WASHINGTON — Army psychiatrists at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who supervised Maj. Nidal M. Hasan's work as a psychiatric fellow tried to turn his growing preoccupation with religion and war into something productive by ordering him to attend a university lecture series on Islam, the Middle East and terrorism, according to a Walter Reed staff member familiar with Hasan's medical training.
The psychiatric staff at Walter Reed did not discuss kicking him out of the service, according to the staff member. In fact, Hasan was initially considered a good medical school candidate because he had spent time as an enlisted soldier and had cared for his siblings after his parents died, both attributes that supervisors believed indicated he had a healthy work ethic.
An Army official also said that Hasan, who is suspected of killing 13 people last week at Fort Hood, Texas, did not formally seek to leave the military as a conscientious objector or for any other reason. It is unclear whether Hasan, whose aunt has said he sought to leave the military, made informal efforts to leave through contacts with his immediate superiors, and if so how his chain of command at lower levels might have responded to such efforts.
Any formal request by Hasan to separate early would have been submitted to the Department of the Army, according to the official, who saw Hasan's file before it was recently sealed by Army investigators. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
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The idea that Hasan attend the lectures, which he did late last year or early this year, came up during discussions among the psychiatric staffs of the hospital and the Army's medical university over what was perceived as Hasan's lack of productivity and his constant interest in Muslims whose religious beliefs conflicted with their military duties.
During those discussions, psychiatrists commented in passing about whether Hasan could be delusional or hurt fellow soldiers, but did not think he was actually dangerous and never took steps to either have him evaluated for mental fitness or as a security threat. On the contrary, his demeanor was regarded as gentle and polite, and he often responded to inquiries about his well-being by saying, "I'm doing well, thank God."
Hasan came to the attention of two Joint Terrorism Task Forces in December 2008, as he corresponded by e-mail with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and Islamic spiritual leader residing in Yemen who has exhorted followers to pursue violent jihad, or holy war. A Defense Department analyst on the task force concluded that the chatter was innocent and in keeping with Hasan's research interests, two government officials said this week.
In 2007, addressing other physicians at Walter Reed, Hasan said that to avoid "adverse events" the military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors instead of fighting in wars against other Muslims. At the time of the shooting, Hasan was about to be deployed to Afghanistan, officials have said.