The Strange Case of Dr. Hasan

Rich Galen
By Rich Galen | November 13, 2009 | 4:51 AM EST

The other night I interviewed a military doctor who was actually in school with Nidal Hasan. My doc is an M.D., but his specialty is outside the mental health area.
The military runs a highly regarded medical school, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences -- USU for short, which is located in Bethesda, Maryland. Hasan was a graduate of USU and chose to specialize in psychiatry.
According to an NPR piece by Daniel Zwerdling: “Hasan spent six years as a psychiatrist at Walter Reed, beginning in 2003, and he had a fellowship at USUHS until shortly before he went to Fort Hood in the summer of 2009.”
It was as a student during that fellowship (which led to a Master's Degree in Public Health) that the doctor I spoke with met Hasan.
First of all, Hasan didn't fit the profile of the typical student. According to my Doc, "Usually you're admitted to the program after you've been in practice for a while. But, Hasan went there right after his residency."
Perhaps his work at Walter Reed was so bad, and his behavior so odd, that the Army decided he was safer in a classroom than treating patients.
My Doc echoed what others in that program were quoted by CNN as saying -- that Hasan "wore his religious views on his sleeve."
In one particular exercise (again matching the reports in the CNN piece), students were supposed to do a presentation on water supply issues and public health. According to my Doc, Hasan used his presentation to claim that "people in the Gaza strip were justified in becoming suicide bombers."
In other discussions, Hasan said he believed that "The Koran trumped the U.S. Constitution and that his true allegiance was to Koran. Not only was that not appropriate in an academic setting," said my Doc, "but it was totally unacceptable for a uniformed officer, much less for a mental health professional."
My Doc said that "A number of us raised it with the head of the program but no one did anything."
We know now that people - including his superiors - knew about his behavior and proselytizing before he came into that program. According to CNN, he was “reprimanded for telling at least one patient that 'Islam can save your soul.'”
But, my Doc told me, "Institutional inertia kept him in. It was too hard to drill into what should or could be done. A lot of it was political correctness, some of it was merely being careful not to be caught up in a situation where, if he filed a complaint, you were going to found to be the bad guy."
My Doc also pointed out that "there is a shortage of mental health professionals in the military, so they were disinclined to toss him."
This is the oath that all military officers must take upon receiving their commission and traditionally reaffirm upon receiving a promotion:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
The phrase "So help me God" is not required. Nevertheless, there is no clause in his oath of office with which Hasan agreed, or by which he intended to be bound.
I asked my Doc about Hasan having been promoted to Major. A reader had e-mailed me to say that graduating from medical school got you Captain's bars, and becoming board certified was an automatic promotion to Major.
My Doc said, "You don't have to be board certified to make O-4 (Major). Having a pulse is qualification for Major" in the medical corps.
Which is why I've liked and trusted my Doc since we first met in a war zone six years ago this week.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the NPR and CNN pieces, also to the website of the Uniformed Services University. Also another license plate Mullfoto - one on which we will all agree - and a Catchy Caption of the Day.