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Death on Base: The Fort Hood Massacre

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When Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan walked into the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center and opened fire on soldiers within, he perpetrated the worst mass shooting on a United States military base in our country's history. Death on Basei s an in-depth look at the events surrounding the tragic mass murder that took place on November 5, 2009, and an investigation into the causes and influences that factored into the attack.

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11 Chapters

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3. American Dream

ePub

Walter Reed Army Medical Center Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

~Edmund Burke

Nidal Malik Hasan was born to Palestinian immigrants in Arlington, Virginia, on September 8, 1970. Nidal's father, Malik Awadallah Hasan, emigrated to the United States in 1962 at age sixteen and his mother, Hanan Ismail (Nora), followed in 1963. The couple enjoyed a large close-knit extended family in Virginia and was very quickly indoctrinated in all things “American.”1

One year and two days after Nidal's birth, the Hasans welcomed Anas Malik to the family and settled into an apartment on Lancelot Lane in northwest Roanoke. Eleven years later the Hasans’ third son, Eyad Malik, was born. Nidal and Eyad adopted American names—Michael and Eddie.2

In an interview with ABC News, Nidal Hasan's cousin, Nader Hasan, maintained that he and his cousin experienced “a typical American upbringing in suburban Virginia, from birthday parties to playing sports to Santa at Christmas.” Nader Hasan characterized their childhoods as the “perfect American Dream, growing up, being American, being a kid,” and stated that neither of them spoke Arabic nor were they particularly religious.3

 

4. The Great Place

ePub

Photo by John Porterfield

A man is but the product of his thoughts—what he thinks, he becomes.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Nidal Hasan must have wondered if he had been transported into Dante's inferno when he arrived in Killeen, Texas, in July 2009. It was a blistering month with daytime high temperatures registering in the low 100's. The wide expanses of concrete freeways and parking lots coupled with a paucity of vegetation were reminiscent of an alien desert when compared to the verdant rolling hills and mild weather that he left behind in Maryland.

Like the Washington, D.C. area, Killeen and its bedroom communities are diverse in population and culture—the abundance of ethnic restaurants is a testament to the melting pot typical of a city where soldiers tend to stay put when they leave the military. But Killeen is not cosmopolitan in its politics, social mores, or in its cultural acceptance. Political affiliations flourish right of center—liberal ideologies are not tolerated, uniformity is celebrated, and individual differences are ostracized. This fundamental conservatism can be traced back to central Texas's early Christian heritage.

 

5. Rage against the Machine

ePub

Starz Strip Club in Killeen, Texas Photo by John Porterfield Photo by John Porterfield

I will do such things, What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be The terrors of the earth.
~King Lear, Act II, Scene IV

Nidal Hasan may not have been successful in finding a wife but he certainly demonstrated his appreciation of the female form when he visited the Killeen strip club, Starz, on the evenings of Thursday, October 29 and Friday, October 30. He had visited Starz before and he knew that he would not be able to buy alcoholic beverages there. He stopped at a convenience store on his way and bought a couple of six packs of Bud Lite—not for himself, but for the ten dancers who curled their bodies around floor-to-ceiling poles and performed nude. He also stopped at his bank and got a wad of five dollar bills. Hasan preferred to go to Starz because the people with whom he worked did not frequent this particular club.1

Starz is a non-descript, shabby strip joint located just down the street from the main gate at Fort Hood and next door to Guns Galore. It's smaller and noisier than most of the other clubs that dot the area around Fort Hood. Hasan pulled into the Starz parking lot at half past six, just thirty minutes after it opened, and handed manager Matthew Jones the fifteen dollar cover. He bought a bucket of ice to keep the beer cold and settled down alone at a rear table. As each girl finished her dance Hasan politely got up and walked to the stage, tipped her five dollars and handed her a beer. He took quite a liking to a blonde stripper named Paige. He asked her for a three-song nude lap dance in a private room and paid the fifty dollar charge without hesitation. He purchased a total of three lap dances during his two visits, two from Paige and one from another stripper.2

 

6. A Kick in the Gut

ePub

First responders use a table as a stretcher to transport a wounded soldier to an awaiting ambulance at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009. Photo by Sgt. Jason R. Krawczyk, III Corp, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Soldiers responded to the shooting as they had been trained to do in a combat zone—they jumped inside the line of fire and risked their own lives so that they could rescue their battle buddies felled by Nidal Hasan's bullets. They dragged and carried the wounded to sheltered areas and ripped their own clothing into makeshift tourniquets, bandages, and slings. They performed CPR and comforted the victims. Several of the rescuers were wounded or killed attempting to save the lives of their fellow soldiers. When the bullets stopped, they loaded up the injured survivors in their own cars and trucks and drove them the two miles to Carl R. Darnall Medical Center. One soldier grabbed a wounded friend, threw him over his shoulders in a fireman's carry, and ran almost two miles to the hospital, never once slowing down.1

 

7. Judgment Day

ePub

SRP Center was demolished in February 2014. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

 

 

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself.
~Richard P. Feynman

While Nidal Hasan lay paralyzed from the waist down in a hospital room at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, leadership teams from the DoD, the Army, Fort Hood, and the FBI retreated to their respective corners behind closed doors to assess the situation. They were in full damage control mode.

The Senate's Homeland Security Committee convened and ordered an investigation.

Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, called for a fact-finding probe into the events leading to the Fort Hood shooting and appointed two Defense officials, former Army Secretary Togo West and former Navy Chief Vernon Clark, to lead the study. Additionally, he instructed them to make recommendations on ways to prevent another attack in the future.

FBI Director, Robert Mueller, requested assistance from former CIA/FBI Director, Judge William Webster, in conducting an independent assessment of the FBI's strengths and weaknesses in dealing with situations like the Fort Hood shooting.

 

8. Ticking Time Bombs

ePub

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Department of Defense's only maximum security prison and where Nidal Hasan is currently on death row. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

By the work one knows the workman.
~Jean de La Fontaine

Over 14,000 people were murdered in the United States in 2013, a four percent decrease from 2012 and a fourteen percent decline from 2003.1 The incidence of mass murders also declined with twenty-four occurrences in the past decade, down from forty-three cases in the 1990s.2 Large-scale mass homicides such as the Fort Hood massacre are rare events that are sensationalized by the national print and broadcast media. Mass killings are so disconcerting and shocking that they become locked into our collective psyche, leading us to believe that there are many more of these events than there actually are. Because multiple homicides are increasingly committed with semi-automatic firearms with high-capacity magazines, there has been an increase in the total numbers of victims killed and injured.3

 

9. Playing with Fire

ePub

Excerpted from Inspire magazine

 

And inspire the believers to fight.
~Inspire magazine

It only takes a spark to ignite a combustible material and the silver-tongued preacher, Anwar al Awlaki, lit a fire inside a grieving Nidal Hasan. Five months after Awlaki captivated worshipers at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque with his eloquent sermons, cancer-ravaged Nora Hasan died. Perhaps sensing the darkness that would overcome her son, she made Nidal promise to find God. For Hasan, Awlaki's sermons opened a pathway to Allah.

Anwar al Awlaki was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in 1971. His father, Nasser, an agricultural economics student at New Mexico State University, came to the United States from Yemen on a student visa to work on a graduate degree. With his parents rooted in the conservative religious traditions of the nomadic Bedouin Awlak tribe of southern Yemen, young Anwar was more likely to hear stories of martyrs and the mujahideen than Dr. Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.1

 

10. One Nation's Terrorist is another Nation's Freedom Fighter

ePub

SWAT team members approach the Soldier Readiness Processing Center shortly after Nidal Hasan's attack. Photo by Sgt. Jason R. Krawczyk, III Corp, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

If crime fighters fight crime and firefighters fight fires, what do freedom fighters fight?
~George Carlin

There is no federal, standardized definition of terrorism. Prior to 1985, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) avoided using the terms terrorism and terrorist. Between 1985 and 2005 the council continued to refrain from a definition and, instead, labeled various acts as terrorist.

In 2005 the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (DPSRC) defined terrorism as “anyone who [is] sympathetic to, or a member of, a group that could be characterized as both disloyal and hostile toward the U.S. government.” The DPSRC included “main foreign (militant jihadists) and domestic groups (White Supremacists, White Nationalists, and domestic militias) whose past and recent actions and current ideologies render them particularly hostile and disloyal toward the U.S. government. The report cited “attempted or actual enlistment of disloyal and hostile persons.”2

 

11. Hide and Seek

ePub

Greg Ebert, an employee of Guns Galore in Killeen, thwarted a terrorist plot. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
~Benjamin Franklin

The death of Malik Hasan in 1998 initiated a string of unfortunate events beyond Nidal Hasan's control. His childhood home was hastily sold and within a few months his mother was diagnosed with cancer, dying just three months before 9/11. During this tumultuous time an embittered Hasan turned to Islam and seemingly found comfort in its teachings. His escalating hatred for the U.S. Army was not lost on his professors, classmates, and co-workers. But not one individual took him seriously enough to make certain that he never had an opportunity to act on his threats. Not one individual reported his behavior to a commander or to law enforcement. Hasan's enmity toward the military intensified and his inclination to commit violent acts was obvious to his classmates, co-workers, and superiors. When his commander, Col. Ben Phillips, handed him his deployment orders to Afghanistan, Hasan erupted in an angry burst of gunfire. Why didn't someone stop him?

 

12. The System

ePub

Photo by John Porterfield

 

Delay is preferable to error.
~Thomas Jefferson

Alex* opened his eyes and tried to squint away the brain fog that clouded his mind. He didn't know how long he had been out and he vaguely remembered being rolled into surgery. He tried to sit up but an IV in each arm kept him tethered to the narrow, hard bed. He surveyed his tiny room. It was barely larger than a jail cell with camo green walls and an irritating, flickering fluorescent light overhead. One wall didn't go all the way to the floor and he could hear the shuffling of footsteps and see several pairs of feet on the other side. There were moans and muffled conversation along with sounds of water splashing into a basin.

Despite all efforts to get rid of it, a small sore on Alex's right arm had begun spreading and eating away at his flesh. He was a surgical tech at Darnall Medical Center at Fort Hood and he assumed that he picked up his infection in the operating room. When the wound didn't respond to antibiotics, his doctor had him moved by ambulance to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he had surgery to clean out the infection. He would be on intravenous antibiotics for at least a week, maybe two, and would bear scars that would last a lifetime.

 

Epilogue

ePub

Casa Del Norte transformed. Photo by John Porterfield.

A nondescript apartment complex on the run-down side of Killeen has a fresh coat of paint and a new name—Las Palmas. The courtyard is lined on each side with new sidewalks and a narrow strip of grass interspersed with small palm trees. The management is the same and ‘Number Nine’, sans a paste-on number to match the other units, has served as home to several soldiers since November 5, 2009.1

The impact of Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage has faded into the public background but it remains as fresh and raw to the victims as it was on the day it occurred. The Soldier Readiness Processing Center and its memorial wall are gone, as is Hasan's beard.2 In the months after the conclusion of the trial, the Pentagon quietly released new regulations that relaxed the military's rules against beards, headgear, tattoos, and piercings for soldiers whose religious practices require them.3

In an unlikely alliance, Hasan's cousin, Nader Hasan, has teamed up with Kerry Cahill, daughter of slain civilian physician's assistant Michael Cahill, and through his Nawal Foundation they promote peace and understanding at interfaith conferences, schools, and community organizations.4

 

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