In the Arena

Why Wasn’t Hasan Discharged?

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It is becoming increasingly apparent that Nidal Hasan was not only unhinged, but also an entirely inappropriate character to counsel U.S. soldiers on war-related stress and injuries. The wingers are exaggerating much of this–the fact that he attended the same mosque as two of the 9/11 hijackers is guilt by association, at best; the fact that he communicated with an Al Qaeda leader is more troubling, but the emails were monitored and judged to be non-threatening.

What is very troubling is that his colleagues at Walter Reed seem to have had grave doubts about the guy (it’ll be interesting to see the evaluations he received from superiors)–and yet he was allowed to continue to counsel American troops, troops who were in an extremely delicate psychological state. That seems beyond careless. And the question has to be asked: Was this a matter of political correctness? Was the Army reluctant to discharge a Muslim in a sensitive position because it might be portrayed as an act of bigotry or censorship–that he was fired for his views?

Well, in some jobs, your views matter. In this case, Hasan’s apparent belief that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were an anti-Muslim crusade, had to influence to way he interacted with his patients. No doubt, those views were influenced, and perhaps exacerbated, by his experiences treating the tormented troops in his care…and, perhaps, in some cases, they made Hasan a more compassionate therapist. But they were wrong and extreme–the war in Iraq was a disgrace for any number of reasons, but it was not an anti-Muslim jihad–and they were inappropriate for a person in Hasan’s position. He should have been discharged.

By the way, it is possible to believe that Hasan should have been discharged…and to also believe that his act of insanity was not an act of terrorism. Most terrorists kill strangers; Hasan killed people he knew and worked with, fellow therapists, in fact. His disgraceful act has far more in common with Columbine than it does with 9/11.

In any case, I don’t understand where calling the act “terrorism” gets us. If it was terrorism, rather than sheer insanity, what are the policy implications? That devout Muslims should be regarded as inherently suspicious characters? That Muslims should not be allowed to serve in the military or in sensitive government agencies? That we should be more vigilant at home and more aggressive fighting the War on Terror overseas? (Add: There is a real danger, as we saw during the Bush Administration, of overreacting to a serious, heinous but non-existential threat.)

I’d draw a far more narrow lesson: that even though the Army has made dramatic improvements in its treatment of our psychologically wounded warriors, the vast increase in the need for therapists has allowed standards to slip. It is important that the military use this massacre as an impetus to pay much closer attention to the therapists entrusted with the care of our troops.