Before leaving for the Memorial Day recess, the House set up a showdown with President Obama and the Senate with Friday’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Three days before the $642.5 billion spending bill passed 299-120, the Office of Management and Budget released a statement of administration policy on the bill, threatening a veto if numerous provisions remained in the legislation.
“If the cumulative effects of the bill impede the ability of the Administration to execute the new defense strategy and to properly direct scarce resources, the President’s senior advisors would recommend to the President that he veto the bill,” the OMB warned, stressing this with underlined text.
The statement then outlined some of “a number” of “concerns” — 32, to be exact — including limitations on nuclear force reduction and a provision to block repatriated Guantanamo detainees from traveling to the U.S.
No. 26 on the list of veto-worthy offenses is objection to awarding Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood and Little Rock shootings.
“The Administration objects to section 552, which would grant Purple Hearts to the victims of the shooting incidents in Fort Hood, Texas, and Little Rock, Arkansas,” the veto threat states. “The criminal acts that occurred in Little Rock were tried by the State of Arkansas as violations of the State criminal code rather than as acts of terrorism; as a result, this provision could create appellate issues.”
On June 1, 2009, Muslim convert Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who had spent time in Yemen and was an avowed jihadist, killed one soldier and wounded another in a drive-by shooting on a military recruiting office in Little Rock. He pleaded guilty to murder, avoiding trial and the death penalty, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major who had email communications with senior al-Qaeda recruiter and Yemen-based cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, awaits military trial for the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 were killed and 29 wounded.
After the Fort Hood shootings, the FBI quickly said there was no evidence of a greater terrorist plot at work, the Defense Department called it an “isolated” case, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Hasan’s actions were not representative of his Muslim faith.
This past December, a letter from the Defense Department was raised at a joint session of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees that noted the Pentagon was “dealing with the threat of violent Islamist extremism in the context of a broader threat of workplace violence.” Lawmakers blasted the language as dismissing the true nature of the tragedy.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) introduced a bill at the end of April to amend Title 10 of the U.S. Code to provide for the award of the Purple Heart to members of the Armed Forces who are killed or wounded in a terrorist attack perpetrated within the United States.
It’s also retroactive. “The Secretaries of the military departments (and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard) shall undertake a review of each death or wounding of a member of the Armed Forces that occurred within the United States between January 1, 2009, and the date of the enactment of this Act under circumstances that could qualify the death or wounding as being the result of a terrorist attack.”
That bill has 13 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), John Carter (R), Henry Cuellar (D) and Mike McCaul (R).
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate on May 8. That bill is co-sponsored by the home-state senators of the shooting locations: Republican Sens. John Boozman (Ark.), John Cornyn (Texas), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), and Mark Pryor (Ark.).
“Congress has historically acted to ensure that the recognition we award to our servicemembers keeps pace with the threats they face,” Lieberman said at its introduction. “The war on terrorism continues at home, and we must face the reality that radicalized individuals and groups within the United States have targeted and will continue to target our men and women in uniform.”
Soon after the Fort Hood attack, Lieberman called it “the most destructive terrorist attack on America since September 11, 2001.”
It was King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who got the language in the House version of the defense authorization bill. The Senate is still working on its version.
“Military personnel here in the U.S. have become a target-of-choice for the Islamist terrorists we have battled since 9/11,” King said. “There have been at least 34 domestic terrorism threats, plots, or attacks against U.S. military communities since 2001.”
Carter, who represents the Fort Hood area, originally introduced Purple Heart legislation just days after the attack in the 111th Congress. He praised the inclusion of King’s language as a “step closer to victory.”
“There is no excuse for this having taken so long,” said Carter last week. “The Department of Defense could have immediately granted combat status to the Fort Hood victims under the same authority DOD used to grant that status to the 9-11 casualties at the Pentagon. The refusal is pure politics on the behalf of the Obama administration in seeking to deny a radical Islamic terror attack on U.S. soil under their watch as a result of force-protection vulnerabilities due to political-correctness.”
The administration brushing off the terrorism aspect of the tragedies has long raised the ire of Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), respectively chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, who called on Obama in a 2011 report to develop a strategy to combat domestic Islamist extremism.
Announcing the findings of that probe into Fort Hood, Collins slammed the Pentagon for failing to act on Hasan’s “obvious radicalization” and the Washington Joint Terrorism Task Force for its four-hour investigation into Hasan’s terror ties. “That is all the time that that the Washington JTTF spent investigating whether a military officer in communication with a known terrorist suspect amounted to a national security threat,” she said. “This hasty decision to close the investigation cost the government its last, best chance to identify the threat posed by Major Hasan and to potentially prevent the November 2009 attack.”
When the White House issued that plan in December, the two senators said the plan fell short and noted it didn’t even designate one agency “to coordinate operations and ensure accountability and effectiveness of the national effort to counter violent Islamist extremism at home.”
“We also continue to be disappointed by the Administration’s refusal to identify violent Islamist extremism as our enemy,” Lieberman and Collins wrote. “To understand this threat and counter it, we must not shy away from making the sharp distinction between the peaceful religion followed by millions of law-abiding Americans and a twisted corruption of that religion used to justify violence.”