U.S. News

Obama administration subpoenaed in Fort Hood probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers subpoenaed the Obama administration on Monday for information sought in a congressional probe of last year’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 soldiers dead and an Army psychiatrist charged with murder.

U.S. soldiers pay their respects in front of fallen soldier memorials for the shooting victims after the III Corps and Fort Hood Memorial Ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Susan Collins, the panel’s top Republican, took the action after the departments of Justice and Defense failed to provide the materials by Monday’s deadline.

The two senators have been trying for months to obtain documents and be provided access to witnesses that they say are critical to their investigation of the shooting spree at Fort Hood in November that ended with 13 soldiers killed and dozens wounded.

An Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, has been charged by the military with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. The case drew heavy criticism after it became known Hasan had been in contact with an anti-American Muslim figure sympathetic to al Qaeda.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, who heads the Justice Department, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Lieberman and Collins wrote: “It is impossible for us to avoid reaching the conclusion that the departments simply do not want to cooperate with our investigation.”

“It is with great disappointment and reluctance that we have directed service of subpoenas to you which demand disclosure of the requested information by Monday, April 26, 2010,” they added.

The Justice and Defense departments sent a letter last week to Lieberman and Collins saying that turning over the information could compromise the case against Hasan.

On Monday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters, “We will obviously be reviewing it (the subpoenas) and determining the department’s next steps.”

“We will continue to cooperate with the committee in every way with that caveat, that single caveat, that whatever we provide does not impact on our ability to prosecute,” Whitman said.

If the two departments stand firm and refuse to provide the requested information, they could end up facing a contempt of Congress citation and a court fight.

This could all provide an unwanted distraction for a White House already under election-year pressure on a number of fronts, including pressure to cut unemployment.

(Additional reporting by Adam Entous and Jeremy Pelofsky)

Editing by Cynthia Osterman