The Army has guidelines on how to deal with racist views and actions within the ranks, but none on how to deal with Islamic jihadism, a former Army vice chief of staff told Congress on Thursday.
Retired Army Gen. John M. Keane said this absence of guidance fostered a politically correct reluctance to investigate the man accused in the Fort Hood shootings, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
A military pamphlet created after the 1995 racially motivated shootings at Fort Bragg is the intended guidebook on how to deal with extremist activities and prohibited conduct but is mostly focused on white supremacist behavior, Gen. Keane told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the first congressional oversight hearing on the Fort Hood shootings.
“Clearly we don’t have specific guidelines in dealing with jihadist extremists,” Gen. Keane told the Senate homeland security committee.
Most of the witness panel agreed with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, when he asked: “Do you think that political correctness may have played some role in the fact” that there was no in-depth investigation of Maj. Hasan? He is charged with murder in the rampage that left 13 people dead and 29 others wounded.
“There is no doubt in my mind that was operating here,” said Gen. Keane, who served as vice chief of staff from 1999 to 2003, capping a 37-year military career.
Frances Fragos Townsend, an assistant to President George W. Bush for homeland security and counterterrorism, agreed that there was a reluctance to investigate Maj. Hasan because he was a senior member of the military, as well as a psychiatrist.
“We can’t allow [investigators] to be reluctant to follow the facts, just because they are afraid they will be criticized for not being politically correct,” Mrs. Townsend said.
Updating guidelines to teach the military rank and file how to identify Islamic radicals and how to report suspicious activity up the chain of command also could eliminate the fear of being labeled as prejudiced against Muslims, Gen. Keane and Mrs. Townsend said.
“You take some of this burden away from people by having those guidelines. And when you have those guidelines in place, you are clearly saying to the institution that this is important to us, we are not going to tolerate this kind of behavior and we want to identify with immediately to try to curb the behavior through counseling and rehabilitation and, if necessary, separate that individual from the service if it cannot be curbed,” Gen. Keane said.
The hearing, led by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, is the only congressional review of Fort Hood to be moving forward.
President Obama cautioned Congress on Saturday to “resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater that sometimes dominates the discussion here in Washington.”
On Tuesday, Democratic leaders agreed to postpone any congressional action on the shootings after a closed-door meeting with the president’s National Security Council.
Mr. Lieberman says his inquiry will not interfere with the criminal investigation.
Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, did not address the general’s statement about a lack of anti-jihad guidelines, except to say that the service is “extremely vigilant about any potential activity with extremist organization among its soldiers.”
He concluded an e-mail to The Washington Times with: “It is the policy of the Army to provide equal opportunity and treatment for all Soldiers without regard to race, color, religion, gender, or national origin.”
After Mr. Lieberman’s hearing, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced departmentwide reviews of the shooting that will identify threats among service members, as well as new policies, changes and procedures.
“The shootings at Fort Hood raise a number of troubling questions that demand complete but prompt answers,” he told a Pentagon news conference.
An emergency 45-day investigation will be led by former Army Secretary Togo West and former Navy chief Vernon Clark. That probe will focus on policies on discharging service members and related mental health issues, as well as security and emergency response at U.S. military facilities.
A longer six-month review will examine what Mr. Gates called “systemic institutional shortcomings.”
“It is prudent to determine immediately whether there are internal weaknesses or procedural shortcomings in the department that could make us vulnerable in the future,” Mr. Gates said.
Thursday’s testimony focused on the history of homegrown terrorists, increased attacks directed at the military, and whether investigators failed to “connect the dots” between Maj. Hasan and his potential radical activity.
Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking committee member, said there were “warning signs and red flags galore” that investigators missed or ignored.
“There was allegations of communications with other extremists, a Web posting advocating suicide bombing,” Mr. McCain said.
“Extremist activities at Walter Reed in that Hasan antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceive to be extremist Islamic views, and of course the most notable is his activities while working at Walter Reed was a medical presentation to fellow students where he included statements such as we love death more than you love life, fighting to establish an Islamic state to please God even by force is condoned by the Islam,” Mr. McCain said.
Mr. McCain also asked the panel whether they thought the shooting was an act of terrorism.
“In my mind, I do,” Gen. Keane said.
“I think it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t an act of terror,” Mrs. Townsend said.
Added Juan Carlos Zarate, an adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “It certainly looks like an act of terror to me.”
Only one panelist, Mitchell D. Silber, director of intelligence analysis for the New York City Police Department, declined to answer.
At his Pentagon briefing, Mr. Gates would not comment on that same question.
Maj. Hasan remains hospitalized and is in intensive care at the San Antonio Military Medical Center.