The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would award Purple Heart medals to victims of the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, a move the Pentagon says could disrupt the alleged shooter’s trial.
The provision in the defense authorization bill, H.R. 1960, would require the Defense Department to extend the military honor to all those killed or wounded during the shootings at the Army base on Nov. 5, 2009. The bill, passed 315-108, would authorize $638 billion in discretionary, mandatory and war spending by the Defense Department and related agencies in fiscal 2014.
The Pentagon opposes the Fort Hood provision, saying it could adversely affect the court-martial of MajorNidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the shooting deaths of 13 fellow soldiers and the wounding of almost three dozen people. Hasan is awaiting a military trial in Texas.
The Purple Heart provision “would undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan’s ability to receive a fair trial,” the Pentagon wrote in a position paper, referring to language in last year’s House defense authorization. “This provision will be viewed as setting the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist.”
This is the second time the House has passed legislation with the Purple Heart requirement. Last year’s Senate bill, written by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, didn’t include that language, and the provision didn’t make it through a House-Senate conference. Once again, there is no similar language in this year’s Senate measure, S. 1034, which the Armed Services Committee approved yesterday, 23-3.
“The Department of Defense is committed to the integrity of the ongoing court martial proceedings of Major Nidal Hasan and for that reason will not further characterize, at this time, the incident that occurred at Fort Hood,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said today in a statement.
This year’s House bill also seeks to force the Pentagon to award Purple Heart medals to victims of another shooting in 2009. Abdulhakim Muhammad allegedly attacked a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, shooting one person to death and wounding another on June 1 of that year.
“The proposed bill alters the long-established Purple Heart award criterion,” the Pentagon said in its position paper, reported earlier this year by ABC News. “To expand the Purple Heart award criteria to include domestic criminal acts or domestic terror attacks would be a dramatic departure.”
The White House expressed its opposition this week to the provision and to the defense bill as a whole. “This provision is inconsistent with the award criteria for the Purple Heart,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in a statement of administration policy.
“They are opposing it,” Representative John Carter, a Texas Republican whose congressional district includes Fort Hood, said of the Defense Department today in an interview. “I disagree with the Pentagon. They don’t want to call those battlefield injuries.”
Carter has sponsored legislation, H.R. 705, that would provide the Purple Heart and subsequent benefits to the Fort Hood victims.
In an e-mailed statement, Carter said he’s refraining from commenting on the Hasan case so as not to affect the trial’s outcome. “I do however remain committed and dedicated to ensuring the victims of the Fort Hood shooting receive the benefits and support they deserve,” he said.
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