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A Search for Answers Following Fort Hood Attack

November 5, 2009 at 6:03 PM EDT
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At least 12 people were killed and 31 wounded when a gunman opened fire at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas. Jeffrey Brown reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Twelve people were shot dead and 31 were wounded today at the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, the largest military installation in the world.

The gunman was killed, and two other suspects were captured. The army said all were U.S. soldiers. Various reports identified the gunman as Army Major Malik Nadal Hasan.

Jeffrey Brown has our lead story report.

JEFFREY BROWN: The shooting began about 1:30 p.m. Central time at a personnel and medical processing center at Fort Hood, home to 65,000 troops, halfway between Austin and Waco. At the time, a graduation ceremony for soldiers finishing college courses was taking place in an auditorium at the same center.

Lieutenant General Bob Cone is the commanding general at Fort Hood.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BOB CONE: It’s a terrible tragedy. It’s stunning. And, as I say, as I have gone around to hospital here, as I have been at the scene, soldiers and family members and many of the great civilians that work here are absolutely devastated.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington, President Obama spoke a short time later.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we do know is that a number of American soldiers have been killed, and even more have been wounded in a horrific outburst of violence.

My immediate thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and with the families of the fallen and with those who live and serve at Fort Hood.

These are men and women who have made the selfless and courageous decision to risk and at times give their lives to protect the rest of us on a daily basis.

It’s difficult enough when we lose these brave Americans in battles overseas.

It is horrifying that they should come under fire at an army base on American soil.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thousands of troops from Fort Hood have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and emotions among family members ran high today.

WOMAN: I was first in tears and panicking when I was in the car. And now that I’m here — and, of course, I can actually see the school from here, so that makes me feel a little bit better. But I’m not leaving until they tell me I can get him.

So, I — it’s just one of these — my husband — that’s my husband texting me right now from Iraq. So, the guys over there just found out what’s going on. It’s just — we have a lot to deal with. And this is just one more thing.

JEFFREY BROWN: We’re joined now by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas. She’s a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Hutchison, reports so far are that the victims were military personnel, except perhaps one local policeman. Can you tell us more?

Shooter 'disturbed' by deployment

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
R-Texas
That is what I, too, have heard, that he is a -- a psychiatrist who was on his way to Iraq, and apparently was very disturbed about it.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON, R-Texas: I don't know that -- if there were civilians or a local policeman, but I know that there were 11 killed, and the shooter was killed as well by military policemen.

And then there were over 30 wounded who are being treated there on the base and then in some of the neighborhood hospitals.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the Associated Press is giving a name of the suspected shooter, a Major Malik Nadal Hasan.

Do you -- can you tell us any more? What have you heard?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Yes. If -- if it is out there, that is what I, too, have heard, that he is a -- a psychiatrist who was on his way to Iraq, and apparently was very disturbed about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have -- I mean, have you heard that, that he was disturbed, in terms of a motive?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I have heard that, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: There are two other suspects that are being held. What is known about them?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I don't know, Jeff, yet about them. It has not been confirmed to me -- and I did talk to General Cone shortly -- just a few minutes ago -- whether they are both actual participants in this terrible thing, or if it was only one of them.

They are questioning them, and that has not been confirmed to me, whether both of them were part of a plot. The fact that there were 11 killed and over 30 wounded would indicate, likely, that there was more than one person shooting. So, of course, they're going to let people know as soon as everything is confirmed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Was it your sense, though, that -- that it's this one person and maybe these two others? Was there any sense that there might be even more people involved?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, when I was talking to them, they were taking every precaution to assure that there was not, you know, still someone out there -- or not out, but in a building -- who might have been part of it.

So, I don't -- I cannot say that it was two more or any more.

JEFFREY BROWN: From your talks to the general and others, I mean, the base was in lockdown. Do you know what's going on there now?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Just a few minutes ago, it was still in lockdown. They were going to make sure that they had all of the potential shooter suspects before they lifted the lockdown.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what do you know about the investigation, who's involved, and how are they proceeding at this point?

Security on the base

James Kitfield
National Journal
It's difficult to get in. It's not something that you can just walk on or drive through.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, they are investigating, of course, this doctor's background. They're going into that very -- much more thoroughly.

And they are going -- they're questioning the other two suspects, and to see if -- if they know anything more that could be helpful. But they are asking the FBI to help as well in the investigation to determine every piece of evidence they can, because, of course, if there's something more to this or something more that could happen, they want to take the precautions to assure that it doesn't.

It's -- you know, it's tragic. And -- and it's so new, that they are trying to help the families, inform the families, and do all of the things at once that would surround this base and keep it secure and safe.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, last thing, Senator Hutchison. Do you -- is there any wider impact at this point? Are other military bases, for example, on alert, just in case?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I would assume so, but I have not talked to anyone about that. But I would assume that, once something like this happens, and -- and you have -- you find that someone is in your own midst who would do something like this, I'm sure that there are precautions everywhere.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, thank you very much for joining us.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Thank you, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right.

And now with me is reporter Jim Kitfield.

Thank you for being with us.

JAMES KITFIELD, national security and foreign affairs correspondent, The National Journal: Yes. It's my pleasure.

JEFFREY BROWN: You have been at Fort Hood. Now, tell us a little bit more. Give us a sense of the place. It's huge, we have heard.

JAMES KITFIELD: Right. It's huge.

In fact, I went there because I wanted to do -- I, like many other reporters who have covered the military operations since 9/11, have had our concerns about the -- you know, the stress levels on the Army.

And I wanted to go to someplace where you could actually see sort of the home front of the Army at war. And, obviously, because of its size, it's got a full Corps headquarters and two divisions, which is very unusual, on the same base. And they are -- now cut those divisions up into brigades, combat teams that are rotating in and out. So, Fort Hood has seen a whole lot of the deployments and the stresses...

JEFFREY BROWN: So, many, many soldiers, thousands of soldiers there would have had multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

JAMES KITFIELD: Tens of thousands of soldiers, sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

And the range of activities at a place like this? I mean, as we reported...

JAMES KITFIELD: Oh.

JEFFREY BROWN: ... there was a -- it sounds like there was a graduation ceremony. It's a city.

JAMES KITFIELD: Sure. It's a mini-city. And they have training there, a huge training range. They have, again, two divisions. So, those are 20,000-plus organizations, a Corps headquarters above that. So, you have -- basically, anything the Army does, you have part of it going on at Fort Hood.

JEFFREY BROWN: A place like that -- I have been on other bases, and you have been at this one. Security is often -- is usually heavy.

JAMES KITFIELD: Yes, you have to -- you have to definitely get -- if you're not a soldier and you don't have an I.D. badge, you have to go have someone sign you in. That happened with me. And this happened, as you know, at every Army base after 9/11.

So, yes, it's difficult to get in. It's not something that you can just walk on or drive through.

Possibility of trauma?

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, we are in very early stages here, and I don't want to go too far into the motive question.

JAMES KITFIELD: Oh, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: But among the things people would be looking at, clearly, would be, is this an attack on the United States, the United States Army, or is it a personnel issue?

JAMES KITFIELD: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right?

JAMES KITFIELD: And there's no way to know that now. And I think the Army has said -- you know, has discouraged people from trying to, you know, draw a cause and effect here. And I want to -- I want to honor that. I don't want to say, you know, there may be a cause and effect.

But I think what you -- you know, in -- in reporting this story, the context of an Army that's been very stressed is -- is -- is unavoidable. And, clearly, just from my own reporting on Fort Hood, you can tell this Army is under a lot of stress. Whether that has anything to do with this, I don't know.

JEFFREY BROWN: No, I understand. But tell us what you have been looking at. I mean, people will clearly be looking at the possibility of trauma...

JAMES KITFIELD: Sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Especially -- the senator just said...

JAMES KITFIELD: Sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: ... this is a -- this is a soldier who sounds he about to be going to Iraq.

JAMES KITFIELD: Yes. And, again, so, we will -- we will talk in sort of generalities here.

But, you know, because the Army was not anticipated to be fighting two wars for this long period -- in fact, the all-volunteer force was never anticipated to be sort of a wartime, you know, full wartime, prolonged war force. It was going to be -- from its inception was designed to sort of be the core around which you would mobilize and then reinstate the draft.

Well, that's not the way it's turned out. So, we have a very small Army for the amount of rotations they're facing. So, what that means is, they have very short times back at places like Fort Hood between combat deployments. It's gotten to a year and even less in some cases, and even in some of the units at Fort Hood.

That dwell time is very difficult for families, because, even within that year, you have got lots of training up for your next deployment, so you're away from home sometimes some months in that year. And so you have -- you're away for a full year, if not more, in a combat deployment. You come back. You just get sort of back into your family rhythms, and you're training up to go again. That's very stressful.

The military has been trying very hard to sort of, you know, lengthen that dwell time between combat deployments, and has had some success. They have added 70,000 troops in the last -- since 9/11. But, still, the strains are very, very heavy.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. That's good background, and we will watch to see what details come out in this case.

JAMES KITFIELD: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jim Kitfield of The National Journal, thanks very much.

JAMES KITFIELD: You bet.