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EDITORIAL: Running away from terrorism

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

The Fort Hood, Texas, massacre was the worst domestic terrorist incident since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but the government refuses to admit it. The latest act of denial is procedural. The accused shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, reportedly has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder under Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which does not provide for a charge related to terrorism. Officially, this was not a terror attack, but nonpolitical murder.

The primary distinguishing characteristic between murder and terrorism is motive. The Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." We know enough about Maj. Hasan's background, worldview and political orientation to make an informed judgment about his motives. He was a jihadist seeking martyrdom who was trying to take down as many "infidels" as he could in the process.

The massacre fits the definition of domestic terrorism under section 2331 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, and Section 1114 provides for a murder charge against "whoever kills or attempts to kill any officer or employee of the United States or of any agency in any branch of the United States Government (including any member of the uniformed services) while such officer or employee is engaged in or on account of the performance of official duties." Section 2332b stipulates that violations of Section 1114 that are "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct" bring the incident under the definition of the "Federal crime of terrorism."

There is ample legal support for bringing a terrorism charge if the government were so inclined. Instead, the current government has chosen to make this a regular court-martial. The message is clear: Failure to prevent terror attacks on its watch will be defined away.

Compared to other recent domestic incidents, the Fort Hood massacre was a terror act of historic proportions. According to the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database of more than 1,300 domestic incidents since 1970, the Fort Hood massacre ranks fourth in terms of fatalities behind the Sept. 11 attacks (taken collectively), the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1999 Columbine massacre. It is the deadliest such attack by a lone gunman.

Yet the White House persistently and inexplicably refuses to call this terrorism. This evasion calls to mind the spring of 1994, when the State Department forbade the use of the term "genocide" to describe events then transpiring in Rwanda - in which almost 1 million people were killed - out of concern that use of the expression might obligate the United States to take some sort of action. Weeks later, the government finally came around and recognized that genocide was, in fact, taking place, by which time it was too late to do much about it.

Maj. Hasan's court-martial may reveal more about the terroristic nature of his bloody actions, but we doubt it. Any sensible defense strategy would downplay terrorism and emphasize the image currently popular on the left of Maj. Hasan as a victim of some kind of work-related stress that made him crack unexpectedly. But political correctness cannot long overpower reality or defeat common sense.

The Fort Hood massacre was a domestic terrorist attack by a jihadist radical. Fleeing from that fact places the country in greater danger and inspires other domestic terrorists to try to make the point more definitively.