In Fort Hood aftermath, Pentagon opens two reviews

By Ann Scott Tyson and Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

The Pentagon is launching an urgent review of whether military procedures hinder the identification of service members who pose a threat to their fellow troops.

As part of the 45-day investigation, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered an examination of whether Army policies and procedures played any role in failing to prevent the Fort Hood shootings. The review will also assess medical screening and discharge policies, programs to assess service members before and after they deploy, as well as procedures for reporting "adverse service member information," he said.

Gates also ordered a separate in-depth investigation, lasting four to six months, into potential "systemic institutional shortcomings" in the military services related to care for victims of mass-casualty incidents, the performance of health-care providers and stress on the force.

Word of the Pentagon reviews came on the same day that a Senate committee held the first public hearing on the attack that killed 13 people and wounded dozens at the Army post in Texas.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, began the hearing by saying he believed the incident was "a terrorist attack." He added that senators wanted "to determine whether that attack could have been prevented, whether the federal agencies and employees involved missed signals or failed to connect the dots."

As more becomes known about the behavior of the suspect, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, before the shootings, pressure has mounted on the Obama administration and the military to explain why the Army psychiatrist did not warrant further investigation or preemptive action.

U.S. intelligence officials knew last year that Hasan had been corresponding with a radical Islamic cleric; earlier this year investigators learned of Internet postings, allegedly by Hasan, that indicated sympathy for suicide bombers; and colleagues of Hasan's at Walter Reed Army Medical Center said the "intensity" of his embrace of Islam raised concerns among doctors there.

Identifying 'deficiencies'

Gates said the Army's "in-depth, detailed assessment" would look at "whether the Army programs, policies and procedures reasonably would have prevented the shooting." The goal, he said, is "to determine whether, in fact, there were lapses or problems."

The secretary promised "full and open disclosure" of the findings, adding that avoiding "similar tragedies" is imperative.

Togo D. West Jr., the former veterans affairs secretary and Army secretary, and retired Adm. Vernon Clark, a former chief of naval operations, will lead the 45-day review. It will look for "deficiencies" in Pentagon procedures for "identifying service members who could potentially pose credible threats to others," Gates said.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Gates at the news conference and said that commanders are responsible for taking necessary action, should service members make radical statements. While not referring to the Hasan case, Mullen said his expectation is "for any commander certainly to be aware of those kinds of things and then to take appropriate action . . . to certainly not sit idly by but to address it." Still, he said, "a single proclamation, if you will, doesn't, in and of itself necessarily mean anything. You've got to put it into the circumstances."

Asked whether he believes management failures in the Army played any role in the Fort Hood shootings, Gates replied, "If there are questions of accountability, the Army would address those internally." He said he was confident in the service's ability to "investigate itself."

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