Leaders of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued subpoenas Monday to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, demanding they hand over information related to the November 5 Fort Hood massacre. Army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of carrying out the attack, in which 13 people were killed and more than 30 others wounded. The massacre occurred at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Center, where soldiers about to be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq receive last-minute medical checkups.
Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) - chairman and ranking member respectively of the panel - said the Obama Administration has ignored their requests for information related to the attack for five months.
A major area of contention is the administration's refusal to allow the committee to conduct interviews with Defense Department and FBI officials who investigated Hasan's communications with Al-Qaeda-linked Imam Anwar al-Awlaki. He represents "a violent Islamist extremism so notorious that this Administration reportedly has authorized killing him," the senators wrote in an April 19 letter to Holder and Gates.
The committee has sought to investigate several problems that may have hampered investigations of Hasan and his communications with Awlaki prior to November 5, Lieberman and Collins said. That includes information-sharing problems between FBI field offices and the Department of Defense and authorities' failure to investigate Hasan further by interviewing his associates and superiors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The committee also wants to know if investigators perceived any "impediments" that hampered efforts to investigate Hasan.
"The purpose of the Committee's investigation of the Fort Hood attack is to answer questions that are critical to our government's ability to counter homegrown terrorism: Given the warning signs of Major Nidal Malik Hasan's extremist radicalization and growing hostility toward the U.S. military and the United States generally, why was he not stopped before he took thirteen American lives, and how can we prevent such a tragedy from happening again?" "In order to answer these questions, we must assess the information that the U.S. Government had prior to the attack and the actions it took in response to that information."
They sent four request letters for information to the Defense Department (DoD) and two to the Justice Department (DOJ) and contacted senior White House and Pentagon officials. Their staffs have been engaged in lengthy discussions with DoD and DoJ to no avail.
"Our efforts have been met with delay, the production of little that was not already publicly available, and shifting lessons why the departments are withholding the documents and witnesses that we have requested," Lieberman and Collins wrote.
For example, at the outset of the investigation, aides to Holder and Gates refused to permit committee staff to interview FBI agents who had investigated Hasan. DoD and DOJ officials justified this on grounds that congressional interviews could compromise the independent recollections of agents who might be witnessed at Hasan's trial. These officials also claimed there was no precedent for Congress to interview potential witnesses in an ongoing criminal case and that such interviews would create information that would have to be disclosed to Hasan's attorneys.
But Lieberman and Collins write that "None of these arguments withstands scrutiny." When "our staff informed your staff that Congress's materials are protected from disclosure by the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause, your staff then shifted to arguing that the agents could be witnesses and that our asking questions could affect the agents' recollections.
"We are particularly skeptical of your department's current argument given that the FBI agents with whom we wish to speak have already been interviewed by an official who is not part of the prosecution. If those interviews are not harmful to the prosecution, then it is hard to discern why ours would be," they wrote.
The senators noted that there is "substantial precedent" for Congress interviewing FBI agents who could be witnesses in parallel criminal cases. One recent example was the trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.