US Military Ability to Find Militancy in Ranks Questioned
US Military Ability to Find Militancy in Ranks Questioned

The U.S. military says it has regulations in place that enabled commanders to take action if they believed the accused gunman in this month's Ft. Hood shootings was developing militant views.  But at least one prominent former senior officer says current guidance to commanders is not sufficient.

Among the many questions being asked about the path that allegedly led Major Nidal Malik Hasan to kill 12 fellow-soldiers and one civilian, and wound 40 other people, are concerns about what military and civilian officials knew about his political leanings and what they did, or did not, do with that knowledge.  The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, spoke about it at a news conference on Thursday. "As leaders become aware of something like this over time, my expectation is that that gets surfaced in the chain of command," he said.

That apparently did not happen in the case of Major Hasan, a Muslim who, according to news reports, became radicalized over a period of years through Internet websites and email exchanges with a militant imam.  Hasan's most public expression of his political views, reported so far, was a presentation he gave at a conference in which he said it is risky for the United States to ask Muslim soldiers to fight in wars against Muslim enemies.  He said military Muslims could become radicalized and turn against the United States.

Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said there is a defense department directive that empowers commanders to deal with such situations. "In there it says, 'Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that espouse supremacist causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.'"

But that regulation and a subsequent pamphlet published for commanders were written with racial discrimination in mind, and the former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, retired General Jack Keane, told a Senate committee Thursday they are not adequate. "I suspect strongly that after we conduct these investigations, we will find that our policies will need revision again to account for the specific behaviors and attitudes as expressed by radical Islamists or jihadist extremists," he said.

General Keane says commanders need specific guidance to help them recognize signs of Islamic militancy in the ranks, and instructions on how to deal with it through administrative and legal channels.  But he was also quick to say it is not a matter of targeting all of the several thousand Muslims in the U.S. military.  "We are a society that espouses tolerance and values diversity, and our military reflects those values.  But at the same time, we must know what a threat looks like and we must know what to do about it," he said.

The communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, agrees. "It should be pretty clear to anyone when somebody espouses extremist views, whether it's in terms of politics or religion.  And those kinds of reports should be able to go up the chain of command to be dealt with appropriately," he said.

But Hooper said in any revised regulations the Army must avoid creating any type of "witch hunt" mentality aimed at Muslims. "I'd hate to see an instance where somebody requests the right to wear a beard or requests the right to pray on base or wears Islamic attire off base, and suddenly they get labeled as an extremist," he said.

Hooper said the military must be clear about what constitutes radical or threatening behavior.

Some observers have speculated that officers may have been reluctant to respond to Major Hasan's apparent militancy, fearing they would be violating his constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  The Pentagon Spokesman, Bryan Whitman, says the adequacy of current regulations and procedures will be part of the extensive review Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered on Thursday.  But he says proper enforcement of regulations, including both disciplining bad behavior and protecting soldiers' rights, depends on commanders, as it says in the current directive.

"The proper balancing of these interests will depend largely upon the calm and prudent judgment of the responsible commander.  And it is a balance, a balance between making sure service members have the right of expression, and that that should be preserved, consistent with good order and discipline.  But there are certain activities that the military finds to be inappropriate, and prohibits," said Whitman.

The preliminary report from the Pentagon's review of its policies and procedures is due in early January, with a more extensive report expected several months later.