Army Denies Purple Heart to Fort Hood Victims (For Now)

The Army has ruled, correctly, that the victims of Major Nidal Hassan are not entitled to the Purple Heart.

purple-heart-medal

The Army has ruled, correctly, that the victims of Major Nidal Hasan are not entitled to the Purple Heart.

Reuters (“Army formally declines Purple Hearts for Fort Hood shooting victims“):

The U.S. Army on Friday formally declined to award Purple Heart medals to the victims of Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood, saying the move would damage his ability to receive a fair trial.
The Army in a position paper said that awarding the medal to those wounded and posthumously to those killed in the November 2009 attack would ‘set the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist’ because the medal is presented to military members who are ‘wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States.’

[…]

The Army formalized its ongoing opposition to awarding the Purple Hearts in a position paper responding to language inserted in the Defense Authorization Bill, which would require the Secretary of the Army to award the medal.

Some of Hasan’s wounded victims and families of the deceased have filed a federal lawsuit and among the demands is that each of the victims be awarded financial compensation and a Purple Heart.

“U.S. military personnel are organized, trained and equipped to combat foreign, not domestic, forces or threats,” the Army wrote. “To expand the Purple Heart award criteria to include domestic criminal acts or domestic terror attacks would be a dramatic departure from the traditional Purple Heart award criteria.”

This is correct and fully expected. (See my October posting “Purple Heart for Fort Hood Victims?“)

Soldiers kill other soldiers in criminal acts all the time. The victims don’t get awarded Purple Hearts, which have historically been awarded to those killed or wounded by the enemy in battle. The law was changed in the 1980s to authorize the award for victims of foreign terrorist attacks (thus, the Pentagon victims of the 9/11 attacks were authorized the medal).

Hasan is a major in the United States Army. Unless it’s established that he was a member of al Qaeda, his victims are simply victims of a crime spree.

Further, even if it were the position of the Army that Hasan is a member of al Qaeda, it would be a gross example of undue command influence to award the Purple Heart to his victims before he’s convicted. It would be an official finding of guilt before the court martial has rendered a verdict. That would be improper; indeed, it would be outrageous.

Now, as noted in October, I think it’s possible—perhaps even likely—that the Army will decide that Hasan was indeed acting as an al Qaeda operative if and when he’s convicted. At that point, the Purple Heart would be authorized and forthcoming.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Awarding a medal and convicting on a criminal matter are different matters. Also, there is but a modest burden of persuasion involved in justifying a medal award as compared to heavy burden beyond reasonable doubt to support a criminal conviction. Evidence of a medal award would not even be admissible in a criminal proceeding. I mean really, do you think there’s a police force in this country that doesn’t award posthumous honors and death benefits to the survivors of fallen officers until all criminal matters concerning the officer’s demise are resolved? The answer is no, because those are two different matters, and evidence of awards is not admissible in a criminal case. There is no reason to delay honoring and compensating the wounded and killed in the carnage at Fort Hood – none.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Now, as noted in October, I think it’s possible—perhaps even likely—that the Army will decide that Hassan was indeed acting as an al Qaeda operative if and when he’s convicted. At that point, the Purple Heart would be authorized and forthcoming.

    The problem I have is I see al Qaeda as a criminal origination not a military one. It’s the problem with the entire ‘War on Terror” meme – it’s a crime not a war. The Fort Hood victims are victims of a crime not a war related injury.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Let’s Be Free: The a police officer has been killed in the line of duty is a matter of fact. The legal matter is the guilt of a particular defendant. Additionally, there’s a crucial difference: In civilian law, the police are part of the executive and the courts are part of the judiciary, and the jury is civilian. Police and prosecutors declare guilt all the time but the judge and jury aren’t beholden to them. In the military, the police, trial counsel, judge, and jury all answer to the same chain of command (more or less). So, there’s the concept of “command influence.” Those atop the chain of command have to be especially careful to avoid the appearance of putting their thumb on the scales.

    @Ron Beasley: We changed the law after the Beirut barracks bombing, when 241 American military personnel on peacekeeping duty were killed by a Hezbollah terrorist attack. Rightly so, in my view. Similarly, those killed on the USS Cole were authorized. Again, rightly so. In both those cases, we had people deployed and killed by an enemy of the United States. I’m a little more squeamish about those killed or wounded at the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks, since they weren’t on deployment. And much more so about the Fort Hood victims, killed at home by an American criminal who was actually an officer in the US Army.

  4. Tyrell says:

    Hopefully there will be a full investigation on the work and influence of terrorist groups concerning this attack on the military.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Tyrell: The attack happened three and a half years ago. I would hope the investigation has already happened.

  6. @James Joyner:

    The a police officer has been killed in the line of duty is a matter of fact

    Oh really? Do you actually think if some dude who has had a beef with the police goes up to an officer’s front door at his abode, when the officer is off duty, and blows the officer’s head off, that the civil process of compensating the officer’s family and the command process of honoring the officer for in reality yielding his life in the line of duty, would await the years that pass while criminal culpability is litigated? There’s not a chance in the world. They way the issues are dealt with in cases like that is responsibility and decision making are compartmentalized. The military can do the same if it wishes. And the military can order participants, to the extent necessary in the different matters, to not confound responsibilities. That the military doesn’t have the gumption or the forthrightness to do so in the Fort Hood situation is a politically motivated travesty.

  7. Tony W says:

    which have historically been awarded to those killed or wounded by the enemy in battle

    This is also partially the result of the silliness of wars “on” things. One could argue that a war “on” terror, drugs, poverty, etc. would qualify any wounded affiliate of such an action the status of injured in “battle”.

  8. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    Another well done job by all those JAG-gy guys and gals. This being the Easter season maybe they’ll move on to “How many Islamo-terrorists can dance on the head of a “Kuffar”. Funny how things break in our Muslim-seeded Obama administration, now isn’t it? All that “Allahu Akbar” shouting, the (SoA) [Soldier of Allah] calling card, the communications with the droned Al-Awaki, nothing to see there. Just misinterpretable accidental coincidences if you ask me. And, almost simultaneously, somewhere down by the oasis, or in a deep dark cave, or in a house in Pah-ki-stan some sheikh, imam, or prophet lifts his burnoose sleeve across his mouth for another silent laugh at the confusions of the kuffars.

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope.

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope.

    Oh absolutely, because it is sheer madness if our foreign policy isn’t based on bigotry, fear, and ignorance…