To find out whether warning signs about Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychologist accused of killing 13 people during a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, were ignored or not shared, congressional investigators have to talk to the people who made the decisions not to share information or who were told that such information wasn’t relevant. So far, the Departments of Defense and Justice have not allowed this to happen. They must so a similar situation can be avoided in the future.
Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, for months have been seeking information as part of the committee’s review of the Fort Hood shootings, which occurred last November. The review, although potentially uncomfortable for government agencies, is part of Congress’ oversight responsibility, which the administration should not obstruct.
Maj. Hasan apparently became increasingly radical in his views and communicated with Muslim extremists, including radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had links to three of the 9-11 hijackers.
After initially refusing, the Defense Department did provide the Homeland Security Committee with a copy of Maj. Hasan’s personnel file and a report from an internal review. The department initially said it would share this information only with the Armed Services Committee, a poor reason for withholding it.
Sens. Collins and Lieberman also have asked to question the agents who reviewed e-mails between Maj. Hasan and Mr. Awlaki, in part, to see whether they were taken seriously enough. They also want to see documents that show whether the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the National Terrorism Task Force were made aware of the e-mail exchanges.
The Pentagon and Justice Department refused such requests and others, saying releasing the information would jeopardize the criminal prosecution of Maj. Hasan. Another reasonable conclusion is they don’t want the public to know that this information wasn’t properly shared.
In other cases, law enforcement, intelligence and defense officials have found ways to make agents available to congressional investigators without harming prosecution efforts.
In the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th 9-11 hijacker, the congressional committee reviewing the attacks interviewed the agents involved in Mr. Moussaoui’s arrest while a criminal case was under way.
Agents involved in the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff, in which two members of an Idaho family were killed by federal agents and a federal marshal was shot by a friend of fugitive Randy Weaver, were also questioned during an ongoing criminal investigation.
In a letter to Sens. Collins and Lieberman, Eugene R. Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, wrote, “Nothing unique to the military justice system precludes access to the kinds of information the Committee has sought.
“So long as the [congressional] inquiry does not address [Hasan’s] potential guilt or innocence or seek to probe military decision-making with respect to whether he should be charged or tried, I do not see why the committee should be denied the information it seeks,” he added.
A full airing of the mistakes made in the Hasan case can lead to improvements in the way the military monitors service members who appear to have dangerous views — and not just about Islam — and are likely to act on them.