Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lessons from Fort Hood

By now nearly everyone in the U.S. knows that Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded over 30 others at Fort Hood. This tragic event almost certainly could have been prevented and we should learn from it. However we should be careful that we learn the right lessons. One thing we should not do is blame all Muslims. Most Muslims in the country have condemned this act as anti-Islamic. They point out that the Koran prohibits such murder of non-combatants. Hasan was clearly an extremist, out of the mainstream of U.S. Islam.

Nor should we blame “quiet loners,” another group often implicated after the fact. The great majority of loners in this country are upstanding citizens and never commit any serious crime.

No, the lesson we should learn from the Fort Hood killings is that we should look at the facts, regardless of what they say. In the case of Hasan, the facts were plentiful and pointed to an officer who could not be trusted. He had posted his anti-American views quite openly on the Internet. It now appears that he had attempted to contact al Qaeda. Why trust someone like that? Would a football team hire a trainer who wanted that team to lose? Would a business hire an employee who was loyal to a competitor?

While nobody could have predicted that Hasan would “go postal” and commit mass murder, there was plenty of evidence that he was not to be trusted. Even had he not committed murder, he would probably have been an ineffective in a combat area and quite likely would have worked against the cause he was paid to support.

In such cases we must reject the temptation to treat employment and similar decisions as though we were in a court of law. There is no automatic presumption of innocence in the employment arena. Instead, employers must do what is likely to be best for the organization. In cases such as that of Nidal Hasan, that means looking at if he was likely to be an effective therapist to the soldiers he was supposed to serve and to help them function effectively in their jobs. Decision makers must look for positive evidence of ability and willingness to do that job, and do it right. Lacking such evidence they should not assign him to the task.

In Hasan's case, the ability was probably there but there was reason for serious doubts about the willingness. In fact, there was reason to suspect that he would work against U.S. interests. He should have been placed in some non-critical assignment or even suspended from duty until all relevant questions were answered. Of course we cannot know what would have happened had that been done. However it is possible that he would never have committed those murders.

The lesson applies elsewhere. Except as required by such things as union contracts, employers need not give employees the benefit of a doubt. If there is reason to suspect that an employee is damaging the company, the employer can and should investigate. And there is no requirement of “proof beyond reasonable doubt.” If there is no evidence that the employee is doing the job as it should be done, that employee has no right to a presumption of effectiveness.

Likewise, we as consumers are in the position of employers when we decide whom we will employ by purchasing their products or services. We need not assume that advertisers or sales people are totally honest. It is up to us to evaluate their claims and refuse to “hire” them if we find the evidence insufficient.

We must all learn to investigate pertinent evidence for cases that affect our lives.

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