Benghazi isn’t the first time the Obama administration has struggled with whether to call an attack on a U.S. post a terrorist attack. Nearly three years after the fact, the Defense Department still calls the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, an act of workplace violence, despite the suspect’s ties to al Qaeda.
A coalition of 160 victims and family members of the deadly rampage at Fort Hood in 2009 sees similarities in the Obama administration’s reluctance to label the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya as a terrorist act and wants government officials to belatedly deem the assault in Texas as terrorism as they now have done with Benghazi.
“To have it not be called terrorism is a slap in the face,” said Shawn Manning, who was facing his third deployment the day authorities say Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan shot him six times.
The assault on the army post in Killeen, Texas, was the most lethal terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, leaving 13 dead, more than 30 wounded by gunshots and dozens more injured. Survivors, many who suffered from multiple bullet wounds, have spent the past three years trying to rehabilitate their bodies and rebuild their lives. Maj. Hasan, 42, is awaiting trial and faces the death penalty if convicted.
For the service members who died and those who were wounded, the terrorism distinction would mean that the military considered that their injuries took place in a combat zone, making them eligible for Purple Heart medals and, the victims say, access to medical care and benefits similar to what soldiers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan receive.
Civilian victims, such as Kimberly Munley, the civilian police officer employed by the Army who shot Maj. Hasan four times and is credited with bringing him down and helping prevent a bigger massacre, aren’t eligible for Purple Hearts. But Mrs. Munley said the designation would recognize the severity of the attack and provide her and others with much-needed closure.
“To be honest with you, it would just help everyone, including me, start to be able to have closure and start to heal,” she said. “To this day, mentally and emotionally, I don’t think any of us have started to heal.”
Mrs. Munley was wounded in both legs and her wrist during the close-range gunfight and her injuries prevented her from remaining in the police forces’ Special Reaction Team. She starts a new job as a researcher for government background checks Nov. 5, the third anniversary of the attack at Fort Hood.
Calling the attack as terrorism would show “that our sacrifice meant something that day — that it wasn’t just a random act of violence,” Mr. Manning said. “We were fighting a domestic enemy. It would mean that the Army or the government finally recognized that what we went through was important. Everybody who was there that day was headed out for deployment.”
The Department of Defense is still refusing to reclassify the attack, citing the need to maintain the integrity of the legal case against Mr. Hasan. A spokesman for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, did not rule out reevaluating that decision in the future.
When asked how Mr. Panetta plans to respond to the victims’ outcry, his spokesman took a day and a half to respond, but eventually emailed a statement Friday night.
“The Department of Defense is committed to the integrity of the ongoing court martial proceedings of Major Nadal Hassan and for that reason will not further characterize, at this time, the incident that occurred at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in the statement. “Major Hassan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder, and 32 counts of attempted murder. As with all pending UCMJ matters, the accused is innocent until proven guilty.”
Mr. Little also argued that “survivors of the incident at Fort Hood are eligible for the same medical benefits as any service member.”
“The Department of Defense is committed to the highest care of those in our military family,” he said.
But the victims say that assertion doesn’t take into account the impact of designating the attack as terrorism, which they believe would deem injuries combat-related and give service-member victims access to more medical and retirement benefits.
Mrs. Munley and Mr. Manning and several other victims appear in a newly released video “The Truth About Fort Hood” in which they give testimonials and express their frustration with the government for calling the attack “workplace violence.”
In the video, the victims point out that Maj. Hasan had several email exchanges with top al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki about the attack, about whether the attack was justified to “protect our brothers” and followed al-Awlaki’s advice to scream “Allah Akbar” (“God is Great”) to invoke fear before starting to shoot. Until his death by a drone airstrike in 2011, Yemen-based Awlaki was one of the United States’ top enemies.
Mr. Manning, who was medically discharged from the Army because of his wounds, recently was denied additional retirement benefits because his injuries were not classified as having occurred in a combat zone.
Another victim, Sgt. Rex Stalnaker, suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, from the incident. As a medic, Mr. Stalnaker treated many of the victims and when he left the building late that day, his uniform was soaked in blood.
Mrs. Munley, who is in close contact with many of the other Fort Hood victims, said top Defense Department and Obama administration officials have never contacted her or any other victim that she knows of about their desire to have the federal government classify the attack as terrorism.
Army Secretary John M. McHugh gave her an award at a ceremony on the first anniversary of the attack, but there was still an ongoing investigation into the Fort Hood shootings at the time and no resolution on whether the government would label it as terrorism.
Earlier this year, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King, New York Republican, and Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, introduced legislation that would allow domestic attacks on service members to be reviewed the same way as international attacks when it comes to awarding the Purple Heart.
The coalition also has the support of two Republican congressmen from Texas who wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta this month citing detailed evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the attack and asking him for the designation.
“Based on all the facts, it is inconceivable to us that the DOD and the Army continue to label this attack ‘workplace violence’ in spite of all the evidence that clearly proves the Fort Hood shooting was an act of terror,” Rep. John R. Carter and Rep. Michael T. McCaul wrote.
The congressmen cited independent investigations by the Army, the Senate, and the Webster Commission, each showing that the Fort Hood attack was an act of terrorism. They also said military colleagues were well aware that Maj. Hasan was unstable and a radical Islamist but the military promoted him anyway without investigating complaints about his suspicious activity because they were afraid of being seen as biased against Muslims.
The Fort Hood victims “should not be ignored or mistreated now because of a misplaced and inappropriate practice of political correctness,” they wrote.
Mr. Panetta’s office did not respond to a request for comment.