White House to testify at hearing on "home-grown" militants

Dec 2, 2011 Issues: Domestic Radicalization / Radicalization Hearings

Reuters -- by Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration has signaled it will cooperate with a controversial congressional inquiry into alleged threats posed by "home-grown" Islamic militants that critics have branded a "witch hunt."

The House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security said on its website that the White House would supply two official witnesses for a December 7 hearing on "The threat to military communities inside the United States."

The committee, chaired by Republican Representative Peter King, had led controversial hearings earlier this year on alleged domestic Islamic radicalization.

The administration's apparent decision to take part in the hearings could expose it to criticism from American Muslims and civil liberties groups on a hot-button issue they say reflects anti-Muslim bias, just as an election year begins.

Proponents, however, argue that there is a genuine threat from home-grown Islamic militants in the United States and that the matter deserves serious scrutiny, including by Congress.

The hearing, which will be held jointly with the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Independent Joseph Lieberman, is the latest in a series of politically-charged hearings launched by King into alleged efforts by Islamic militants to recruit and radicalize American citizens on U.S. soil.

King's earlier hearings that began in March were criticized by Democrats and civil liberties groups as overzealous and prejudiced against Muslims. The website of Foreign Policy, a journal for Washington insiders, described them as "Peter King's Witch Hunt."

A Capitol Hill source said that the Obama administration refused to cooperate or send witnesses to the earlier King hearings. Democrats on King's committee also limited their participation.

But on Friday the website of King's committee published a witness list for the December 7 hearing that included the names of Paul Stockton, an Assistant Secretary Defense for Homeland Security, and Jim Stuteville, a senior U.S. Army Advisor for counter-intelligence and liaison to the FBI.

Also listed as a witness is Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, director of a counter-terrorism research center the U.S. military academy at West Point.

King said in a statement the forthcoming hearing would focus on cases like the 2009 attack at Ft. Hood, Texas, in which an Army Psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, a Muslim, shot dead 13 people, and that of Naser Jason Abdo, a Muslim U.S. Army private who went AWOL and allegedly plotted a second attack against Ft. Hood.

King's previous hearings had sought to highlight alleged Islamic radicalization efforts in U.S. prisons and activities inside the United States of al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate based in Somalia.

Lieberman's committee, meanwhile, has been conducting an extended investigation into how the Army and Pentagon handled the case of Maj. Hasan, and whether authorities responded appropriately to intelligence some officials believe raised questions about Hasan before the shooting spree.