After a long fight led by Texas lawmakers, the Senate just passed a defense reauthorization bill that includes a provision to make victims of the Fort Hood terrorist attack eligible to receive Purple Hearts.
The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015 easily passed 89-11 as the upper chamber wraps up the final business of the 113th Congress.
The “no” votes came from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
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.
The provision that was rolled into the NDAA is 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.
“Fort Hood has long been a source of pride for all Texans, and though long overdue this is welcome news for the wounded, the families of the fallen, and the entire community who all continue to heal from this unspeakable tragedy,” Cornyn said in a statement after the NDAA’s passage.
“The men and women who put themselves in harm’s way on that fateful day deserve nothing less than this high honor for their sacrifices, and I urge the president to sign this bill into law as soon as possible so we can grant these heroes the recognition they’ve earned.”
In May 2012, President Obama threatened to veto the NDAA 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.”
There has been no indication that the White House expects to take the same position this time. Last week, 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.”
But the provision has unequivocal bipartisan support. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said Monday that she strongly supports “extending the awarding of the Purple Heart to those killed domestically as a result of a foreign terrorist attack,” even though she voted against the final bill because she wanted a full debate and vote on action against ISIS and equipping Syrian rebels.
“I am happy to report that those injured at Ft. Hood will now have the opportunity to receive a Purple Heart pursuant to their service and the wounds they suffered during that terrorist attack,” Jackson Lee said.
The $585 billion defense funding bill passed the House last week 300-119.
Yesterday on the Senate floor, Cornyn said “it became clear” shortly after the Fort Hood shooting that Hasan “was motivated by the same poisonous ideology that spurred the attacks on September the 11th, 2001.”
“In other words, this was an act of domestic terrorism. Yet, due to the narrow and outdated definition of quote ‘international terrorism,’ the Fort Hood victims have not been awarded the same medals and recognition as other military victims of terrorism,” he said.
“When our men and women in uniform come under hostile fire from a terrorist, they and their families should receive the full honors and the full recognition and the benefits that accompany such courageous service. That’s why I’ve authored legislation here in the Senate making these victims of the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood eligible to receive the Purple Heart or the civilian equivalent.”
Cornyn stressed that “the close-knit community at Fort Hood has endured great loss in recent years” and said he hoped once the bill passed “the president will act quickly in signing this legislation into law, because any further delay is a continuing injustice to all of the victims from that day and indeed all of the good people at Fort Hood.”