Sen. Joe Lieberman plans to start a congressional investigation into Thursday’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, saying that if initial reports hold true, it would be “the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11.”
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim Army psychiatrist, is accused of fatally shooting 13 people and wounding 31 others at the Texas military base. Authorities say he was shot in an exchange of gunfire during the attack and remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition Sunday night.
“I want to say very quickly we don’t know enough to say now, but there are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” said Mr. Lieberman, Connecticut independent.
Maj. Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian heritage, reportedly had voiced dismay over U.S. wars in Islamic countries and said the nation’s struggle against terrorist threats was a “war on Muslims.” He also was said to be distraught that he was about to be deployed.
His family says he was a target of prejudice and harassment over his Islamic faith.
Mr. Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he will work with the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, to investigate the shooter’s motives.
“I think the first steps that should be taken in this regard should be taken by the U.S. Army, because this was an attack on American troops,” Mr. Lieberman said. “You’ve got to see it as if 12 American troops were killed in Afghanistan.
“I am intending to begin a congressional investigation of my homeland security committee into what were the motives, what were the motives of Hasan in carrying out this brutal mass murder … and to ask whether the Army missed warning signs that should have led them to essentially discharge him.”
Mr. Lieberman dismissed the notion that Maj. Hasan’s freedom of speech rights would have been violated if the Army had stepped in to discipline or discharge him for his reported comments before the shooting.
“Really, in the U.S. Army, this is not a matter of constitutional freedom of speech,” he said. “If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance. He should have been gone.”
Although the Army and FBI are conducting investigations into the shooting, the senator added that the Defense Department also should launch a separate inquiry.
“The Department of Defense has a real obligation to convene an independent investigation to go back and look at whether warning signs were missed,” he said.
But the Army chief of staff said Sunday that he is concerned that speculation about Maj. Hasan’s Muslim faith and the motives behind the shootings he is accused of could spark retaliation against Muslim soldiers and hurt diversity within the branch’s ranks.
“I think that’s something else we need to be very careful about, and I think the speculation could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers,” said Gen. George Casey on ABC’s “This Week.”
Gen. Casey said he has instructed his commanders to be on the lookout for that reaction to the killings at the Texas post.
The general said that although what happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, “I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here.”
“And it’s not just about Muslims,” he said. “We have a very diverse Army. We have a very diverse society. And that gives us all strength. So again, we need to be very careful with that.”
He said he doesn’t think there is discrimination against the 3,000 Muslims who serve as active Guard and reserve soldiers.
Gen. Casey said the investigation will focus in part on whether military personnel ignored warning signs regarding Maj. Hasan’s mental stability and loyalty to the Army.
“That will be all part of the investigation, and we are encouraging soldiers and leaders who may have information relevant to the information about the suspect to provide that information to the criminal investigation division and to the FBI,” Gen. Casey said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“But we have to be careful, because we can’t jump to conclusions now, based on little snippets of information that come out.”
Gen. Casey said the Army “will take a very hard look at ourselves and ask ourselves the hard questions” on whether more could have been done to prevent the shooting and what changes the Army should make as a result.
“We’ll learn from this incident,” he said on CNN, but “it’s way too early to draw any kind of specific conclusions from it.”