Lieberman launches Fort Hood hearings without any government witnesses

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) held the first congressional hearing into the Fort Hood shootings with minimal cooperation from the Obama administration.

No administration officials appeared at Thursday’s Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing despite requests by Lieberman.

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President Barack Obama had pressured House and Senate panels to hold off on congressional investigations into the killings of 13 people at Fort Hood, but Lieberman decided to go ahead with his panel’s work.

The panel is looking into communications between the accused killer, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, and Muslim extremists to see whether agencies missed key warning signs that could have led them to intervene before the attack on Fort Hood.

Lieberman said he asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday to allow employees under their command to testify. The senator said both men said they respected the need for a congressional inquiry as long as it did not hamper the federal criminal investigation.

It will “be difficult” for the panel to fulfill its oversight responsibility “without the cooperation of the executive branch,” Lieberman said in his opening statement. He said it was “an investigation that is as serious as any this committee has ever undertaken.”

“Our congressional investigation is to learn what happened in this case and to prevent it from happening again,” Lieberman said. “Their investigation looks backward and is punitive. Ours looks backward and forward and is preventative. I am optimistic that we will work out a way for both investigations to proceed without compromising either.”

Obama has asked for a report by Nov. 30 from federal authorities investigating the shootings.

Lieberman has been a thorn in the side of Democrats since leaving the party to become an Independent. The party considered taking away his chairmanship after the 2008 elections, but declined to do so after intervention from Obama.

Lieberman has received support for moving forward on the probe of Fort Hood from Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the committee’s leading Republican.

“To prevent future homegrown terrorist attacks, we must better understand why law enforcement, intelligence agencies and our military personnel system may have failed in this case,” Collins said on Thursday. “With so many questions still swirling around this heinous attack, it is important for our nation to understand what happened so that we may work to prevent future incidents. We owe that to our troops, to their families and communities, and to all the American people.”

Lieberman on Wednesday left open the possibility of using subpoenas to force testimony by government witnesses. However, he said no administration officials have explicitly discouraged him and that he was negotiating “to work out a cooperative understanding with the administration.”

Retired Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Keane took pains to assure Lieberman and Collins that only extremist elements in the Muslim religion are to blame for the attack. He also noted that 10,000 Muslims are enlisted in the U.S. military and are “not seen as Muslims, but as sailors, airmen and Marines.”

“This is fundamentally about Jihadist extremism, which is at odds with the values of America and its military, and threatens the safety and security of the American people,” Keane said. “Radical Islam, and Jihadist extremism, is the most transformational issue I have dealt with in my military service … In my judgment, it is the most significant threat to the security of the American people that I have faced in my lifetime.”