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2009-11-06

In Worst-Ever Shooting of Its Kind, 13 Dead, 30 Wounded at Ft. Hood Military Base; Suspect Had Reportedly Complained of Anti-Muslim Bias

Guests

Qaseem Uqdah, former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who heads the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council.

Aaron Glantz, editor at New America Media. His latest book is The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans.

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In the worst mass killing at a military base in the nation’s history, thirteen people have been killed and another thirty wounded at Fort Hood, Texas. The suspect, Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had reportedly complained of being harassed for being a Muslim and had tried to leave the military. It was the second such attack in the past six months, following the May shooting deaths of five US soldiers at Camp Liberty in Iraq. We speak to Qaseem Uqdah of American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council and independent journalist Aaron Glantz, author of The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The Pentagon, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies have launched a major investigation into Thursday’s shooting at Fort Hood in Texas. Military officials have identified an Army psychiatrist named Major Nidal Malik Hasan as the suspected shooter. Hasan was originally reported to have been shot dead, but officials now say he is hospitalized in stable condition.

Thirteen people were killed at the base, and another thirty people were wounded. Military officials have acknowledged that some of the dead may have been killed by friendly fire during a shootout after the gunman opened fire.

Lieutenant General Bob Cone, the base commander at Fort Hood, spoke to reporters last night.

    LT. GEN. ROBERT CONE: This has been a tragic incident, and our hearts and prayers go out to those who have been impacted here today. I’ve personally spoken with the President, and he has extended his condolences and offered his support to the Fort Hood and surrounding community.

    The investigation is ongoing, but preliminary reports indicate there was a single shooter that was shot multiple times at the scene. However, he was not killed, as previously reported. He is currently in custody and in stable condition. I say again: the shooter is not dead, but in custody and in stable condition.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The shooting has been described as the worst soldier-on-soldier mass killing on a US military base in the nation’s history. But it is the second such attack on a base in the past six months. In May, five US soldiers were shot dead at a combat stress clinic at Camp Liberty in Iraq. The military arrested Sergeant John Russell in that shooting afterwards. A report released last month faulted the Army for its handling of Russell, who had a mental breakdown in the weeks before the shootings.

The shooting on Thursday at Fort Hood occurred at the Soldier Readiness Center, where soldiers who are about to be deployed or who are returning undergo medical screening.

AMY GOODMAN: Some details have emerged about Major Nidal Hasan, the suspected shooter. He was born in Virginia, has been in the military since just after high school. For the past six years, Hasan has worked as a military psychiatrist, first at Walter Reed and then at Fort Hood. He went to Virginia Tech. He worked with soldiers who were returning from Iraq and Afghanistan dealing with the mental stress of combat. It’s been reported he was scheduled to soon deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

On Thursday, a relative, Nader Hasan, told news outlets his cousin had complained of being harassed for being a Muslim and had tried to leave the military.

We’re joined right now in Washington, DC by Qaseem Uqdah. two guests. He is the former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who heads the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the response to the shooting and your concerns, this catastrophe that took place at Fort Hood?

QASEEM UQDAH: Well, good morning. Thank you very much for having us on.

First of all, I would like to state that our hearts and our prayers go out to the family members and the victim, as well as the Fort Hood community, in this unfortunate tragic event that has occurred yesterday.

Some of our chief concerns are the potential backlash with respect to our soldiers, sailors and airmen that are within the armed forces, because this is an incident that was labeled as Muslim or Islam.

AMY GOODMAN: What kind of response have you gotten at your organization?

QASEEM UQDAH: Thus far, for the various bases that I’ve surveyed, there has not — there hasn’t been any incidents reported. In fact, down at Fort Bragg, for example, the command has reached out to the community, the Islamic community that’s stationed there. So it’s been a very favorable response. But that doesn’t negate what possibly could occur within the next several days and weeks and months.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, some of the press reports and interviews with the family members of Major Hasan, they have said that he had complained in the past about mistreatment or discrimination because he was a Muslim. Your sense of how Muslims who are in the United States military are faring these days?

QASEEM UQDAH: My sense is that, yes, there — this has been occurring. And what I really want to stress here is that it’s not just with Muslims. You could have incidents with gay soldiers or Christian soldiers, Jewish soldiers. These things do occur. And the military has resources and mechanism to address it.

With this incident, as far as him indicating that he had been harassed, my question would go out to what action did he take with respect to informing his command? The commanding officer, his commanding officer, was responsible for ensuring that that ceased. When we are involved with cases in which individuals have brought to our attention that they are being harassed, I would say overwhelmingly that the commanding officer would take immediate action to resolve it.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s quite stunning that this man is an Army psychiatrist, ironically, went to Virginia Tech, interestingly enough, was at Walter Reed dealing with — dealing with soldiers who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

We’re joined also on the telephone right now by Aaron Glantz, longtime Pacifica reporter who’s now a fellow, a Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism at the Carter Center. He is author of the book The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans.

Aaron, talk about the information we have so far, though it is sketchy and everything does seem to be changing as we speak right through from the beginning.

AARON GLANTZ: Well, you’re exactly right, Amy, that we have an Army psychiatrist who listened to many, many stories — [no audio]

AMY GOODMAN: Looks like we just lost him. Sorry, folks. We’ll try to get him right back on the phone.

Qaseem Uqdah, this man was a doctor treating these soldiers who were suffering himself. And I’m wondering, from your own experience — I mean, you’re a former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. Talk about your own experiences in the military.

QASEEM UQDAH: Well, if I may, before I mention my experience, I’d like to ensure that this incident is a — what has occurred here was a criminal act and to remove any correlation or connection between Islam. If this soldier was a Christian, we wouldn’t be saying that the Christian soldier or blaming Christianity.

Back to my experience within the Marine Corps, whenever I had a situation that I felt was a religious bias, I brought it to the immediate attention of my chaplain. When I served, there weren’t any Islamic chaplains on active duty. They were predominantly Jewish and Christian chaplains, and they were my advocates, as they are still our advocates today.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to play for you both an interview Major Hasan’s cousin, Nader Hasan, gave last night on Fox News. He was interviewed by Shepard Smith.

    NADER HASAN: And I want to make sure everybody understands, he is a good American, and we are shocked. We just found out on the news that he was being deployed. He never even told us, because we’ve known for the last five years that was probably his worst nightmare. He deals with stories. He would tell us how he would hear things, horrific things.

    But even before things from the war that was probably affecting him psychologically, he was dealing with some harassment in some of his — with some of his military colleagues and, you know, to the extent where he was — he hired a military attorney to try to have the issue resolved, pay back the government to get out of the military, if that was it. But he was at the end of — you know, trying everything to try to make everybody fair and reasonable and him get out of the situation. So I’m really — you know, I’m shocked, and I’m baffled. And if anybody wants to try to suggest it has something else to do with being afraid of wanting to go to war, that’s — that’s it.

    SHEPARD SMITH: And when was it that he became disenchanted with the idea of being in the military?

    NADER HASAN: You know, I don’t think he was ever disenchanted with being in the military. I think he loved, and he was the one, like I said, who insisted on going into the military, even against his parents’ wishes. It was the harassment that I think was getting — was what got to him, was him being referenced from his Middle Eastern ethnicity, even though he was born and raised here and went to high school here in northern Virginia in Roanoke, Virginia, and went to Virginia Tech and, you know, never been in trouble. You know, just normal, played sports and, you know, never got in any trouble.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nader Hasan, who is the cousin of the major who’s believed to have opened fire and killed a number of people at Fort Hood, injured many others.

Qaseem Uqdah, as you listen to that and hear his cousin, talk about harassment and how he was actually — according to his cousin, hired a lawyer to try to get out of the military.

QASEEM UQDAH: Yes, in hearing that he hired an attorney to separate himself from the military, that’s a separate issue. That would not give rise to what occurred. As I mentioned before, this was something — what he has done is a criminal act. He murdered people. He killed people. So that does not justify for his wanting to leave the service.

The harassment, in terms of that, that’s through command. When the investigation is concluded with respect to this, then that will come out. No matter what happens within the armed forces, there are mechanism and resources that are available for our service members to address any of their concerns, whether it’s religious harassment, gender harassment, whatever the case may be. And that’s something that we have to focus on here, as with removing any doubt on anyone’s mind that this is something that’s dealing with Islam. It’s not with Islam. This soldier committed a criminal act.

The harassment, yes, I have received numerous reports with respect to soldiers and various service members experiencing harassments at their commands. When I’ve gotten involved with this, the command works with me to resolve it. I have not experienced any situation. Most recent cases were in Great Lakes Naval Base, we had an incident. We had an incident with the Air Force, I want to say, in Georgia. But here, the command was extremely proactive with respect to resolving it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Aaron Glantz, we have you back on the phone now. What has been your experience in terms of those mechanisms functioning with soldiers within the military who have — who have problems in terms of their — the ability of their commands to address those?

AARON GLANTZ: Well, I think that there’s no question that the Army is incredibly stressed and at the breaking point, after six years of war in Iraq and eight years of war in Afghanistan. And one thing that we see again and again and that I think we’re going to see more and more of is distressing incidents, where people have served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, and then they turn to violence, more likely against themselves and then occasionally against others.

I wrote a story about a guy named Specialist John Fish, who was stationed at Fort Hood, who served a tour in Iraq and then was being deployed for a second tour to Afghanistan. And he complained after his first tour to Iraq that he was suicidal, that he was thinking of taking his own life, and his command didn’t believe him. And then when he was in training for the second tour, he walked out into the desert in New Mexico and shot himself in the head with a military-issued machine gun.

It’s difficult to put this incident that we see now in that type of box, though. It’s difficult because this major who committed the shooting spree at Fort Hood had not been deployed to the war. But I think that we can say that it’s yet another example of a violence that comes from the war that the Pentagon would rather not discuss openly, but will come to the surface as the war goes on and on.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron, I wanted to ask you about a shooting the New York Times had reported October 21st, 2009. An American soldier accused of killing five other service members in a base in Iraq in May had been behaving erratically for weeks, even threatening to commit suicide, but a lack of adequate guidelines on how to handle his case allowed it to get out of control. US military investigators said this in a report. And the Times went on to say the shootings took place at Camp Liberty combat stress clinic, where the soldier, Sergeant John M. Russell, was being counseled. Can you talk about that shooting?

AARON GLANTZ: Well, I mean, you may remember that Sergeant Russell was on — I don’t remember exactly how many tours now, but he had been in Yugoslavia and was on not his first tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, when he walked into this combat stress clinic in Baghdad in May and shot it up and killed many people inside the combat stress clinic.

We also need to look at incidents that happen stateside, when people involve themselves in altercations with local law enforcement and crack under post-traumatic stress disorder. We call this “suicide by cop.” We had a case in 2005 in California, Andres Raya, who walked up to a liquor store and tried to rob the liquor store for no apparent reason and ended up dying in a hail of bullets with local police. We saw that in Maryland, where James Dean, after serving a tour in the war in Afghanistan, was being mobilized again for another deployment and didn’t want to go and barricaded himself in his father’s farmhouse out in the countryside. And then the police laid siege and ultimately killed him with a sniper’s bullet.

What’s different, though, again, about all of these cases are these are all people who had been deployed, and Major Hasan had not been deployed. But it is possible that having been at Walter Reed and having heard all these stories and been an Army psychiatrist and then knowing that he was going to deploy, that all of that caused him to snap.

AMY GOODMAN: Aaron Glantz, we want to thank you for being with us, Rosalynn Carter Fellow for Mental Health Journalism at the Carter Center. His book is The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle Against America’s Veterans. And we want to thank, as well, Qaseem Uqdah, the former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who heads the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, speaking to us from Washington, DC.

When we come back from break, we’re going to go to Killeen, Texas. We’re going to go to Fort Hood and find out the reaction there. And then we’ll turn to healthcare, and we’ll be talking with a sort of Marlboro Man, the Marlboro Man of the healthcare industry. He was the face of Blue Cross Blue Shield. Now he’s criticizing his own industry. And then the famed actress, documentarian, playwright, Anna Deavere Smith, will join us live in our firehouse studio. Stay with us.

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