U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Roger Williams of Austin and John Carter of Round Rock have proposed a commendable bill that would label the attack at Fort Hood an act of terror, which would make the victims of the attack and their families eligible to receive additional federal benefits — combat-related pay, extra life insurance coverage and tax breaks, for example.
Further, the bill, named the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act by the three Texas Republicans, would allow the Pentagon to award the Purple Heart or its civilian equivalent to the victims of the attack.
The worthy measure can’t end the pain of those who lost loved ones in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack, but it can ease the continuing struggles of their survivors and of the wounded. We realize members of Congress have a full and divisive agenda awaiting them when they return to work next week, but they should pass the legislation by Cornyn, Williams and Carter as promptly as possible.
Army Maj. Nidal Hasan was convicted and sentenced to death last month for killing 13 and wounding 32 at Fort Hood four years ago. Concerns about compromising Hasan’s court-martial led to the defeat of previous attempts to pass similar legislation. With Hasan now imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., reasons to object have diminished.
“I believe the victims of this terrorist attack deserve the same recognition as those attacked by terrorists on September 11,” Carter said last week. “It is time this administration stops calling this ‘workplace violence’ and label it for what it is — an act of terror on U.S. soil.”
News reports exploring why the Defense Department refused to charge Hasan with terrorism have noted that military prosecutors could not charge Hasan with terrorism because no such charge exists under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Prosecutors “really didn’t have an option,” Scott Silliman, a Duke University military law expert, told the Associated Press recently.
The accusation that political correctness motivated the Pentagon to label the Fort Hood shooting “workplace violence” rather than terrorism has been based a bit on a canard, a distortion of the narrowly defined legal line Army prosecutors had to walk as they took Hasan to trial. “We never characterized it as ‘workplace violence,’” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson recently told the McClatchy Washington Bureau. “We’ve never characterized it as anything.”
Hasan’s attack was an act of terror as well as a criminal act. He was inspired by jihadist ideology, though despite contacting Anwar al-Alawki, the American-born radical cleric who was killed in Yemen in 2011 by a U.S. drone strike, he appears to have acted without overseas instructions.
Hasan, who represented himself at trial, admitted he was the shooter during his brief opening statement last month. He had wanted to tell jurors he had attacked soldiers deploying to Afghanistan because he wanted to protect his fellow Muslims overseas, but the trial judge, Col. Tara Osborn, wouldn’t let him pursue a so-called defense of others argument. Hasan spent most of his trial sitting in silence.
One of Hasan’s victims, Michael Grant, was a civilian, so we suppose it’s possible Hasan could have been tried in civilian court. Civilian prosecutors could have, and we’re sure eagerly would have, charged Hasan with terrorism. Hasan also could have pleaded guilty in civilian court, something military law prevented him from doing, since he was being tried on capital charges.
But there was no way Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was going to be tried in civilian court. “He was an active-duty officer. The crime occurred on a military installation,” Silliman said. “It was obvious he was going to face a court-martial.”
While his court-martial had more than its share of maddening delays, Army prosecutors attained their goal: Hasan was convicted and sentenced to death. His case must now go through a mandatory appeals process that most military law experts expect will take years.
Members of Congress return to Washington next week. They face contentious votes on the use of force in Syria and the debt ceiling, and a battle, driven by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, over funding the Affordable Care Act that could lead to a government shutdown. If members want to set one positive goal for themselves this fall, they could take a break from their partisan quarrels and do right by Hasan’s victims.