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Pentagon may launch review of policies after Fort Hood

Officials fear volatile soldiers are undetected

A funeral was held Monday in Wisconsin for Captain Russell Seager, who was killed in the Fort Hood shooting. A funeral was held Monday in Wisconsin for Captain Russell Seager, who was killed in the Fort Hood shooting. (Barry Adams/Wisconsin State Journal via Associated Press)
By Anne Gearan
Associated Press / November 18, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Worried that the Army may have missed red flags about the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood massacre, the Pentagon may launch an inquiry into how all the military services keep watch on other volatile soldiers hidden in their ranks, officials said yesterday.

The inquiry, still in the planning stages, would be a broad examination ranging beyond the specific case of Army psychiatrist Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan, officials said. The inquiry, they said, could look at personnel policies and the availability of mental health services for troubled troops.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants a unified inquiry that goes beyond the Army, but has not decided how far-reaching the inquiry would be or who would lead it, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. “There are issues that need to be looked at department-wide, and the focus at this point is trying to figure out some of these questions,’’ Morrell said.

The Army’s number two officer said yesterday officials fear more people like Hasan may be undetected inside the armed forces.

“I think we always have to be concerned about that,’’ said Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff general, as he outlined separate efforts to curb rising suicide rates in the Army. The service has been the combat force most affected by the stress of fighting two wars.

The Army has been preparing for its own examination of what went wrong in the Hasan case and ways to prevent a similar attack. That investigation could stand alone or be part of a larger inquiry.

Hasan apparently slipped through cracks in the Army’s personnel and mental health systems, keeping his job and readying for deployment to Afghanistan even though aspects of his behavior had alarmed co-workers and others.

Hasan, an Army major, is accused of killing 13 people when he opened fire Nov. 5 on mostly unarmed soldiers and civilians at the Texas base. He is charged with murder and is expected to be tried in a military court.

The Army chief of staff, General George Casey, had said the service would take a hard look at itself following the deaths.

Any inquiry would have to be careful not to overlap the criminal investigation and legal case against Hasan.

Chiarelli said the Army has begun collecting information that would go into the investigation. He would not discuss the investigation beyond that, but said the Army is trying to keep better tabs on mental health and improve services for the mentally ill or troubled.

The investigation would consider some questions Morrell described as immediate, although he would not be specific, and some he said will take longer to frame and sort through.

Another official said there will be a speedy look at whether the military has missed danger signs in other cases. Still, another said, one possibility would be to bring in outsiders to examine practices and safeguards. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still being organized.

Two military officials said yesterday 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 proposed Army probe would focus on Hasan’s six years at Washington’s Walter Reed Medical Center, 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 behavior months before the attack, a military official told the Associated Press last week.

Hasan also was characterized 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 authorized 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 Obama already has ordered a review of intelligence related to Hasan.