Army chief forming panel to examine career of Fort Hood suspect

By Greg Jaffe and Ben Pershing
Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's chief of staff, is forming a panel to look closely at the military career of Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the man accused in the Fort Hood shootings, and probe whether warning signs were missed, a senior Army official said Monday.

Hasan, who was set to deploy to Afghanistan, is alleged to have killed 13 of his fellow troops in a rampage at the central Texas post.

"Casey is looking at a panel that will look longitudinally across Hasan's entire career to figure out how did this happen and what can we do to stop it from happening again," said the Army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the announcement of such a group remains pending.

The Fort Hood shootings will also be the subject of a Senate committee hearing Thursday. But the first such public hearing on Capitol Hill will not include testimony from any current federal law enforcement, military or intelligence officials because the Obama administration "declined to provide any" such witnesses, according to a Senate committee source.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, had hoped to have witnesses from the FBI and the Army, but was rebuffed in his requests, according to the committee source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Asked why, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not address the specific question. Instead, he said Monday: "Tomorrow morning, an interagency briefing team will go to the Hill to brief House and Senate leaders and committee chairs and ranking members. This is the latest in a series of engagements with the Hill since the horrific events at Fort Hood, and further evidence of the administration's commitment to appropriately inform Congress without interfering in the prosecution of this case."

Casey was to have attended a closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on the status of the Fort Hood investigation Monday afternoon. That was postponed, committee aides said, to ensure that every senator who wanted to attend could do so. Expected to brief senators along with Casey was Army Secretary John M. McHugh. The hearing probably will be rescheduled for later this week, the aides said.

Casey has begun selecting officers to conduct the Army's investigation, which is separate from criminal probes into the killings, the senior Army official said. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Casey's plans.

An Army official said no significant complaints were raised to senior leaders in Texas about Hasan's performance at Fort Hood before the shootings. "There is an interview with his supervisor that says he wasn't all that bad a guy," said the Army official. "If a guy was planning this, do you think he'd be drawing a lot of attention?"

The Washington Post has reported that Hasan raised concerns at his previous posting, Walter Reed Army Medical Center. There he warned doctors that Muslim soldiers should be released as conscientious objectors, and staffers recalled that he "embraced his religion with such intensity" as to raise questions of whether he was delusional.

Internet postings by Hasan have also triggered questions about whether government officials missed possible warning signs.

President Obama has ordered a federal review of the circumstances that led upto the Fort Hood attack and how government agencies handled intelligence related to Hasan. But in his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday, Obama urged caution on Capitol Hill.

"I know there will also be inquiries by Congress, and there should," Obama said. "But all of us should resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater that sometimes dominates the discussion here in Washington. The stakes are far too high."

Lieberman has said the Fort Hood attack appeared to be the work of a "self-radicalized, homegrown terrorist," and he and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the ranking Republican on the homeland security committee, have vowed to cooperate with the administration if it returns the favor.

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