August 7, 2013

Is This the Face of a Peaceful Warrior?

“And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands and we say to him, “use it well, use it wisely.” We put no checks on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it because it is a violation of your early training.”

~ John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I opened my newspaper this morning and saw prominently displayed a most haunting image Maj. Nidal Hasan—an Army psychiatrist who shot and killed 13 and wounded more than 30 of his comrades in the 2009 Ft. Hood massacre.

Hasan, who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan just prior to this horrific massacre, opened fire in the very same processing center where other soldiers were preparing to ship out for Afghanistan and Iraq. His targets included the very same young men and women who so honorably swore an oath to protect him, and the rights of all Americans.

When I first heard news of this most tragic incident, I was, as most Americans, horrified.

But, on a much deeper level, and as a former soldier, I was completely devastated.

Hassan claims that the evidence will show that he is most certainly the shooter. He also claims that the evidence presented in his ongoing military court martial hearing will show only one viewpoint—that of a man who simply ‘switched sides.’

But, there is still another side to be heard in this case—and one that can only be understood by the heart of another soldier.

Hasan was a highly trained army psychiatrist, specializing in the identification and treatment of mental illness—specifically, that inherent to combat environments. And yet, this highly trained army psychiatrist is responsible for the worst shooting ever to take place on a military installation.

As an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, he was entrusted with the care and safety of all soldiers within his command. And yet, just weeks prior to the massacre, this officer entered the Guns Galore store in Killeen, TX where, according to eyewitnesses, he proceeded to ask for, “the most technologically advanced weapon on the market and the one with the highest standard magazine capacity.”

As a soldier, he raised his hand freely, without any ‘mental reservation or purpose,’ to swear an oath of protection against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.  And yet, on November 5, 2009, Hasan entered the Ft. Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center, affixed two laser sites to his FN Five-seven pistol and opened fire on his fellow comrades.

As a conscientious objector to the role of U.S. Armed Forces in Middle Eastern affairs, he claims to be a warrior of peace. And yet, today Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

And though I am all too familiar with the impacts of combat stress and know fully the ramifications through the lives of even the most disciplined of soldiers—my mind can not escape the saddest irony in this most tragic event.

You see, Maj. Nidal Hasan wasn’t going overseas to fight, rather, he was going over to help alleviate the mental suffering of his army brothers—those currently held hostage by PTSD’s unrelenting grip.

In a brief opening statement at the beginning of these court proceedings, Hasan said,

“Evidence will show I was on the wrong side of America‘s war and I later switched sides. We in the mujahideen are imperfect beings trying to establish a perfect religion. I apologize for any mistakes I have made in this endeavor.”

In reading this, I am reminded of Judge William Young’s most poignant response to the now infamous ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Ried, and in response to a similar opening statement:

“We are not afraid of you or any of your terrorist co-conspirators. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is too much war talk here and I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, we deal with individuals as individuals and care for individuals as individuals. As human beings, we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You’re a big fellow. But you’re not that big. You’re no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.”

But perhaps, that is yet another ‘side’ of a much needed discussion?

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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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