aversion to fighting a particular kind of war can't be grounds for
conscientious objector status," McNeil says. "The military regulation says it has to be a sincerely held belief about participation in any war."

And the burden is on the soldier to prove the genesis and sincerity of
those beliefs.

What about others who have sought consciencious objector release from the military? How easy has it been for them to pass the hurdle of the "burden of proof of the genesis and sincerity of those beliefs"? Have there been problems there as well?

The answer is yes. One such case is Agustin Aguayo who went AWOL for 24 days rather than be deployed to Iraq for another tour of duty, turned himself in, was flown back to Germany to be held at Manheim prison awaiting court martial, eventually was court martialed and denied his firmly held consciencious objectors plea, was sentenced to eight months in prison, then recieved a bad conduct discharge from the army which will stay with him for life. Read his petition HERE which was denied.

We know now that Dr. Hasan at the very least in 2007 was of the firmly held belief that Muslims should be granted consciencious objector's release from the military should they request this from his power point presentation. We also know that he very possibly called the Center on Conscience and War. We know from early reports after the Fort Hood shooting also that Dr. Hassan approached the imam at his mosque in Killeen asking him how he should counsel those who may have changed their minds about their commitment and willingness to deploy. In the conversation Dr. Hassan had with his imam the imam states that he told Dr. Hassan “There is something wrong with you”. Granted, the imam is stating Dr. Hassan seemed “disjointed” but was the question pertaining to how he should counsel those whose minds had changed a “wrong question” to ask? Absolutely not, because there are hundreds if not thousands of enlisted military grappling with this same question who have actually taken action themselves without going off the deep end and killing. But many of these men have sought support from the right sources, ie IVAW or Courage to Resist.

Read further what the NPR report states:

“But Hasan’s stated desire to have the military carve out a special
conscientious objector exemption for Muslims, and his pursuit of one for
himself, likely would have ended before it started.

Why? Because Hasan’s singular focus was on an aversion to fighting Muslims, experts say, and not a proven, deeply held abhorrence to all war — no matter the circumstances or the enemy.”

Now, with these narrow defintions which the military has put in place it is virtually impossible to get out of the military on CO status once you have enlisted, so it truly is a case of buyer beware. Having said that, the only course open to those wishing to get out of the military after enlistment due to whatever moral/consciencious/religious reason, just about the only options are fleeing (hundreds of resisters in Canada) or face court martial, imprisonment, dishonorable discharge. In the case of Dr. Hassan, what IF he had been pointed in the right direction where he could have had support? What IF he had been listened to and not told, nope, your CO thoughts won’t work, “there is something wrong with you”.

So, Dr. Hassan sought to carve out a space where Muslims in particular could receive a CO exemption in the case of fighting other Muslims. This was seen as something that couldn’t be done. I ask “why not?” If the person is stating their religious beliefs preclude them from deploying, doesn’t anyone think this should hold water whatever their beliefs are?

Liz Diamond writes a very interesting point in her commentary, "Which wolf do you choose to feed?",

One recurrent theme in the reporting of the Fort Hood shootings is that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan wanted out of a military that was fighting his co-religionists in Afghanistan and Iraq. If, in some upside-down world, the United States were ever to go to war with Israel, many of us would find it easier to understand if Jewish soldiers had difficulty fulfilling their duties, and would likely make some accommodation for those who conscientiously objected.

Interesting point Ms. Diamond. Very interesting point indeed.

Can anyone reading here possibly imagine Dr. Hasan hearing things said by his patients of what they had witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan? Heck, he more than likely heard stories similar to those told by Winter Soldier. Session after session with patients suffering from PTSD. It is even possible that he had patients who commited suicide as we know the suicide rate for returning military. Can anyone possibly put themselves in his place, the stress he was under, having turned to people for counsel and reaching a dead end? Does this excuse his actions? Absolutely not. However, with the reports coming out of how troubled this man was for a long time, it is also clear that the path he was on was also shared by the military-no way out he thought. Forced to deploy.

My point is that no where thus far have we seen reports that he turned to the organizations who may have been able to support him-again-I am not suggesting that it would have worked-but fact is-thus far we haven’t seen that he did. Under military guidelines he would not have been able to avoid court martial had he refused to deploy, but he would have at least had the support he had been seeking and never received. That is if he had the COURAGE to resist. Death by cop while perpetrating the greatest damage against your percieved enemy, the US military, simply is not an option.

Dr, Hasan had a project-to carve out an exemption for Muslims who seek consciencious objector's status when asked to fight other Muslims. I personally find this honorable that he was seeking to help others who were in the same boat as himself. Again, read what Liz Diamond wrote in her commentary, "Which wolf do you choose to feed?"Unfortunately, no, that isn’t a strong enough word, there are now 14 people dead because the military has their “policies”. And, Dr. Hasan, cracked.

Fact is, the military once you are in makes it virtually impossible to get out. The military needs to RE-EXAMINE this policy, human beings are not robots who can be wiped clean of their own convictions in order to service a machine.

Again, please do not try to say I am making excuses for his actions, because I am NOT. This event I see as having far more nuance and factors which attributed to this disaster than what is being reported or commented on.

To close, Janis Whitlock writes in her article for Psychology Today titled, "Who is to blame when healer turns killer?"

Nidal Malik Hasan will stand trial and be punished. What remains to be
answered is whether we collectively question why there were no off-ramps for Nidal Malik Hasan before he hit his wall..... Nidal Malik Hasan is a man who lived and tragically expressed the contradictions inherent in the collective American psyche - contradictions brought to him over and over through his contact with a countless number of soldiers asked to use violence to create peace, asked to think of and treat as "other" a people Nidal Malik Hasan knew as "us."

Yes Mr. Silverstein, the army could have offered Dr. Hasan, a very troubled man, a way out.

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