By Roxana Tiron - 11/20/09 09:17 PM EST
The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said the shooting rampage at Fort Hood could be labeled a terrorist attack.
"It sure looks like that," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program that will air Sunday.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has been charged by military authorities with 13 counts of premeditated murder in connection with the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5. More than 30 people were also injured when Hasan opened fire on the Army base.
Hasan, a Muslim, had communicated with a radical Islamic cleric before his attacks, which has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers.
Levin's comments come after another key senator, Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), said on Thursday that the incident, "based on available evidence, was a terrorist attack."
Lieberman is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the only panel to hold a public hearing on the incident.
Levin said his panel has to receive a number of closed-door briefings from the military and other involved agencies before it holds a public hearing. Levin did not offer a timeline as to when the hearings will occur but said he is committed to holding them.
He also stressed that Congress has an important oversight role to play in regard to the shooting and identifying deficiencies within military processes and policies.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday refused to characterize Hasan’s shooting rampage as a “terrorist attack.”
“I’m just not going to go there,” Gates told reporters. “I am, first of all, as the senior person in the departmental chain of command, I am the least able to render opinions on these kinds of issues. I’m going to wait until the facts are in and we’ll let the military justice system take care of it.”
At the same time, he said he found it “disturbing” that Hasan had e-mail communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam in Yemen reportedly linked to people who committed terrorist attacks.
Gates, however, refused to draw any conclusion about that information until he gathered all the pertinent facts.
Former Army Secretary Togo West and former Chief of Naval Operations Vern Clark will be in charge of the Pentagon’s review, Gates said. The 45-day review will look into possible gaps in identifying service members who could pose a threat to others. It will also: assess personnel, health and counseling programs; examine whether U.S. military bases have the necessary security; and look into whether the bases have the ability to respond to mass-casualty incidents.
The initial 45-day review will inform and shape “a department-wide follow-on examination of any systemic institutional shortcomings,” Gates said. That examination would be completed within four to six months, he noted.