WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Congress to hold off on any investigation of the Fort Hood rampage until federal law enforcement and military authorities have completed their probes into the shootings at the Texas Army post, which left 13 people dead.
In response, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Saturday that their committee would begin holding hearings Thursday. “We very much agree with President Obama’s sentiments that the full story behind the murderous act at Fort Hood must be told,” the senators said in a statement. “We appreciate that he recognizes Congress’ constitutional mandate to conduct oversight into tragic events such as these and we want to reiterate that our committee will conduct a responsible, apolitical inquiry.”
On an eight-day Asia trip, Obama turned his attention home and pleaded for lawmakers to “resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater.” He said those who died on the nation’s largest Army post deserve justice, not political stagecraft.
“The stakes are far too high,” Obama said in a video and Internet address released by the White House while the president was flying from Tokyo to Singapore, where Pacific Rim countries were meeting.
In an earlier statement, Collins said of the Senate committee investigation, “The Fort Hood slayings were tragic and heartbreaking. It is important for our nation to understand what precipitated this horrific attack so that we may work to prevent future incidents. The investigation is about understanding the factors that led Major Hasan — a senior Army officer and a psychiatrist trained to ease human suffering — to kill and injure so many of his fellow soldiers.”
Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, 39, was charged on Thursday with the shooting spree at Fort Hood last week. Army investigators have said Hasan is the only suspect and could face additional charges.
Obama already had ordered a review of all intelligence related to Hasan and whether the information was properly shared and acted upon within government agencies. Several members of Congress, particularly Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, have also called for a full examination of what agencies knew about Hasan’s contacts with a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen and others of concern to the U.S.
Hoekstra confirmed this week that government officials knew of about 10 to 20 e-mails between Hasan and the radical imam, beginning in December 2008.
A joint terrorism task force overseen by the FBI learned late last year of Hasan’s repeated contact with the cleric, who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The FBI said the task force did not refer early information about Hasan to superiors because it concluded he wasn’t linked to terrorism.
Lawmakers, however, already have announced they want their own investigations and were frustrated with what they view as a less-than-forthcoming administration.
Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., said he wanted to go ahead with an investigation from the House Armed Services Committee, where he is the top Republican. He said he wanted an investigation that wouldn’t compromise law enforcement or military investigations that were continuing on separate tracks.