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2014-12-25

Senate approves making Fort Hood victims eligible for Purple Hearts

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Last week, the United States Senate passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 89 to 11.
The bill includes a provision based on legislation written by Senator John Cornyn that would make victims of the November 2009 terrorist attack at Fort Hood eligible to receive Purple Hearts. Prior to approval in the Senate, the bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 300 to 119.
Cornyn has long advocated for declaring the military and civilian victims of the terrorist attack - perpetrated by former US Army Major Nidal Hasan - as casualties on the current War on Terror. Nisan was unanimously found guilty of 13 counts of premeditated murder of service men and women and a and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder on Friday, August 23, 2014.
After convicting Hasan of the crime, the jury deliberated for only two hours before sentencing him to death. In addition, the convicted murderer was also required to forfeit his pay and allowances and to be dismissed from the military. Hasan remains on death row in the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The terrorist attack that shook Fort Hood in fall 2009 killed 13 servicemen and servicewomen and one Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and wounded 32 others. The 10-minute attack was described as "the deadliest terrorist attack within the United States since Sept. 11, 2001," according to a report issued by a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Witnesses interviewed at the time of the incident said Hasan shouted, "Allahu Akbar" - Arabic for "God is great" - before opening fire in a crowded processing facility. Throughout the trial, Hasan never denied being the shooter. Instead he explained in his opening statement that after eventually realizing he was "on the wrong side" of the war, he switched sides and considered himself a mujahedeen.
During the trial, it was brought out that Hasan had had protracted email contact with Islamic extremists from 2008 to 2009. Both the FBI and the Defense Department were aware that Hasan was in contact with Imam Anwar Al-Awlaki in Yemen, who had ties to the Sept. 11 attackers. Additionally, Hasan had made verbal and written statements justifying that attack and a subsequent one at Fort Dix.
Regarding the terrorist attack in Texas, Cornyn said, "Fort Hood has long been a source of pride for all Texans. 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." He continued, "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. 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."
Existing criteria for the Purple Heart allow the medal to be awarded to service members killed or wounded "as the result of an international terrorist attack against the United States." The provision in the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act would update the definition of "international terrorist attack" to include a terrorist attack that was inspired or motivated by al Qaeda or another US State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization, and one prior to which the attacker was in communication with the terrorist group.
The provision would be retroactively effective as of Sept. 11, 2001, and would require fresh reviews of the 2009 Fort Hood attack and other attacks since 9-11. For the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart - the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom - the measure would require a determination of whether it should be awarded to any civilians who were killed or wounded in the 2009 terrorist attack at Fort Hood.
Cornyn, along with Congressmen John R. Carter and Roger Williams, both of Texas, introduced similar legislation, The Fort Hood Victims and Families Benefits Protection Act, in both 2009 and 2011, and Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act, in 2013.