In November of 2009, then-.U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on a group of fellow Soldiers gathered for pre-deployment processing at the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan murdered 13 unarmed Soldiers (including one who was pregnant) and wounded dozens more before himself being shot and disabled by responding civilian police forces.
After his apprehension, Hasan was charged with and ultimately convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for his alleged crimes. The ensuing investigation revealed that Hasan made the decision to conduct his act of mass murder after self-radicalization abetted in part through a series of sermons made by, and later direct communication with, Al Qaeda (AQ) luminary Anwar al-Awlaki. Awlaki was an American-born terrorist leader within AQ’s franchise in Yemen and had conspired with Hasan and others to attack Americans and American interests before himself being slain in a US drone strike.
Hasan, who reportedly shouted the jihadi war cry “Allah Ackbar!” as he commenced his murderous rampage, freely admitted his culpability in the attack against his fellow soldiers during the subsequent trial.
After multiple delays caused mainly by Hasan’s courtroom theatrics, such as refusing to shave his beard, he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death for his crimes. He remains on death row, reportedly shorn of the beard he was inexplicably allowed to keep during his trial… a trial during which he also retained the rank, and the pay, of an Army major.
By his own account, Hasan was acting on behalf of AQ when he carried out his murderous rampage. AQ declared war on the United States in August of 1996, and since we apparently didn’t get the message the first time, they declared war again in 1998.
After the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. finally began to take AQ seriously and declared war on AQ through the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Since a state of war exists between the US and AQ, some may point to the Geneva Protocols, which generally allow targeting of hostile military personnel wherever they are found, as justification for saying that Hasan’s crimes are acts of war, not terrorism. However, the Protocols only apply to legitimate combatants. As a terrorist organization, AQ does not follow the Protocols or the Law of War in general, and their fighters are considered unlawful enemy combatants. Consequently, there is no legitimate justification for Hasan’s deadly attack.
The Fort Hood massacre was accurately characterized as “the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001” in a special report prepared by a U.S. Senate committee chaired by then-Senator Joseph Lieberman. Shockingly, however, the Department of Defense decided that what transpired at Fort Hood was not terrorism, but instead “workplace violence,” refusing to acknowledge what was plainly apparent to not only the rest of our nation but the rest of the world.
The DoD’s finding of “workplace violence” flies in the face of its own definition of “terrorism,” which is, “The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence to instill fear and coerce governments or societies. Terrorism is often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs and committed in the pursuit of goals that are usually political.” Hasan committed his crimes of violence to support his religion and to prompt the U.S. to stop what he saw as a “war on Islam.” So every element of the DoD’s own definition of terrorism was met, yet the DoD refused to admit that a terrorist act committed by one of its own Soldiers, against its own Soldiers, on one of its own installations, was in fact a terrorist act.
Given the clear evidence of terrorism inherent in the Fort Hood massacre, why did the DoD declare it to be workplace violence? There are several different schools of thought on this issue. First, President Obama was up for re-election and might have been feeling weak on the national security front, especially since “AQ is on the retreat” was an important part of his re-election campaign.
An attack inside America, carried out by an American in AQ’s name, would have reflected poorly on the administration. Others have opined that characterizing the attack as terrorism might somehow taint Hasan’s murder trial. Still, others point to “political correctness” and not wanting to somehow cast Muslims in the military in a bad light.
General George Casey, then the Chief of Staff of the Army, opined shortly after the shooting that as bad as the Fort Hood attack was, that it would be “a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well.” That is an interesting choice of words for the Army Chief of Staff, to appear more concerned about “diversity” than the Soldiers who just got murdered, and to be more concerned with the shame of something that MIGHT happen, than the shame of something that actually DID happen..
A greater shame, in our opinion, is the fact that the victims of the Fort Hood massacre were denied benefits they would have received had the attack been correctly labeled a terrorist action instead of being sanitized into “workplace violence.” This means that the Soldiers involved are ineligible for combat decorations such as the Purple Heart or the Combat Action Badge, which they might otherwise have received. More importantly, they receive “lower priority access to medical care” and “a loss of financial benefits” compared to those wounded in similar incidents overseas.
The reasons for not making a finding for terrorism on the part of the DoD are now past. President Obama is safely re-elected, Hasan is safely convicted, and the expected backlash against Muslims proved, as such fears have always proven, to be completely without merit. It is now time to remedy the wrong visited on the Fort Hood victims by correctly re-characterizing the Fort Hood massacre as a terrorist attack.
In the dialogue for his seminal work Romeo and Juliet, famed playwright William Shakespeare wrote, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” A modern interpretation of the bard’s words might be, “Call it whatever you want, but it doesn’t change the fundamental aspect of what a thing is.” So the current administration can call Hasan’s actions “workplace violence” all they want, but anyone looking objectively at it will understand it was a calculated act of terrorism.
Words matter. Actions matter more. With the President’s re-election secured, and Al Qaeda on the run throughout the world, it’s time to recognize the Fort Hood attack for what it was: a cold, calculated act of terror. Saying that the Fort Hood shooter’s terrorist actions were “workplace violence” is akin to likening a suicide truck bombing to an incident of road rage. It’s time to call this attack what it was instead of what the Department of Defense wishes it would have been, and get the victims the benefits and help that they deserve.