Lawmakers aimed tough questions Monday at Defense Secretary William J. Perry after the Saudi terrorist bombing, as House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined a senator in suggesting that Perry may have to resign.
A day after Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., questioned “whether William J. Perry is the right man to be secretary of defense,” Gingrich, R-Ga., said that if congressional inquiries reveal that security precautions were botched, Perry would have to go.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Specter, and the Senate Armed Services Committee plan hearings next week into the truck bombing Tuesday that killed 19 Air Force personnel and injured hundreds of others at a military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, chairman of the armed services panel, declined to discuss Perry’s continued tenure, but he suggested the secretary may have been overly reluctant to press the Saudi government for better security around the U.S. compound.
“Never, ever should we relax our security requirements or practices in an effort to appease, or not to offend, a host country,” Thurmond, R-S.C., said. “The Clinton administration owes us a full accounting of the security measures that were in place.”
Perry has come under fire in part because of reports that U.S. military officials had sought permission from Saudi authorities to widen the security perimeter around the bombed apartment building but were turned down. Perry said he only learned of the refusal Saturday while visiting the bombing site.
The Washington Post, quoting senior Air Force officials, reported in today’s editions that the commander in Dhahran, Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier, never told his superiors that the Saudis had balked at expanding the security zone. This meant that no high-level pressure could be brought to bear on the Saudi government, the newspaper said.
Some Democrats also took aim at the Clinton administration’s kid-glove treatment of the Saudi government, though none called for Perry to step down.
Still, it appears too early to say the drums on Capitol Hill are beating for Perry’s resignation.
Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, appearing with Schroeder, said “any condemnation or judgment is premature at this point.”
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, stood by Perry.
“I have had and continue to have the highest personal regard for his integrity and for his ability to discharge the office of secretary of defense,” Warner said.
xxxx BOMBING VICTIMS Here’s a list of the individuals killed and missing in the Dhahran bombing. The names of the confirmed dead are: Airman First Class Christopher B. Lester of Pineville, W.Va., based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Master Sgt. Michael G. Heiser of Palm Coast, Fla., based at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Master Sgt. Kendall K.J. Kitson of Yukon, Okla., based at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Technical Sgt. Thanh V. Nguyen of Panama City, Fla., based at Eglin. Technical Sgt. Patrick P. Fennig of Greendale, Wis., based at Eglin. Staff Sgt. Kevin J. Johnson of Shreveport, La., based at Patrick. Sgt. Millard D. Campbell of Angleton, Texas, based at Eglin. Airman First Class Brent E. Marthaler of Cambridge, Minn., based at Eglin. Airman First Class Peter J. Morgera of Stratham, N.H., based at Eglin. Airman First Class Justin R. Wood of Modesto, Calif., based at Patrick. Capt. Christopher J. Adams of Massapequa Park, N.Y., based at Patrick. Capt. Leland T. Haun of Clovis, Calif., based at Patrick. Staff Sgt. Daniel B. Cafourek of Watertown, S.D., based at Eglin. Senior Airman Earl F. Cartrette Jr., of Sellersburg, Ind., based at Eglin. Senior Airman Jeremy A. Taylor of Rosehill, Kan., based at Eglin. Airman First Class Joseph E. Rimkus of Edwardsville, Ill., based at Eglin. Airman First Class Brian W. McVeigh of Debary, Fla., based at Eglin. Airman First Class Joshua E. Woody of Corning, Calif., based at Eglin. The Air Force also has the remains of one other it has classified as “unaccounted for.” No hometown was provided. He is: Staff Sgt. Ronald L. King, based at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. - Associated Press