WaPo's Cohen Suggests That Nidal Hasan Investigation Needs More McCarthyism

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As facts continue to emerge about alleged Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hasan, reasonable people should be able to agree that serious questions need to be asked regarding how he advanced in his career and why he was apathetically shuttled from assignment to assignment by a military bureaucracy that just didn't feel like confronting the fact that Hasan seemed to be a deeply disturbed individual.

Or, if you are the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, you could just suggest that what's needed is a recapturing of that old McCarthyist spirit:

Who promoted Peress? That was the question posed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the indefatigable red-hunter of the 1950s, regarding an obscure army dentist named Irving Peress who was promoted from captain to major despite having refused to answer questions regarding his loyalty. That right-wing rallying cry ought to be revived, only this time to pose a much more serious question: Who the hell promoted Nidal Malik Hasan?

Need I point out that Cohen's entire premise is psychotically confused? Irving Peress' crimes -- insofar as there was once a time when these could be considered "crimes" -- was to refuse to disclose his affiliations with the American Labor Party when he filled out a "loyalty-review form." On the other hand, Nidal Hasan is charged with thirteen counts of premeditated murder.

But more to the point, what the Fort Hood tragedy clearly calls for is a reasonable, case-specific inquiry into what steps could have been taken to prevent these murders, and who was ultimately responsible for failing to take them. But here we have Cohen, gratuitously invoking the need for some sort of frantic witch-hunt which, followed to its logical absurdity, would lead the inquiry far from the facts of the case, into the paranoid territory where people are persecuted for simply holding certain specific beliefs.

An ordinary columnist, capable of thinking clearly, could have written about the need to attend to the bureaucratic failures that could have saved lives without veering off into the phantom zone. But, to borrow from David Lowery: in the mind of Richard Cohen, wheels they turn and gears they grind, buildings collapse in slow motion, and trains collide.

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