Troubling details on life and mindset emerging

By Brett J. Blackledge

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 6 2009 1:41 p.m. MST

WASHINGTON — He was by turns caring and contentious, a man quick to say "I am blessed" in casual greeting yet one who seemed to stew in discontent that he could not always keep to himself.

Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, suspect in the assault that killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and hurt 30, salved the emotional wounds of troops returning from war even as he objected to his own looming deployment to Afghanistan, where he was to counsel soldiers suffering from stress.

But Hasan argued with fellow soldiers who supported U.S. war policy, say those who know him professionally and personally. He was a counselor who once required counseling for himself because of trouble he had dealing with some patients, said a former boss.

Authorities on Friday seized Hasan's home computer, searched his apartment and took away a Dumpster as the 39-year-old Army major lay in a coma in the hospital, attached to a ventilator.

There are many unknowns about the man authorities say is responsible for the worst mass killing on a U.S. military base.

Most of all, his motive.

For six years before reporting for duty at Fort Hood, in July, Hasan worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center pursuing his career in psychiatry, as an intern, a resident and, last year, a fellow in disaster and preventive psychiatry. He received his medical degree from the military's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., in 2001.

While an intern at Walter Reed, Hasan had some "difficulties" that required counseling and extra supervision, said Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time.

Grieger said privacy laws prevented him from going into details but noted that the problems had to do with Hasan's interactions with patients. He recalled Hasan as a "mostly very quiet" person who never spoke ill of the military or his country.

"He swore an oath of loyalty to the military," Grieger said. "I didn't hear anything contrary to those oaths."

But, more recently, federal agents grew suspicious.

At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.

They had not confirmed Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

Federal authorities seized Hasan's computer Friday during a search of his apartment in Killeen, Texas, said a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

His anger was noted by a classmate, who said Hasan "viewed the war against terror" as a "war against Islam."

Dr. Val Finnell, a classmate of Hasan's at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, attended a master's in public health program in 2007-2008. Finnell says he got to know Hasan because the group of public health students took an environmental health class together. At the end of the class, everyone had to give a presentation. Classmates wrote on topics such as dry cleaning chemicals and mold in homes, but Finnell said Hasan chose the war against terror. Finnell described Hasan as a "vociferous opponent" of the terror war. Finnell said Hasan told classmates he was "a Muslim first and an American second."

Hasan recently was involved in a spat with another Fort Hood soldier residing in his apartment complex, apparently related to his Muslim beliefs.

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