The White House refused the invitation for administration officials to testify at the first hearing on the Fort Hood shootings this week, but Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent, forged ahead. He pronounced the rampage a "terrorist attack" that could have been prevented were it not for "political correctness" in the face of warning signs. He said, that alleged shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim, was becoming increasingly radicalized and dangerous.
Across town that afternoon, the Pentagon, in what many saw as a textbook move of political preemption, announced that it would be launching its own investigation into the rampage that killed 13 people. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the four to six month long inquiry would delve into "whether the Army programs, policies, and procedures reasonably would have prevented the shooting." Gates also cautioned against "pointing fingers" at "certain categories of people."
On the eve of Veterans Day, President Obama had traveled to Fort Hood in Texas to deliver a eulogy after a gunman's rampage on November 5 killed 13 people there. When the indictment came down against Hasan for 13 counts of premeditated murder earlier this month, the blame game already was well underway on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers demanded to know how a number of warning signs went unshared among government agencies even in the wake of 9/11-inspired legislation that was supposed to remedy such problems.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, went so far as to accuse the White House of concealing information about the attack. "What do they know that they don't want us to know?" he asked on Fox News early this week. "We have similar Hasans" in the country, Hoekstra said, adding that it is "political correctness that is making [us unable] to identify the real threat of homegrown terrorism."
On Air Force One, President Obama worked through three drafts of his remarks as he prepared to address the stunned soldiers of Fort Hood. Secretary of the Army George Casey preceded the president, calling the shooting spree "a kick in the gut." Fort Hood and the Army "are no strangers to pain and tragedy and loss," he said. "As many of us know personally and all too well, that's been the case for the last eight years." He asked those present to "grieve with us. Don't grieve for us."
But it was difficult not to as the president took the podium behind the combat boots, each pair holding a helmet mounted on a rifle. That's the military's memorial for dead soldiers, a gesture all too familiar around America's bases, both here and abroad. Obama mentioned by name each of those fatally shot, then offered stern warnings. "It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy," he said. "But this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts."
On Capitol Hill, there was finger-pointing, and some said that pre-emptive intelligence sharing could have prevented the rampage. And lawmakers wondered what went wrong with the new laws intended to make it easier for government agencies to share warning signs that might prevent terrorist attacks.
Over at the Pentagon, a senior official said the departmenthad heard nothing of Hasan's sometimes chatty, sometimes eyebrow-raising E-mail correspondence with Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who had preached at the Falls Church, Va., mosque Hasan attended. The Pentagon was surprised to learn, according to the official, that Hasan was in touch with al-Awlaki, who knew three of the September 11 hijackers and who promptly called Hasan a "hero" in the wake of the Fort Hood murders. Nor were Pentagon officials informed of a PowerPoint presentation Hasan gave as a resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, according to the Washington Post, warning that "Muslim soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly."
At the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, a number of the witnesses testified to their concerns that Hasan's negative performance reviews and odd behavior may have been ignored prior to his alleged rampage because he is Muslim. Retired Army Gen. John Keane said that while "this is not about Muslims and their religion" it is about "jihadist extremism, which is at odds with the values of America." Sen. Susan Collins, the committee's ranking Republican, harkened back to 9-11 in her comments decrying the failure to share intelligence. "We must once again confront a troubling question: Was this another failure to connect the dots?"