The Cable

Fort Hood Sparks Gun Control Fight Between Republicans and Pentagon

Hawkish Republicans and the senior leadership of the Pentagon typically see eye-to-eye on most things, but the deadly shooting at Fort Hood last week has exposed a rift on a highly-charged issue: Gun control.

After U.S. Army Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez killed three troops and wounded 16 others last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill began calling for new legislation to allow servicemembers to carry concealed weapons on U.S. bases. The measures are strongly opposed by the Pentagon, which says they would be costly and do nothing to improve security at bases.

"Some of the top reasons are safety concerns, the prohibitive costs of use-of-force and weapons training, qualification costs, and compliance with various weapons screening laws," a spokesman for the department said.

But on Capitol Hill, a number of GOP lawmakers say the current system is broken and if more Fort Hood personnel were armed last week, Lopez would not have been able to kill and injure as many as he did.

"We should be looking at the idea of senior leadership at these bases, give them the ability to carry a weapon," Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told Fox News on Sunday.

McCaul isn't alone. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) introduced legislation following the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard in September that would allow servicemembers and civilians to carry personal firearms on bases. A spokesman for Stockman says his bill gained three co-sponsors since last week: Paul Broun (R-GA), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Scott Perry (R-PA). In the Senate, James Inhofe (R-OK) also says he supports allowing service members to carry on base. At a hearing last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested the ban on concealed carry weapons should be lifted.

The Pentagon counters that a lack of guns on military bases is not the problem.

Existing rules allow military police and some other personnel to carry weapons deemed necessary for their job. In such a situation, a service member would openly carry government-provided weapons with the approval of the installation commander. Beyond that, the military says it "does not support arming all personnel,"  a position it came upon after ordering a review of safety protocols following the 2009 Fort Hood killings and another review following the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in September.

McCaul did not offer specifics on legislation he's considering, but some Republicans want to see servicemembers allowed to carry concealed weapons, which is strictly prohibited under existing rules. At a press conference on April 2, Lt. General Mark Milley, Ft. Hood's commanding officer, opposed the allowance of concealed weapons on base. "We have law enforcement agents, with trained professionals, and I don't want to endorse carrying concealed weapons," he said.

The latest flare up is not the first time the military establishment has gone to the mat against gun rights advocates.

In 2012, U.S. military commanders came under increasing pressure to combat the alarming spike in military suicides, many involving firearms. However, a law backed by the NRA prohibited military officers from asking servicemembers about personally-owned firearms and whether removing the weapon may be appropriate given the servicemember's mental state.

"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off-post whether that soldier has a privately-owned weapon," General Peter Chiarelli, the Army's former vice chief of staff said at the time. The law took effect in 2010, and since then, a dozen retired military officers including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer, have written to members of Congress asking them to amend the law.

With respect to the Fort Hood shooting, the law prevented commanders from asking about Lopez's personally-owned weapons because he had not been judged by a mental health care worker to be a risk to himself. At a Senate hearing last week, Army Secretary John McHugh said Lopez had seen a military psychiatrist but there were no red flags. "He was fully examined ... We had no indication on the record of that examination that there was any sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others. No suicidal ideation," McHugh said.

While the military maintains its opposition to the 2010 law, there are no signs it will be amended anytime soon.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

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National Security

Republicans Join Democrats in Vote to Declassify Senate Torture Report

This story has been updated.

In a surprisingly lopsided vote on Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to declassify a long-awaited and controversial report on the CIA's brutal program for interrogating suspected militants.

The 11-3 vote caps months of debate and is a sign of the growing rift between the intelligence community and its overseers on Capitol Hill. Officials who are familiar with the prisoners say it details cases of detainees who were dunked in cold water, battered with truncheons, and slammed against concrete walls. These officials say it concludes subjecting prisoners to such harsh interrogations, including what human rights groups and others call torture, may have been counterproductive, and that the techniques didn't produce any leads that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. Other officials bitterly dispute that claim and say the report is deeply flawed and inaccurate.

"The release of this summary and conclusions in the near future shows that this nation admits its errors, as painful as they may be, and seeks to learn from them," said California Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the committee. "We are acknowledging those mistakes, and we have a continuing responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever occurs again."

A CIA spokesman, meanwhile, said the agency would carry out a declassification review of the report "expeditiously."

"The CIA has acknowledged and learned from the [enhanced interrogation] program's shortcomings and has taken corrective measures to prevent such mistakes from happening again," the spokesman said. "At the same time, we owe it to the men and women directed to carry out this program to try and ensure that any historical account of it is accurate."

The White House, meanwhile, praised the committee vote to declassify the report. "Having prohibited these practices upon taking office, the president believes that bringing this program into the light will help the American people understand what happened in the past and can help guide us as we move forward, so that no administration contemplates such a program in the future," Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said in a statement.

The interrogation report is the product of three years' work and $40 million in preparation costs. Ever since its completion in December 2012, there has been strong disagreement among intelligence officials and lawmakers over how much information the public should be allowed to read. But different lawmakers had different incentives for voting yes on Thursday.

For Republicans, who had largely opposed the report's conclusions, declassification allows them to air their dissents about its finding and methodology. Some lawmakers, such as Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, said the report was fatally flawed because investigators didn't interview CIA officials involved in the program and got key facts about interrogations wrong.

"Despite the report's significant errors, omissions, and assumptions -- as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts -- I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves," Chambliss told reporters after the vote.

The most senior ranking Republican on the committee made clear he opposed the report's conclusion that enhanced interrogation techniques did not produce valuable intelligence. "I take strong exception to the notion that the CIA's detention and interrogation program did not provide intelligence that was helpful in disrupting terrorist attacks or tracking down Osama bin Laden," Chambliss said.

Others took a more nuanced view, such as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who voted "present." Coburn said he objected to the report's backward-looking thrust, but conceded that the measures it discusses qualify as torture. "Had this report provided insights, guidance or recommendations on how to effectively conduct coercive but lawful interrogations against terrorist threats, it would have provided guideposts to the future, rather than just critiques of the past," he said.

Sen.  Mark Udall (D-CO), who has done more than any lawmaker to expose the committee's rift with the CIA, argued that the report's findings are relevant to other CIA programs currently in use. "The findings of this report directly relate to how other CIA programs are managed today," he said. "Anyone who dismisses this study for its focus on actions of the past need only look at the events of the past few months - in particular, the CIA's unauthorized search of the committee's computers - to understand that the CIA not only hasn't learned from its mistakes, but continues to perpetuate them."

One of the three Republican senators to oppose declassification of the report was Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana.  "While I support public transparency of government activities, I voted against declassification for reasons I will outline in the minority views to the revised committee report, once it goes through the declassification process," he said.

Thursday's vote shifts the burden to the White House and CIA to approve, delay, or reject the declassification of the report.

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