November 6, 2009

During some of the media's endless coverage of the Fort Hood shootings today, Larry King brought in former POW Shoshana Johnson, Dr. Phil McGraw and former JAG officer Tom Kenniff to speculate about what the mindset of the accused attacker Nidal Malik Hasan may have been. When Kenniff called some of CNN's previous coverage on the topic "psycho-babble", tried to say that a ranking officer could not be suffering from PTSD and asserted that Hasan's motivations looked more like an act of terrorism because he has a Muslim name, Shoshana Johnson and Phil McGraw both rightfully called him out for it.

When Kenniff while attempting to counter McGraw and Johnson asked Johnson if she had ever been to Iraq, she had to remind him that she was a POW:

KENNIF: I spent a year in Iraq, ma'am. Have you ever been to Iraq?

JOHNSON: I'm a POW. I got shot.

Kenniff was obviously unaware that Johnson was in fact the first female African American POW in U.S. history.

KING: We're back.

We are happy to be able to call on our friend, Dr. Phil, the host of his own show, "New York Times" best-selling author and a -- and a member of the fraternity that is from Texas.

In fact, do you know Fort Hood?

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, TV SHOW HOST: I do. I've been there and I've spent time working with some of the widows of soldiers and widows and widowers of soldiers that were lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I've spent time on Fort Hood. And it's a -- it's a wonderful...

KING: It's a huge base, right?

MCGRAW: It's 339 acres. It's a city within itself down there. And on any given day, you can have 30,000 or 40,000 people on the base. It truly is a city within a city and good folks. And, as the general said, it's -- it's their home. I mean this isn't a war zone, it's their home.

KING: I asked the FBI if he had -- the FBI agent if he had ever heard of a psychiatrist committing mayhem. He never had.

Have you?

MCGRAW: Well, no, I have not. But, Larry, we're dealing with a very different kind of war here. And, you know, this is a man that, from what I understand, was doing all kinds of drug and rehabilitation counseling with -- with soldiers and returning soldiers. And we know that there is a tremendous degree of stress with this war. And I think the military will tell you that it's a new animal and nobody knows exactly what to do with it. And I don't know -- everything is speculation at this point. But he was apparently scheduled for deployment, did not want to go. I think he has maybe seen the problems that some of these soldiers were experiencing when they come back to try to reintegrate into society, and maybe the fear got him, and he just snapped.

You can't make sense out of nonsense. And you have to stop and think about this, Larry. How far out of touch with reality and reason do you have to go to actually pick up a weapon and kill your friends, kill your fellow soldiers, your fellow warriors? This is a major mental event. This guy was not just having a bad day. This is a serious, serious --

KING: Joining us in New York is Tom Kennif a commissioned officer with the Army National Guard's Judge Advocates General Group. He is a general with the war in Iraq, and a criminal defense attorney. In Washington, our old friend Shoshanna Johnson, former POW, U.S. Army specialist, now serves on the Advisory Panel for the Veterans Administration.

Dr. Phil is with us here in the studios in Los Angeles.

Tom, what do you make of this?

TOM KENNIFF, FMR. ARMY JAG: Look, Larry, you know, with all due respect to Dr. Phil, you know, having been through the war in Iraq, and having seen what these soldiers go through, you know, with respect to this incident, I need to take a giant step back from all the psycho-babble I've been hearing for the last few hours.

Let's take a look at the facts of this situation. This is not some lower enlisted soldier. This is a major. He is a high ranking field grade officer. That means that he outranks approximately 95 percent of the military.

He has a medical -- he is a medical doctor. He is an MD. That means he occupies a position of prestige, not only within the military, but also within society at large.

He is paid well for the job he does. You know, this looks a lot less like PTSD, and a lot more like the Hassan Akbar case in 2003, where another soldier who has an Islamic last name, throws grenades randomly into tents occupied by his fellow officers, and by his fellow soldiers, for no other reason but to commit acts of terror, and to instill fear on the military installation, and to bring attention to himself.


KING: Are you doing, Tom -- by mentioning Islamic last name, are you doing speculating of your own?

KENNIFF: I am speculating. . That's true. We have very limited information right now. But we're all speculating. And what I'm saying is my speculation seems to fit a lot more in with the reality of this case.

JOHNSON: No. No, it doesn't. No, it doesn't. I think you're talking --


KING: Hold it. Let's --

MCGRAW: I don't think you can say that. I think that's a terrible innuendo here.


JOHNSON: As someone who suffers from PTSD, I know exactly what I say to my psychiatrist. And if he is sitting back and hearing this day in and day out, the fear may get to him. The fact of the matter that he is a major, or the fact that he is a doctor doesn't excuse that he is a human being and he feels.

You're saying because he is a major in the Army that he is not going to feel the way a private does.

KENNIFF: I'm saying it makes it a lot less likely --

JOHNSON: That's crap. Why does it make it less likely?

KENNIFF: Because A, you don't that he has even been deployed.

JOHNSON: He hasn't been deployed.

KENNIFF: Right. Let's forget PTSD then because he is not --

JOHNSON: Maybe the fact is that you're a Jag officer, and you have no idea what it's like to be in combat.

KENNIFF: I spent a year in Iraq, ma'am. Have you ever been to Iraq?

JOHNSON: I'm a POW. I got shot.

KENNIFF: Aye been in Iraq as well, and I respect that, and I --

JOHNSON: You stayed in the green zone. You stayed in the green zone.

KENNIFF: I was never in the green zone. I was in a forward operating --

KING: One at a time. One at a time. You are both talking at the same time.

JOHNSON: This is hard to deal with every day. I'm not excusing his behavior one bit. He needs to pay for what he did to those soldiers. But for you to say that because of his education, because he was an officer, that he didn't feel the way other soldiers feel is ridiculous.

KENNIFF: I never said -- I don't know whether he felt or didn't.

KING: Hold it. Tom. You did mention his Islamic last name, which I don't --

MCGRAW: I think that is irresponsible to say. I just don't think we know enough about that. All I'm saying is you have to consider this is not a well act. This is not something a rationale person goes and does.

And you can call it psycho babble. You can call it whatever you want. But well people don't pick up guns and go shoot their friends and their fellow soldiers. That just doesn't make sense.

I don't know what the origin is. That is a sick individual that would do that with fellow warriors.

KING: You're not saying --

MCGRAW: This is ridiculous.

KING: You're not saying this isn't a sick person, are you?

KENNIFF: Of course, it's a sick person. People who commit terrorists attacks are sick people. I mean, no one is arguing that this is a rationale act. If he was motivated by ideology and hypothetically -- we don't know it -- but if that was an Islamic fundamentalism, you know, that doesn't make it any more rationale.

The argument isn't that he shouldn't be held accountable. The argument isn't that he is not mentally, you know -- does not have some serious mental issues. But we all seem to be jumping to the conclusion that this must be, you know, PTSD or it must be his involvement in the military that led him off the deep I understand.

Look, a lot of people go to Iraq and Afghanistan. They come back. A lot of them have issues, and a lot of them don't. If we're going to speculate as to motives, then speculating that it might be an ideological motive is just as, you know, proper as speculating that it might be PTSD or some other trauma.

JOHNSON: Insinuating something like that is dangerous.

KING: Of course, this is -- I think he is saying, of course, it's a sick act, but it could be a terroristic sick act as well.

MCGRAW: It certainly could. But you don't take the guy's last name and impugn the Islamic nation. Are you kidding me?

JOHNSON: That's ridiculous.

MCGRAW: What are you talking about? That is irresponsible. It is ridiculous to say.

JOHNSON: It's dangerous. Very dangerous.

KING: Don't go away. We'll be right back. Don't go away.

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