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."
Gates called it "disturbing" that Hasan had e-mailed cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, but the secretary said he wanted to find out "all the facts" before drawing conclusions. Asked whether he would join Lieberman in characterizing the shootings as "a terrorist attack," Gates replied, "I'm just not going to go there." As the senior Pentagon leader, he said, he did not want to be seen as influencing the military criminal judicial process now underway.
Hasan, who is conscious but paralyzed from the waist down, remains in an intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, his attorney said Thursday.
John P. Galligan said the Army has allowed Hasan's legal team to hire a civilian chemist to observe the examination of all evidence related to the shootings as well as any tests involving Hasan.
Galligan said he has requested that the military make funds available for Hasan to hire a private civilian investigator to conduct a probe independent from those of the government. Galligan, a retired colonel and former military judge at Fort Hood, also has requested that the government reinstate his security clearance so that he can review any classified documents relating to his client.
Galligan said that the government has shipped him a box of personnel files and other records related to Hasan and that he expects more records to be made available in the discovery process.Action on the Hill
The Senate homeland security committee has received only partial cooperation from the Obama administration in its investigation of the attack, with Lieberman rebuffed in his requests to have current officials appear. But Lieberman said Thursday that the committee had received access to important classified documents, and he sounded cautiously optimistic that the administration would be more forthcoming.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the panel's ranking Republican, recalled the missed opportunities to head off the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "In the wake of the mass murder at Fort Hood, we must once again confront a troubling question: Was this another failure to connect the dots?" Collins said.
Lieberman emphasized that the panel would seek to answer a few vital questions: What information did the government have on Hasan before the attacks, including e-mails he may have sent? What judgments were made about those e-mails? If the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force had vital information on Hasan, was it shared with the Army?
He added that the panel would also examine the perils of homegrown extremism and "political correctness."
Senators heard testimony Thursday from five experts on terrorism and homeland security, several of whom expressed fears that warning signs about Hasan may have been ignored or played down because he is Muslim.
Retired Army Gen. John Keane recalled instances during his career when possible oversensitivity to issues of ethnicity and religion made military leaders blind to potential threats.
"This is not about Muslims and their religion . . . nor is it about the 10,000 Muslims in the military who are, quite frankly, not seen as Muslims but as soldiers, sailors and airmen," Keane said. "This is fundamentally about jihadist extremism, which is at odds with the values of America."
Gates also voiced concern over the possibility that the incident could lead to suspicion against "certain categories of people," apparently referring to Muslims. "In a nation as diverse as the United States, the last thing we need to do is start pointing fingers at each other," he said.