The Army has formally stated that it does not wish to award the Purple Heart to the victims of a murderous rampage allegedly perpetrated by Army Major Nidal Hasan.
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.’
Hasan, 42, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire on a group of soldiers who were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, killing 13 and wounding 32 before he was shot and permanently paralyzed by two civilian Fort Hood police officers.
Many people are outraged that brave American soldiers gunned down in their own garrison won’t receive the recognition they would have if they’d been killed or wounded overseas.
But in this, the Army is right.
While I’m a strong proponent for recognizing our soldiers and their sacrifices, I’m an ever stronger proponent of forcing our government to follow the rules when it comes to the rights of anyone accused of a crime, particularly in a death penalty case.
Make no mistake, I’m pretty damn sure Hasan did the shooting, was criminally culpable in doing so, and deserves the ultimate sanction. I’ll shed exactly zero tears when he is eventually tried, convicted, and put to death.
But the process matters. In this case, it’s pretty clear cut. But precedent set here will affect later cases (and in criminal law and the UCMJ, there are always later cases).
If the Army were to award the Purple Heart to the shooting victims, it would be in effect declaring that Hasan was in fact a terrorist. And that would give any defense counsel a day out of law school grounds to move for setting aside any conviction on the basis of undue command influence. The Army and other services make damn sure of the integrity of the court martial process in not allowing commanders to push for a conviction of a soldier unless the court is fully convinced of guilt, regardless of the convening authority’s feelings on the matter. So the Army isn’t going to give defense an easy option like this.
In addition to the issue of undue command influence, any award of the Purple Heart would almost certainly raise jurisdictional issues. Defense would argue that since the PH is only awarded to persons injured or killed in combat, then Hasan by rights must be an enemy combatant, and the Army court martial has no jurisdiction to try him. Years and years could be spent trying the case up. Do we want federal courts deciding whether Hasan should be tried by Army court martial or by the military commissions in place at Gitmo for other enemy combatants? Since shipping him to Gitmo would prove to be a practical impossibility politically, where else to try him? Federal court? As I say, the process would take years.
And if defense was really outrageous, the could really make some twisted claims. If the shooting victims were awarded Purple Hearts for combat, what about Hasan. Major Hasan was alongside them, and wounded too. Would he not also qualify for the Purple Heart? After all, he was on active duty, and wounded too. Why not also award a Combat Action Badge?
The victims and their families aren’t doing themselves any favors suing the Army, either. Whatever goodwill existed at Big Army went away with the first filing. Big Army wants to take care of its people, but it must take care of Big Army, first. That’s the bureaucratic imperative.