The Claim that Awarding Purple Hearts to Hasan's Victims Would Prejudice His Murder Trial Is Ridiculous

What fact do you suppose is better known: (a) that Nidal Hasan has been incarcerated since he killed 13 American soldiers and wounded several others while screaming, "Allahu Akbar!" in the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, or (b) that his victims were denied Purple Heart medals by the U.S. government?

Obviously, by leaps and bounds, the answer is (a). And for this reason, among several others, it is patently disgraceful that the Obama administration and its minions in the hyper-politically correct Pentagon brass are denying those soldiers shot by Hasan the military honors they are due -- long overdue, actually – from having been wounded by an enemy operative in a wartime terrorist attack.

Speciously, military prosecutors are arguing that granting Purple Heart awards to the wounded victims would somehow prejudice Major Hasan’s upcoming trial because it would be tantamount to a branch of the government rendering a judgment that he is a terrorist and therefore already criminally culpable. The White House’s hacks at the Defense Department -- both uniformed and non-uniformed -- are reportedly trying to run this same jive by lawmakers, several of whom are incensed by the slight to the wounded. If they are capable of shame, administration officials ought to be ashamed by this frivolous claim, which dishonors not only Hasan’s victims but also the military justice system itself.

It has always been the proud boast of the military justice system that a truly innocent person has a better chance of being acquitted there than in the civilian system. That is because military trials are typically decided by panels of commissioned officers. For them, there is a solemnity about following orders that is unmatched by cross-sections of the general public who serve as petit jurors in civilian trials.

The military judge will instruct the panel that the case is to be decided solely based on the evidence presented in court – specifically, whether it establishes the elements of the offenses charged against Hasan. The jurors will be directed that they are not to decide the case based on outside publicity or any findings already made by other government officials – including in probes by the armed forces. In the trial, it will be for the panel alone, based on its assessment of the testimony and other evidence presented in court, to decide whether Hasan is guilty. There is a presumption in both the civilian and military systems that juries follow those instructions. We can have full confidence that, in the military system, the panel will honor the instructions of the court.

The administration-driven suggestion that the panel hearing Hasan’s case will be swayed by the awarding -- or, for that matter, the non-awarding -- of Purple Hearts is a slander on the military justice system. It is tantamount to saying we should presume that officers of the United States armed forces will defy their orders – which would itself be a profound offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Put law and honor aside for a moment, though. The Purple Heart argument is risible as a matter of common sense. Until a few days ago, no one was even thinking about Purple Hearts, much less that there was a controversy over them. Yet virtually everyone who knows anything about the Fort Hood jihadist attack knows that -- like many aggressors charged with murder in American courts -- Hasan has been detained without bail because of both the dangerousness he manifestly poses to the community and the flight risk his palpable guilt implies (notwithstanding his paralysis). Furthermore, there has been far more publicity about the fact that Hasan’s attorneys represented that Hasan was prepared to plead guilty on at least some of the charges than about the Purple Heart issue.

It is thus absurd to suggest that the award of Purple Hearts to Hasan’s victims would be incurably prejudicial to the military court’s ability to give Hasan a fair trial but, somehow, that his pretrial detention for four years and his desire to admit guilt would not.