Why Hasn’t the GOP Treated Fort Hood Like Benghazi?

Both attacks suggest multiple institutional failures, but only one can be teed up for maximum embarrassment of President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

The soldiers memorial reads the date November 5, 2009 at a remembrance service recognizing the 13 victims killed in the Ft. Hood attacks on the one year anniversary in Killeen, Texas on November 5, 2010. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an army psychiatrist, is currently standing trial for killing 13 and wounding 30 during a shooting rampage on November 5, 2009.
National Journal
James Oliphant
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James Oliphant
May 13, 2014, 7:09 p.m.

Be­fore there was Benghazi, there was Fort Hood.

In Novem­ber 2009, Army Maj. Nid­al Ma­lik Has­an killed 13 people and in­jured 30 more on the sprawl­ing East Texas mil­it­ary base. Since then, a de­bate has raged about wheth­er Has­an, who some be­lieve was in­flu­enced by a rad­ic­al Is­lam­ic cler­ic, com­mit­ted an act of do­mest­ic ter­ror­ism or wheth­er the in­cid­ent was an epis­ode of “work­place vi­ol­ence.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has long main­tained the lat­ter — that there wasn’t enough evid­ence to show that Has­an ac­ted with a polit­ic­al motive. Plenty of Re­pub­lic­ans have dis­agreed.

Yet, un­like Benghazi, there’s nev­er been a con­cer­ted push in the House to probe more deeply in­to the pos­sible in­tel­li­gence and in­vest­ig­at­ive fail­ures that might have led to the tragedy des­pite the still-un­answered ques­tions about the nature of the threat Has­an posed.

In form­ing the se­lect com­mit­tee to probe Benghazi last week, House Speak­er John Boehner talked about a ter­ror­ist as­sault that raised ques­tions of “truth” and “ac­count­ab­il­ity.” Those is­sues, too, re­main at the heart of the at­tack at Fort Hood. Both epis­odes in­volve a fail­ure by the gov­ern­ment to heed signs of an im­pend­ing at­tack. Both speak to the na­tion’s read­i­ness in the face of a po­ten­tial threat. And in both cases, the White House was ini­tially re­luct­ant to clas­si­fy the act as ter­ror­ism.

Yet only Benghazi draws the head­lines and cable-news out­rage, hav­ing be­come an al­most ob­sess­ive top­ic for House Re­pub­lic­ans. Be­fore the se­lect com­mit­tee, the House had already launched eight sep­ar­ate probes of the at­tack on the dip­lo­mat­ic out­post in Libya. The num­ber of GOP deep-dive in­quests in­to Fort Hood? Zero. Moreover, le­gis­la­tion seek­ing to re­clas­si­fy the in­cid­ent as a ter­ror­ist act and to award com­bat-re­lated Purple Heart be­ne­fits to the vic­tims has been stalled for years.

There is one clear dif­fer­ence between the two in­cid­ents: Benghazi af­fords the GOP a chance to make life more dif­fi­cult not only for Pres­id­ent Obama but per­haps also for the Demo­crats’ fu­ture pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee, Hil­lary Clin­ton. The chain of fault with re­spect to Fort Hood is mud­di­er, reach­ing back in­to the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Plus, drilling deep­er in­to that af­fair would force Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers to openly take on the Pentagon, which op­poses any le­gis­lat­ive at­tempt to com­pensate the Fort Hood wounded as vic­tims of a ter­ror­ist at­tack or to paint Has­an as a ter­ror­ist who was hid­ing in plain sight. “They’ve fought this every step of the way,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

With Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers un­will­ing to push the is­sue, fight­ing for Fort Hood has been a lonely struggle, in­volving just a hand­ful of mem­bers mostly from Texas, in­clud­ing Rep. John Carter, whose dis­trict in­cludes Fort Hood, and Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mi­chael Mc­Caul, as well as Wolf, Tom Rooney of Flor­ida, and a single Demo­crat, Chaka Fat­tah of Pennsylvania. Demo­crats, stand­ing by the ad­min­is­tra­tion, have also shown little in­terest in the is­sue.

Last week, Carter, with the help of Reps. Mike Con­away and Mac Thorn­berry, both also of Texas, was able to in­sert some Purple Heart lan­guage in­to this year’s Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act. A sim­il­ar push last year was first watered down in or­der to pass the House and then stripped out dur­ing a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee. In the oth­er cham­ber, Sen. John Cornyn’s bid to in­clude a re­lated amend­ment in the NDAA was blocked.

Last year’s ef­fort failed, Vir­gin­ia’s Wolf told Na­tion­al Journ­al, be­cause of pres­sure from the mil­it­ary and the ad­min­is­tra­tion. In a let­ter leaked to ABC News, the Pentagon warned mem­bers of Con­gress that ap­prov­ing the le­gis­la­tion would “fun­da­ment­ally al­ter the fun­da­ment­al char­ac­ter” of the Purple Heart award and would “un­der­mine” Has­an’s pro­sec­u­tion.

More than 100 vic­tims of the shoot­ings and fam­ily mem­bers filed suit in 2011, as­sert­ing that the De­fense De­part­ment’s re­fus­al to clas­si­fy the in­jur­ies as com­bat-re­lated cost them thou­sands of dol­lars in be­ne­fits. But the suit was stayed, pending Has­an’s court-mar­tial. Has­an last year was con­victed on pre­med­it­ated murder charges, yet the law­suit still hasn’t moved for­ward. Nor has the mil­it­ary backed off in its op­pos­i­tion to re­clas­si­fy­ing the event.

Bey­ond com­pens­a­tion, the law­suit would have giv­en the plaintiffs to op­por­tun­ity to re­view De­fense De­part­ment and ad­min­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments — and their law­yer, Reed Ru­bin­stein, says Con­gress still has a re­spons­ib­il­ity to provide “hon­est, open, trans­par­ent over­sight and ac­count­ab­il­ity” for the events lead­ing up to — and fol­low­ing — the shoot­ings.

“Nobody wants to re­vis­it it,” said Ru­bin­stein, who has been lob­by­ing Con­gress to act on be­half of his cli­ents.

The FBI con­duc­ted its own in­tern­al probe in the wake of the Fort Hood shoot­ings, as did the Army and the Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee un­der then-Chair­man Joe Lieber­man.

The FBI in­vest­ig­a­tion, over­seen by former Dir­ect­or Wil­li­am Web­ster, con­cluded that the bur­eau failed to act on a chain of emails between Has­an and rad­ic­al cler­ic An­war al-Aw­laki which seemed to in­dic­ate that Has­an was sym­path­et­ic to the Is­lam­ic mil­it­ant cause.

The Army’s re­port was heav­ily cri­ti­cized for not touch­ing on Has­an’s pos­sible polit­ic­al and re­li­gious mo­tiv­a­tions.

Neither re­view sought to es­tab­lish wheth­er polit­ic­al con­cerns played in­to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­cision to clas­si­fy the act as a work­place crime. No in­vest­ig­a­tion ever has — even as the House GOP today is fix­ated on wheth­er the White House burn­ished Benghazi talk­ing points in a bid to pro­tect its im­age.

The only ef­fort to date to hold the ad­min­is­tra­tion “ac­count­able” — to use Boehner’s word — is the bid by Carter, Mc­Caul, and Wolf to force At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er to say wheth­er the Justice De­part­ment ad­vised the Pentagon against in­vest­ig­at­ing and pro­sec­ut­ing the Fort Hood shoot­ings as a ter­ror­ist in­cid­ent. But even there, after Hold­er stone­walled them, there’s been no at­tempt to take him to task, as the House GOP did with the “Fast and Furi­ous” gun-track­ing scan­dal.

But that was an­oth­er in­vest­ig­a­tion that prom­ised to show only the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in a poor light. What went wrong at Fort Hood doesn’t break down so neatly along party lines. Which means as a polit­ic­al bludgeon, it’s just simply not as use­ful.

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