Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Five questions on the Army and the Fort Hood shooter

OK. I’ve had a few days to think about this and read the reporting. Here is what I would like to know. I hope some staff member on the Armed Services Committee is keeping a file of such questions: 1. The shooter obviously was a low performer. Why was he shuffled along through the system, ...

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577363_091106_halfmast25.jpg

OK. I've had a few days to think about this and read the reporting. Here is what I would like to know. I hope some staff member on the Armed Services Committee is keeping a file of such questions:

1. The shooter obviously was a low performer. Why was he shuffled along through the system, instead of simply being let go? I worry that the military often keeps the bottom 5 percent of performers simply because it is easier than getting rid of them.

OK. I’ve had a few days to think about this and read the reporting. Here is what I would like to know. I hope some staff member on the Armed Services Committee is keeping a file of such questions:

1. The shooter obviously was a low performer. Why was he shuffled along through the system, instead of simply being let go? I worry that the military often keeps the bottom 5 percent of performers simply because it is easier than getting rid of them.

2. Was he not let go for fear of appearing prejudiced? If so, someone is guilty of moral cowardice, of failing to do the hard right thing instead of the easy wrong.

3. If, as reported, he tended to rant instead of practicing medicine, keeping him on a disservice to the wounded soldiers he counseled. What was his record of treatment, compared to other therapists? Did soldiers complain about him? This should all be reachable information.

4. Did Walter Reed have such a file of complaints about him? If so, was Fort Hood made aware of this when he was transferred? Or was this a classic case of dumping a difficult soldier on another command, in this case with catastrophic results?

5. There appear to have been a number of warning signs. Obviously, it is easy in retrospect to see them. But is there anything that can be done differently? General Casey, the Army chief of staff, said over the weekend that he is worried about a “backlash” against Muslim troops. I think the best way to prevent such an overreaction would be to re-assure soldiers that the Army is uncovering and dismissing Muslim soldiers who veer into extremism. 

Forgive me if this seems painfully obvious. I am trying to be careful here.

Will Palmer/Flickr

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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