Senators disappointed by response to Fort Hood subpoena

McClatchy NewspapersApril 27, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration won't let Senate investigators question the intelligence agents who reviewed e-mails that Maj. Nidal Hasan exchanged with an extremist Islamic cleric before Hasan allegedly killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

The administration offered, however, to allow investigators to look at Hasan's personnel record and to review parts of an internal Defense Department investigation that names eight people Pentagon investigators said should be reprimanded for their actions in dealing with Hasan before the shootings. The investigators won't be given copies of the documents, the Pentagon said, but they will be allowed to take notes.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, who issued a subpoena last week seeking the documents and interviews, said they were "disappointed" in the administration's refusal to allow interviews with the agents, which came in a letter signed jointly by the Defense and Justice departments.

"DOD and DOJ have produced a limited set of documents in response to the subpoenas, which we appreciate," the senators said in a statement. "However, they still refuse to provide access to their agents who reportedly reviewed Major Hasan's communications with radical extremist cleric Anwar al Awlaki and to transcripts of prosecution interviews with Hasan's associates and superiors, which DOD already provided to its internal review."

It was uncertain whether they'd seek to enforce the subpoena through a court order, which would require a Senate vote.

The administration's offer is the latest round in a growing battle between the Senate and the administration over what access congressional investigators should have for their own investigation into the deadliest shooting by a soldier on a U.S. military installation in U.S. history.

The Pentagon's reluctance to share the results of an internal investigation into the case or to share what it knows about Hasan's e-mails to Awlaki has sparked complaints that the Obama administration is covering up its failure to recognize Hasan as a threat. In addition to interviewing the agents who reviewed the e-mails, Lieberman and Collins had also asked to see any documents that would show what the Joint Terrorist Task Force in San Diego and the National Terrorism Task Force in Washington knew about the e-mail exchanges. The Pentagon said it wouldn't make those documents available.

Awlaki, a U.S.-born American citizen, had links to three of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers. President Barack Obama last month authorized U.S. forces to assassinate Awlaki.

The Pentagon hailed the offer to release the additional information, saying it was an effort to "bend over backwards" to honor the committee's oversight.

The Pentagon is "making a good faith effort to find a middle ground ... to satisfy their interest," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. "This is as far as we are prepared to go."

More expansive efforts could jeopardize the military's ability to try Hasan for the crimes, the Pentagon and Justice Department letter said.

"We recognize and respect the committee's determination to ensure that we are doing all that can be done to prevent any similar event from ever happening again," the letter said. "However, we do not believe we can go beyond this point without incurring significant risk to the successful prosecution of Major Hasan."

Lieberman and Collins said the panel wants to determine how Hasan could communicate with Awlaki, speak regularly to colleagues and patients about his doubts that American Muslims should take part in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and be the subject of persistent concern among his supervisors and still not be investigated by the military or FBI. Instead, he was sent from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to Fort Hood to counsel soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Weeks later, officials charge he went on a shooting spree on the base, killing 13 people and injuring another 32.

"The administration continues to withhold much of the crucial information from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee," Lieberman and Collins wrote in a Monday editorial in the Wall Street Journal. "Whatever mistakes were made in the run-up to the Fort Hood shootings need to be uncovered, and an independent, bipartisan congressional investigation is the best way to do it."

Hasan, who was paralyzed during the shooting by return fire, is being held in a Texas jail awaiting trial.

(Marisa Taylor contributed to this article.)

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