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Fort Hood shooter received glowing evaluations before attack

Published: Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013 8:00 a.m. CDT

HOUSTON — Months before the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009, the Army psychiatrist convicted Friday of killing 13 and wounding more than 30 was completing a fellowship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where military supervisors praised his unique interest in Islam’s effect on soldiers, according to documents provided to the Los Angeles Times.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s supervisors also had repeatedly recommended him for promotion, according to documents.

“He has a keen interest in Islamic culture and faith and has shown capacity to contribute to our psychological understanding of Islamic nationalism and how it may relate to events of national security and Army interest in the Middle East and Asia,” supervisors wrote in an evaluation report July 1, 2009.

Among Hasan’s “unique skills,” the report listed “Islamic studies” and “traumatic stress spectrum psychiatric disorders,” concluding that “Maj. Hasan has great potential as an Army officer.”

The officer evaluation report, and another from earlier that year, were provided to The Times by Hasan’s civil lawyer, John Galligan, who said he believes they are relevant to Hasan’s sentencing, which is set to begin Monday. He is eligible for the death penalty.

Hasan, 42, was convicted of 13 charges of premeditated murder in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting in Texas. The same jury of 13 officers that convicted him will determine his sentence. They must vote unanimously for a death sentence to be imposed. They are expected to take into account potential mitigating factors and weigh them against aggravating factors — in this case, the effect of multiple murders.

Galligan, a former military judge, said the reports could be used at Hasan’s sentencing to argue against a death sentence. But Hasan, who will be representing himself at sentencing as he did at trial, has yet to submit them as mitigating evidence.

Galligan said he is concerned the jury will have an incomplete account of Hasan’s service record and the role superiors played in promoting him.

The evaluation reports were filed while Hasan, an American-born Muslim, was earning a master’s in public health through a two-year fellowship in disaster and preventive psychiatry. A colleague of Hasan at Walter Reed testified that he pursued the fellowship in order to avoid deployment.

The other report, completed March 13, 2009, said Hasan had “outstanding moral integrity” and that he had selected a “challenging topic” for his master’s of public health project: “the impact of beliefs and culture on views regarding military service during the Global War on Terror.”

“His unique interests have captured the interest and attention of peers and mentors alike,” a supervisor wrote, adding that “Hasan maintains a balance between his work and personal life and is driven by a desire to learn about the impact of beliefs and behavior and functioning in the Army.”

Supervisors recommended Hasan for a position “that allows others to learn from his perspectives,” noting his “unique insights into the dimensions of Islam” including “moral reasoning” were “of great potential interest and strategic importance to the U.S. Army.”

Hasan also e-mailed supervisors days before the attack saying that soldiers had shared with him disturbing accounts of potential “war crimes,” according to the documents Galligan shared with The Times. The e-mail detailed incidents including troops allegedly contaminating the Iraqi water supply, medics killing an injured insurgent, and a soldier killing a female bystander.

An Army doctor testified that a month before the attack, Hasan told her that if the military forced him to deploy to the Middle East “they will pay.” He was later ordered to deploy to Afghanistan, and began plotting his attack.

Prosecutors argued during trial that Hasan was motivated by a “jihad duty” to kill soldiers. Hasan rarely challenged them, admitted to the shooting in his opening statement and argued that his religious beliefs led him to switch sides and attack fellow soldiers. He declined to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution, to call witnesses, testify, or submit much evidence — a stark contrast to the prosecution, which called nearly 90 witnesses and submitted more than 700 pieces of evidence

Prosecutors are expected to summon 19 witnesses at the sentencing hearing, including relatives of the dead and three of those wounded in the shooting.

Some victims are upset that Hasan has retained his rank and pay in jail, even as they struggled to get medical care. Others have sued the government to classify the attack as terrorism so that they can receive compensation and other benefits.

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