Tuesday, November 17, 2009

White House won't provide witnesses for Fort Hood hearing

By Ben Pershing

The first public congressional hearing on the Fort Hood attack 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.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has released the witness list for its hearing "The Fort Hood Attack: A Preliminary Assessment," scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. ET.

The list includes four experts on terrorism and intelligence issues: retired Gen. Jack Keane, the former U.S. Army vice chief of staff; Brian Jenkins, a senior advisor at the Rand Corp.; Mitchell Silber, the director of analysis for the New York City Police Department's Intelligence Division; and Juan Zarate, a senior advisor for the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But the list does not include anyone actively involved in investigating the Fort Hood attack, or anyone who might have been responsible for decisions made by various government agencies before the attack about whether to investigate the shooting suspect, Nidal Hasan.

The Senate committee source said HSGAC Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) had hoped to have witnesses from the FBI and the U.S. Army, but was rebuffed in his requests.

Asked for comment Monday, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said: "Tomorrow morning, an inter-agency 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."

Vietor did not address the specific question of why witnesses would not be provided for Thursday's hearing.

President Obama has already ordered a federal review of the circumstances that led up to 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."

While most lawmakers have said they will wait for the results of the Fort Hood criminal investigation and Obama's announced review before rendering judgment, some have already been critical of the Obama administration's handling of both the prelude to the attack and its aftermath. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has been particularly sharp in his criticism.

Lieberman, for his part, has said the Fort Hood attack appeared to be the work of a "self-radicalized, home-grown terrorist," and he and Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the panel's top Republican, have vowed to cooperate with the administration if it returns the favor.

"To carry out our investigation, Congress will require the prompt and full cooperation of the Executive Branch -- cooperation that must start as soon as possible," Lieberman and Collins said Saturday. "We totally agree with the President that this inquiry must not turn into 'political theater' and it will not."

Separately, a closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee briefing on the status of the Fort Hood investigation has been postponed, after initially being scheduled for Monday afternoon. That session was scheduled to feature top officials, including Army Secretary John McHugh and Arrny Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey. Committee aides aid the session was postponed only to assure that everyone Senators wanted to hear from could attend, and would likely be rescheduled for later this week.

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