Fort Hood attack: Did Army ignore red flags out of political correctness?

A Senate report on the Fort Hood attack suggests that the Army failed to heed warnings about the prime suspect because it was wary of singling out a devout Muslim.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Fort Hood attack: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman accompanied by the committee's ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, to discuss a Senate report on the Fort Hood shooting.

The Defense Department and the FBI should have recognized that Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan had become an adherent of “violent Islamist extremism” before he went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people, two US senators said Thursday in a special report.

The attack on Nov. 5, 2009, in which another 32 people were wounded, is considered by some the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11.

According to the report by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the committee’s top Republican, some Army officials had raised concerns about Major Hasan’s extremist behavior at Fort Hood and even referred to him as “a ticking time bomb.”

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

A cursory FBI investigation followed, but between poor coordination with the Defense Department and a failure to use all the intelligence available, nothing was done, according to the report.

The report provides insight into a larger problem, says Matthew Levitt, a former FBI counterterrorism specialist: the US government has been uncomfortable identifying and dealing with radical ideology for fear of infringing on people’s freedoms and making the political gaffe of racial profiling.

The Senate committee’s report calls for updated military training to identify signs of violent Islamist extremism and policies to ensure it is not tolerated, a change that would allow Army officials to root out Muslim extremists without being subject to accusations of racial profiling – a concern that may have prevented officials at Fort Hood from intervening when Hasan first showed signs of extremism.

The report said the government lacks policies that distinguish between a devout yet peaceful practice of Islam and violent radicalization.

That problem, which was evident in the Fort Hood tragedy, exists largely because First Amendment rights often prevent the government from thwarting radical behavior, says Mr. Levitt, now director of counterterrorism and intelligence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“We can’t always be reactive,” says Levitt, “We don’t need to sit back and allow people who have been radicalized to have free range. You can’t be so politically correct that you can’t call a spade a spade.”

The concern now is that other Muslims in the military will suffer the backlash of new military policies aimed at Islamic ideology.

Although he isn’t aware that there had been a backlash so far, “there is always a danger of overreaction,” says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.

New military policies borne out of the Fort Hood shooting should not be restrictive to radical Islam ideology but should address all erratic behavior, says Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of Foundation for Defense for Democracies, a nonpartisan think-tank that formulates counterterrorism policies.

It is a dangerously fine line, however, between focusing resources and tailoring national security policies to address the greatest threat on the one hand, and racial profiling on the other, some experts say.

“It’s this constant high-wire act that the US government continues to struggle with,” Mr. Schanzer says, providing security without “ostracizing the Muslims that may be patriotic Americans.”

IN PICTURES: American Jihadis

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