Why Did Major Hasan Kill 13 at Fort Hood?

With no clear answer, commentators look for clues in Hasan's life and work

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Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist from Virginia, killed 13 and wounded 30 in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. Hasan, who was about to receive his first deployment, was shot four times but survived. Everyone within and beyond the grieving base is left asking why. With no clear answer and an investigation just now underway, commentators are left to probe for clues in Hasan's life and work. Their answers are speculative as information is still emerging.

  • Alienated and Afraid  The Washington Post's Mary Pat Flaherty, William Wan, and Christian Davenport portray him as socially isolated because of his Muslim faith and because of his fear of deployment. "He prayed every day at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, a devout Muslim who, despite asking to be discharged from the U.S. Army, was on the eve of his first deployment to war," they write. "In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military. 'I know what that is like,' she said. 'Some people can take it, and some cannot. He had listened to all of that, and he wanted out of the military, and they would not let him leave even after he offered to repay' for his medical training."
  • Inevitable Blowback of Endless War  Air America's Beau Friedlander writes in the Huffington Post that, with President Obama possibly extending one of the two wars we're currently fighting, should we be surprised? Friedlander explores the horrors of war--post-traumatic stress, suicides, repeated deployments--that Nasan would have seen as a base psychiatrist. "Fort Hood serves as the home away from home for about 52,000, and it has lost more troops in the war in Iraq than any other base in the States. It is unfair to say, categorically, that Dr. Nidal Hasan went berserk because we've made the wrong choices. He's no John Brown, and this is not the anti-war equivalent of Harper's Ferry. That said, it is also unfair to continue policies that kill people on both sides of a conflict that can no longer bear usable fruit and expect everything to be just hunky-dory among the women and men serving in our armed forces."
  • Failure of Hasan's Superiors  Jules Crittendon notes that there were a lot of reasons to worry about Hasan's condition, which Crittendon fears were ignored. "When, within a matter of hours, the following facts and suspicions are widely reported, it suggests there may have been insufficient urgency in some quarters, maybe official obstacles in others, maybe reluctance to act on concerns elsewhere," he writes, "and in the end, a lot of dots not connected." Crittendon says Hasan "Thought 'Muslims should stand up and fight against the aggressor.' That … 'the aggressor' …. is a reference to both Hasan’s nation, which he had sworn to defend, and specifically his employer, which expected him to be willing to lay down his life. Starts to sound like a problem. A tightly wound problem."

  • Did Web Comments Foretell Shooting?  Wired's Noah Shachtman reports that the FBI once considered investigating Hasan's Web tracks. "Before he allegedly killed a dozen and wounded 31 more at Ft. Hood, Maj. Nidal Hasan may have gone online to praise suicide bombers. 'If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory,' a commenter named 'NidalHasan' wrote on this Scribd.com document about 'Martydom in Islam,'" Shachtman writes. "Some colleagues say he also spoke out against the Iraq war, and in favor of the shooting at an Arkansas military recruitment center. Online, Hasan supposedly wrote of his admiration for suicide attackers." But Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch cautions, "'Nidal Hassan' is not an unusual name... google searches for internet comments aren't necessarily gonna help."
  • No Easy Answers  The Atlantic Marc Ambinder warns against forcing a broader meaning onto the shooting. Ambinder rebuffs those pointing to Hasan's speaking against the Iraq war. "So did half the country. Stop this Muslim stuff. Grieve now and let the facts fill in the motive." He says of those pointing to his religion, "It's demagoguery. It's reductive and illogical and based on fragments and speculation." Ambinder concludes, "Does shooter story today focus on Islam, on the man himself and his demons, on the Army and war? Lots of data points = context needed. If you want to understand what makes a murderer murder, approach w/ the mindset of a forensic investigator, not from your personal biases. I have same objections to those using the tragedy to make a point about our evil foreign policy as I do those who're obsessing on his religion."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.