WASHINGTON — The fourth anniversary of the Fort Hood massacre slipped by today without a mention from the Pentagon but with a death sentence recently imposed on the head of the assailant.
Finally over were the endless stretches of former Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan delaying his trial through everything from facial hair to scores of pretrial motions. In August, Hasan was convicted of killing 13 and wounding 32 in the slaughter for which he proudly took credit.
The Obama administration infamously classified the attack as “workplace violence” instead of terrorism, which the Pentagon said was vital terminology to not jeopardize the prosecution of Hasan. “The Department of Defense is committed to the integrity of the ongoing court martial proceedings of [Hasan] and for that reason will not at this time further characterize the incident that occurred at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Yet since Hasan was convicted, there’s been no movement toward reversing that — or getting the victims the same benefits and protections afforded those affected in the 9/11 attacks.
There has been movement, though, in Congress, where Texas lawmakers are laboring to reverse a four-year wrong and find for the victims the justice missing in the federal government’s treatment of their case.
And they could use concerned Americans’ help to rally support to bring their effort to the floor for a vote.
The Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act was introduced in the upper chamber in September by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and in the House by Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Roger Williams (R-Texas). Carter and Williams share Fort Hood in their district boundaries.
“Many of us thought this was an absurdity; everybody in the country said it had to be a terrorist act,” Williams told PJM today.
He noted that in the original Carter-Williams effort to get the “workplace violence” designation swapped out for terrorism, they were “asked to tone it down a bit until the trial was over.”
“I agreed with that,” Williams said. “We didn’t want to interfere with anything that had to happen with this terrorist.”
In the post-conviction phase, where no terminology adjustments could affect a prosecution but hold lots of weight for those depending on care and benefits, the lawmakers introduced the Fort Hood Heroes Act “to declare the November 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas, a terrorist attack, and to ensure that the victims of the attack and their families receive the same honors and benefits as those Americans who have been killed or wounded in a combat zone overseas and their families.”
The bill specifically states the attack was “not merely workplace violence,” notes the attack on Fort Hood “could and should have been prevented,” recognizes that Hasan “had become radicalized while serving in the United States Army and was principally motivated to carry out the attack by an ideology of violent Islamist extremism,” and adds “Hasan proved himself to be not just a terrorist, but also a traitor and an enemy of the United States.”
It stipulates that the Purple Heart should be awarded to service members killed or injured in the attack, and civilians killed or wounded should get the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom.
In May 2012, President Obama listed language granting Purple Hearts to Fort Hood victims as one reason he’d veto the National Defense Authorization Act.
“I’m still amazed that this administration doesn’t want to admit that this was a terrorist attack,” Williams said. “We’re going to get this bill up and running” and, once it makes its way through the House and Senate to the commander in chief’s desk, “make President Obama act accordingly.”
As to why the administration, from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to current Secretary Chuck Hagel, isn’t revisiting the “workplace violence” classification, “I think they’re looking at it like they don’t want to have terrorism on their watch,” Williams added, noting Hasan “even admitted he was a terrorist — he wished he would have done more.”
“We the mujahideen are imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion in the land of the supreme God,” Hasan said at his trial, trying to justify opening fire on the soldiers readying to deploy to Afghanistan.
“This administration has forgotten these young people and that is a tragedy,” Williams said. “I’m not gonna let that happen.”
To that end, he and Carter have 202 co-sponsors on their bill; Democrats on board include Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.) and Texas Reps. Ruben Hinojosa, Al Green, Joaquin Castro and Beto O’Rourke.
When the House returns next week, Williams and Carter aim to bump that number up to 218. “When that happens we should get it out of committee and onto the floor,” Williams said.
Congress’ attention on the Fort Hood shooting won’t stop at the “workplace violence” label, either. Over Hasan’s trial he continued to collect his paycheck, earning more than $300,000 until 10 days after he was declared guilty. Acknowledging the law was being followed, Williams said one proposal would treat a member of the military in Hasan’s position as federal employee, stopping pay during the trial.
Another concern is that shooters — from Fort Hood to the Navy Yard — could have been stopped sooner if soldiers were allowed to carry their weapons on base.
“They haven’t addressed what we need to do is let these young men and women have their weapons,” Williams said. “We’re going to have this dialogue — to leave them wide open is no answer.”
The congressman spoke in his district on the afternoon of the Fort Hood anniversary. “People want it fixed — they want this to be declared a terrorist act, get these young men and women help and move on,” Williams said. “I haven’t had one person come up to me and say ‘this is workplace violence.’ Even the terrorist said he’s a terrorist.”
“When can we start telling these kids we love them and appreciate their service?” the congressman added. “If people are as upset about this as most people are, let your legislators know. Call their congressman if they’re not on it and tell them to sign the bill.”