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The investigation following the Fort Hood shootings is a step in the right direction: the intention, plainly, is to give the concept of command accountability some teeth. Five to eight Army officers, some as highly ranked as colonel, are expected to face disciplinary action for mishandling the threat posed by Hasan, according to the Los Angeles Times.
There was no such study done in the aftermath of Green's crimes, just a routine Army investigation known as an AR 15-6, which was completed by a single lieutenant colonel in five days. Nor, for that matter, was anything other than a 15-6 ordered after Sergeant John Russell killed five fellow soldiers at a combat-stress center on an Army base in Baghdad in May 2009. Inevitably, this raises questions of whether a double standard is at play. Is the Army serious about accountability only when a soldier murders other soldiers on U.S. soil and the shooter is an Islamist? There were no disciplinary repercussions for those in Green's chain of command above the rank of captain. Green's platoon leader (a lieutenant) and company commander (a captain) were indeed removed from their positions in the late summer of 2006. But those dismissals had as much to do with a nearly contemporaneous but unrelated event in which three of Green's platoon mates were abducted and killed by insurgents as they did with the rape and murders.
In a more fundamental sense, however, the Fort Hood report, which was released on Jan. 13, is a baffling exercise. Its very name Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood signals its odd premise. Rather than seeking ways to identify and root out potentially homicidal military personnel, the study's aim is, in its own words, to determine "how best to defend against threats posed by external influences operating on members of our military community." That seems, at best, a misplaced priority. One of the people Hasan murdered and several he wounded were not members of the military at all, but civilians. Instead of looking for ways to protect innocent individuals whether they be Americans, Iraqis or any other nationality from irrational and dangerous soldiers, the study's stated goal is to find ways to protect soldiers from irrational and dangerous elements in society.
The military spends an extraordinary amount of time on improving what it calls "force protection" from outside threats. The Fort Hood inquiry is of a piece with that mind-set. Instead of exploring how to safeguard the mental health of service members, the inquiry demonstrates that the military has still not come to terms with the core issue: how best to prevent a troubled soldier from becoming an unlawful killer. Until it does that, any steps recommended to prevent another Nidal Malik Hasan or another Steven Green will be half measures at best.
Adapted from Frederick's book Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death