'Long Overdue': Purple Hearts for Fort Hood, Little Rock Victims Rolled Into Defense Funding Bill
WASHINGTON -- In May 2012, President Obama threatened to veto the National Defense Authorization Act because, among other reasons, the bill would have awarded Purple Hearts to the victims of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and Little Rock recruitment office shooting.
“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 stated. “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.”
Years later, persistent lawmakers have gotten the Purple Hearts for these victims of terrorism into the compromise NDAA for Fiscal Year 2015.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act in September 2013, with companion legislation introduced in the House by Fort Hood Reps. John Carter (R-Texas) and Roger Williams (R-Texas). Cornyn's bill never made it out of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Now that the provision has been rolled into the NDAA it's even broader: Fort Hood and Little Rock victims would qualify, in addition to any other acts of terrorism on U.S. soil retroactive to 9/11.
The provision requires that attacks inspired or motivated by a foreign terrorist organization be treated as an attack by an international terrorist organization for the purpose of awarding the Purple Heart. Specifically, the attacker would have to have communication with a foreign terrorist organization before the attack.
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, was sentenced to death for the Nov. 5, 2009, massacre at Fort Hood in which 13 were killed and 29 wounded. He is currently on death row at Leavenworth while the appeals process plays out.
Hasan has since asked self-proclaimed caliphate Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to make him a citizen of the Islamic State.
“While long overdue, this is welcome news for the wounded, the family members of the fallen and the entire Fort Hood community who came under terrorist attack 5 years ago," Cornyn said in a statement to PJM. "This close-knit community has endured great loss in recent years, and I am pleased we are now one step closer to delivering this important piece of justice to the victims and their families.”
A Senate aide told PJM that once passed, which is expected before the 113th Congress is over, Cornyn will begin pushing the Pentagon to award the Purple Heats as soon as possible.
Will the White House pull out the veto threat again?
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about the administration's position on the provision this time around.
"There are a lot of measures that are included in the NDAA," Earnest said. "I haven’t heard about that particular provision, but I can get back to you and let you know if we have a position on it." He didn't reveal that position at Thursday's briefing.
The $585 billion defense funding bill passed the House today 300-119. It heads to the Senate for approval, with language already negotiated between the two chambers by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).
The bill as a whole will meet some criticism in the upper chamber thanks to its pork, but is expected to pass next week.
“This has been a top priority for my Texas colleagues and me ever since the tragic attack in 2009. I am relieved that the victims and families of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting are finally nearing justice and closure," Carter said in a statement.
"I remain disappointed that the president has not taken action or fulfilled his promise that he made to the victims five years ago," the congressman said. "I urge the president to forego any further politics on this issue and keep his promise by signing the NDAA into law. The victims of this terrorist attack have suffered long enough!"
Williams called the House passage "a huge step in the joint efforts to help victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack, and I’d like to thank Rep. John Carter and many of our Texas colleagues for their endless support."
"Our nation’s leaders must uphold our solemn commitment to provide for troops in harm’s way – whether at home or abroad," he said. "President Obama has neglected those whose lives were taken and forever changed that day. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation gives President Obama yet another opportunity to honor his pledge to take care of our American soldiers who were victims of terrorism."