Military officials investigating failures in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings may recommend that individuals be held accountable for failing to perform their duties.
Such a move would be notable for a military grappling with how to prevent another tragedy when the perpetrator is one of its own, as in the case of alleged Fort Hood shooter Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Such disciplinary action could create a new expectation that all service members must learn to be more vigilant.
The two retired military officials leading the Pentagon's review of the shootings visited Fort Hood Tuesday and vowed to identify "programs, policies or procedural weaknesses" within the Defense Department that may have allowed the shooting to happen. The investigators emphasized that they were not looking to pin the blame on someone.
But if the review finds that individuals were derelict in their duty, those individuals could be recommended for disciplinary action, according to another military official. "It's pretty clear that one of the expectations is to do just that," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"If they saw something that a responsible person would say, 'hey, this is not right, this is not consistent with the values of military service,' then I think they do have an obligation to either confront the individual, which may or may not have happened, or to highlight that to supervisory personnel, which may or may not have happened," the official said.
The Fort Hood shootings earlier this month took the lives of 13 service members and injured 29 more. Hasan, who is reportedly paralyzed chest down after being shot by police officers, has been charged on 13 counts of murder.
"It is not a purpose of ours to point fingers," said Togo West Jr., a former Secretary of the Army who is conducting the investigation along with former Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark, during a press briefing at Fort Hood Tuesday. "We are simply here to accumulate information and offer our best judgments for the secretary of defense."
West and Clark's investigation is one of several, including two others ordered up by Congress and the White House respectively.
An Army psychiatrist who counseled service members with post traumatic stress syndrome, Hasan had signaled that he did not want to deploy to a war zone. Earlier in his career at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he had made a presentation on Muslims in the military that may have raised questions about his world view and his fitness for US military duty.
Hasan was also in touch with a radical cleric in Yemen by e-mail.
In hindsight, these circumstances seem like clear warning signs, say experts, as well as officials close to the investigation, but it's possible that in isolation, those incidents may not have rung not ring the right bells. The Pentagon investigation will be to look at why links weren't made.
A National Public Radio report Wednesday indicated that the Army maintained separate files on Hasan – a personnel file containing routine information on him and what's known as a "training file," where Army officials had documented some of the more troubling reports about his performance.
The FBI, in investigating Hasan for his links to the cleric, possibly did not get the right file, the report suggested. That could have hindered authorities from making the connections to help them understand the nature of the threat posed by Hasan.
In announcing the Pentagon review last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has gained a reputation for demanding accountability and firing those who perform poorly, said the Army will determine if anyone failed to act properly.
"[I]f there are questions of accountability, that the Army would address those internally," he said.
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