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A question re Hasan and Awlaki

[ by Charles Cameron — revisiting the question of Maj. Nidal Hasan ]

... above: Daveed's tweet today, Awlaki's email from Intelwire


I was struck by one curious aspect to the question of what Maj. Nidal Hasan was up to at what point in his trajectory: the fact that as a psychiatrist, he was dealing with soldier patients returning from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan who had doubts as to the religious legitimacy of killing fellow-Muslims in those wars.

On the face of it, that’s a topic a psychiatrist who didn’t feel himself expert in his religion (“am a novice at this and would like reassurance“) might wish to consult with clergy about, and the fact that “clergy” in this case was al-Awlaki shouldn’t be read back into the situation as confirming jihadist intent on Hasan’s part – Awlaki had been the imam of a Falls Church mosque where, according to one AP report:

Opinions varied on what kind of preacher al-Awlaki was when he served in Virginia. Most said they did not find him to be overtly political or radical.

As another report mentioned:

“Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the [investigators] concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning,” the FBI said in a statement issued days after the Ft. Hood shooting.


I mentioned this issue of Hasan’s (potentially) legitimate professional concern for his patients in my commentary on Hasan’s slide show in Small Wars Journal, but I haven’t been following news reports closely and have no access in any case to what’s known in restricted intel circles — so my issue may already have been addressed with clarity somewhere “open source”, in which case I’d welcome a pointer or pointers, and closure.

In the meantime, I do feel a little like someone going for a rollercoaster ride on a Moebius strip: as I read it, the same evidence that reads prospectively as suggesting a concern to be able to counsel patients in distress reads retrospectively as suggesting the conflict is in Hasan’s own mind – and that he has in effect already resolved it and is turning to Awlaki as someone he is sure will confirm his intent.

I understand that many of Hasan’s colleagues were dismayed at the time of his slide-point lecture and discussed their concerns that he was an extremist – but then there are not a few who imagine Huma Abedin is a closet Sayyid Qutb on far more slender grounds. Hasan was clearly discussing a potential clash between Islamic and military duties, and his final slide was undoubtedly phrased to be provocative – but I still don’t know what his comments on it were, and how much different members of his audience may have read into it.

It still seems plausible to me that the way Hasan’s mind turned involved three separable “colorations” of a developing line of thought, the first of them benign, the last fatal – from a concern with his patients, via a concern regarding his own position as a Muslim and a soldier, to his identification with Awlaki’s position and decision to take action resulting in the Ft Hood massacre.

And as you know, mapping, gaming or simulating mental processes at the level of thoughts, persuasions and decisions is a matter of keen interest to me.


My question — for Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, JM Berger and others who have a better sense of the timeline and documentation that I – is whether this remains a plausible understanding, or whether it has long been conclusively disproven by more recently available evidence.

3 Responses to “A question re Hasan and Awlaki”

  1. Nidal Hasan’s “Fairly Benign” Correspondence with Anwar al Awlaki » Gunpowder & Lead Says:

    […] nature of the exchange are so implausible. The entry is in part inspired by Charles Cameron’s inquiry into the exchange. On his blog, Cameron looks into the first of Hasan’s emails to Awlaki, and […]

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    I very much appreciate Daveed and Lauren’s response to this post, and hope to comment further on it when time allows.  In the meantime, may I highly recommend their post to your attention.

  3. Charles Cameron Says:

    JM Berger at Intelwire has now posted his response to the post above: The Content and Context of Awlaki’s E-mails with Fort Hood Shooter — and  Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has updated his post with some new material. 
    I hope to respond.

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