House Committee Demands Ft. Hood Answers from DOJ
(WASHINGTON) -- The House Appropriations Committee is using next year's appropriations bill to demand from the Department of Justice a clear answer as to the department's alleged role in avoiding calling the Fort Hood massacre an act of terrorism.
The bill, approved by the committee Wednesday, as currently written will fund the department with $26.3 billion in 2014, but also directs it to submit a detailed report within 120 days "specifying its role… on how this case was designated with regard to terrorism." It will next face a vote on the House floor.
The bill asks the DOJ to describe "what anti-terror investigative authority was sought by Departmental entities, and whether such authority was approved. In addition, the report should describe the Department's policy and practices in categorizing cases and the criteria it employs to determine which cases represent terrorism investigations."
Thirteen people were killed, including a pregnant soldier, and 32 others wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009 rampage at the Army base in Killeen, Texas. The trial of alleged shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, on charges of premeditated murder and attempted murder, is now set to begin August 6.
Despite extensive evidence that Hasan was in communication with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack, the military has denied the victims Purple Hearts and has treated the incident as "workplace violence" instead of "combat related" or terrorism. In a letter in late May, a top Army attorney said that "the available evidence in this case does not, at this time, support a finding that the shooting at Fort Hood was an act of international terrorism."
While controversy over the decision initially focused on the military, it spread to the DOJ following a reference to the department made by Army Secretary John McHugh in an ABC News Nightline report in February.
McHugh said then, "So to declare that soldier a foreign terrorist, we are told -- I'm not an attorney and I don't run the Justice Department -- but we're told would have a profound effect on the ability to conduct the trial."
In a letter obtained by ABC News, a spokesman for the Justice Department told lawmakers, "No Department of Justice official, including the Attorney General, provided written or verbal guidance to Secretary McHugh on how designating Major Hasan as a terrorist would impact the military trial." But Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who heads the appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the DOJ, told ABC News that many questions remain unanswered.
Despite the military's determination, in testimony at a Homeland Security Committee meeting last week, Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) when the shooting occurred, said that his organization didn't hesitate to include it in their database as terrorism.
"I think certainly some of the Army reviews were driven by political correctness and failure to report that, but the NCTC called it terrorism the day after the attack," he said.
Many of the Fort Hood victims have filed a lawsuit against the military alleging the "workplace violence" designation means that in addition to not receiving Purple Hearts, they are receiving lower priority access to medical care as veterans, and a loss of financial benefits available to those whose injuries are classified as "combat related."
In ABC News' Nightline report, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the military is "committed to the highest care of those in our military family."
"The Department of Defense is also committed to the integrity of the ongoing court martial proceedings of Major Nidal Hasan and for that reason will not at this time further characterize the incident," he said then.
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