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Published: Thursday, 11/12/2009

Fort Hood rampage 'an act of terror,' McCain says


LOUISVILLE - Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican and former presidential candidate, called last week's shooting at Fort Hood "an act of terror" in a speech at the University of Louisville yesterday.

He called for swift disclosure of questionable behavior at military bases. Twelve soldiers and one civilian were killed in a shooting rampage at the Texas base last week, and the suspect, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was shot and wounded.

"This may sound a little harsh, but I think we ought to make sure that political correctness never impedes national security," Mr. McCain said at the University of Louisville, where he was speaking at an event honoring U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). "There were signs this individual had some very disturbing behavior patterns that should have been alerted to the proper authorities."

Meanwhile, it was revealed that a group of doctors overseeing Major Hasan's medical training discussed concerns about his overly zealous religious views and strange behavior months before he was accused of the rampage, which left 29 wounded.

Doctors and staff overseeing Major Hasan's training viewed him at times as belligerent, defensive, and argumentative in his discussions of his Muslim faith, a military official familiar with group discussions about Major Hasan said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Major Hasan, 39, was characterized in meetings as a mediocre student and lazy worker, concerning doctors and staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, a military medical school in Bethesda, Md., the official said. The concerns about his performance and religious views were shared with other military officials after he finished his training, and the consensus was to send the psychiatrist to Fort Hood, the official said.

Fort Hood, one of the country's largest military installations, was considered the best assignment for Major Hasan because other doctors could take on the workload if he continued to perform poorly and his superiors could document any continued behavior problems, the official said.

The group saw no evidence Major Hasan was violent or a threat. It was more that he repeatedly referred to his strong religious views in discussions with classmates, his superiors, and even in his research work, the official said. His behavior, while at times perceived as intense and combative, was not unlike the zeal of others with strong religious views. But some doctors and staff were concerned that their unfamiliarity with the Muslim faith would lead them to unfairly single out Major Hasan's behavior, the official said.

Sharon Willis, a spokesman for the Uniformed Services University, referred questions about Major Hasan to his lawyer. The attorney, John Galligan of Belton, Texas, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The revelations about the concerns that Major Hasan's superiors had before sending him to Fort Hood were made amid a growing debate over what warning signs the military and law enforcement officials might have missed before last week's massacre.

A joint terrorism task force overseen by the FBI learned late last year of Major Hasan's repeated contact with a radical Muslim cleric who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. A law enforcement official said yesterday that the task force did not refer early information about Major Hasan to superiors because it found he wasn't tied to terrorism.

The concerned doctors and staff had several group conversations about him that started in early 2008, during regular monthly meetings, and ended as he was finishing a fellowship in disaster and preventive psychology this summer, the official said.

They saw no signs of mental problems, no risk factors that would predict violent acts. And the group discussed other factors that suggested Major Hasan would thrive in the military, factors that eased their concerns, the official said.

According to the official, records reviewed by Major Hasan's superiors described nearly 20 years of military service, including nearly eight years as an enlisted soldier; completion of three rigorous medical school programs, albeit as a student the group characterized as mediocre; his resilience after the deaths of his parents early in his medical education, and an otherwise gentle nature when not discussing religion.

The Army has said it has no record of enlisted service for Major Hasan, instead noting that his military service began when he started the medical school program in 1997.

The official said the group became more concerned about Major Hasan's religious views after he finished two research projects that took a decidedly religious tone - one at the end of his residency at Walter Reed that advocated allowing Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors instead of fighting other Muslims, and the other as he pursued his master's degree in public health that discussed religious conflicts for Muslim U.S. soldiers.

Some questioned Major Hasan's sympathies as an Army psychiatrist, whether he would be more aligned with Muslims fighting U.S. troops. And there was concern about whether he should stay in the military, the official said.

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