By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
April 27, 2010 - The Defense Department today agreed to provide access to some of the documents subpoenaed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week related to the Nov. 5 Fort Hood shooting investigation.
A letter sent to the committee today agrees to allow the committee access to the personnel file of Maj. Nidal Hasan's personnel file, the Army psychiatrist charged with the shootings. Pentagon officials also agreed to allow the committee access to a restricted annex to the report stemming from the initial investigation by former Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. and retired Navy Adm. Vern E. Clark, a former chief of naval operations.
The department previously had objected to giving the committee access to these documents on the grounds that doing so could endanger Hasan's prosecution. Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
"We believe we have made a very good-faith effort to try to find a middle ground ... to satisfy their request," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.
"We are prepared to bend over backwards at least on two of the four issues that were the subject of the subpoena," he added.
Morrell said that the department has been in "constant communication" with the committee even before last week's Senate subpoenas.
Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III had a "lengthy" phone conversation April 23 with Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Morrell said.
The department declined, however, to provide access to its witnesses or to the investigative summaries of the event.
"We have made movement on some of the areas that we had originally objected to," Morrell said. "But we have held the line on those that we feel could potentially jeopardize the prosecution of Major Hasan.
"That, in the judgment of the general counsel and our career prosecutors here, is a bridge too far," he continued. "They really feel as though that could potentially jeopardize the prosecution of Major Hasan, and that's the risk that they, and now the secretary, are not willing to take."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had directed the department to be as accommodating to the committee as possible without potentially jeopardizing Hasan's prosecution. Gates recently denied hiding any documents from the committee.
"We have no interest in hiding anything," Gates said while on a recent trip to South America.
"We will cooperate with the committee in every way with that single caveat -- that whatever we provide does not impact the prosecution. That is the only thing in which we have an interest," he said. "Our priority is in ensuring we don't do anything that would potentially impact the prosecution of Major Hasan."
Morrell said the committee will not be allowed to keep the documents, but will have the chance to review them. This comes even as the Army's review is still under way, he said, and the documents contain "highly sensitive material" involving the careers of several military personnel.
Morrell characterized the agreement as "breaking new ground" in terms of how the department traditionally has cooperated with committees that do not have direct oversight of its personnel matters.
"We feel as though we have leaned very far forward, and we have made what we believe to be a considerable accommodation of the committee's request," he said.
Morrell emphasized that this is an accommodation made based solely on this request and does not signal a change in department policy.
"We do not view [this] as precedent setting," he said. "This is a unique circumstance, and based upon this particular situation, we are willing to do it in this instance, but it should not be viewed in any way as the new norm."