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Fighting over Ft. Hood

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the sort-of Democrat who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is accusing the Obama administration of stonewalling the panel's investigation of last year's Ft. Hood massacre. The administration has given the committee some of the documents it subpoenaed, but not others, citing the possibility that release of transcripts of some interviews might jeopardize the court-martial of Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting spree. The administration also has refused to provide the committee with access to Pentagon and FBI agents who reviewed Hasan's communications with the U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar Awlaki.

One expert on military law agrees with Lieberman that giving the committee the additional information won't compromise Hasan's court-martial. Even so, the committee should give the administration the benefit of the doubt. Congress already has enough information about Ft. Hood to determine, for purposes of legislation, that new procedures are necessary to discover when a member of the armed services "self-radicalizes" as Hasan apparently did.

Although Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the panel’s ranking Republican, insist they don’t want to intrude on the criminal investigation, they have acted as if the committee should be the definitive fact-finder in this case. That was true even when facts were scarce: The committee rushed to hold hearings within two weeks of the massacre, opening itself to charges of grandstanding.

There are occasionally situations -- Watergate is the prime example -- when a criminal investigation is fatally compromised by politics or corruption. In such cases, Congress serves the public interest by conducting the equivalent of a criminal investigation on the pretext of educating itself for the purposes of legislation. This isn’t one of those circumstances.

-- Michael McGough

 

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Mark Burks

The Homeland Security Committee chaired by Senator Lieberman is Congresses bipartisan organ for overseeing the Security Operations of the United States. It is precisely their role to review and understand security failures, and make appropriate recommendations. While it is possible for the Committee to say there is a need for further legislation of some kind, just as Mr. McGough himself suggests from (presumably) reading the newspapers, the committee has no means to make any more specific recommendations than Mr. McGough without specific information about the failure. Does Mr. McGough think the committee should wait until the trial is over and Mr Nidal's appeals have been exhausted to conduct their investigation?

Concerning the sensitivity of prosecution evidence, please consider Congressman John Carter's remarks today about Nadal's prosecution: " The Administration bases their denial on the argument that releasing the information might endanger their prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan. As a state judge who presided over murder trials for 20 years before coming to Congress, that's ludicrous. Any prosecutor who can't win a conviction against Hasan with literally dozens of eyewitnesses doesn't need to be a prosecutor."


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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