(NEW YORK) — Survivors of the Fort Hood massacre released a new video this week calling on the government to classify the November 2009 shooting as a terrorist attack rather than “workplace violence,” a change that would make them eligible for specific combat-related benefits.
In the video, uploaded on YouTube Wednesday, witnesses to the shooting, some of whom were wounded in the attack, voiced their frustration with the government’s labeling of the attack in which 13 people died and 32 others were wounded in a shooting rampage allegedly carried out by a fellow soldier, Maj. Nidal Hasan. The FBI said Hasan had corresponded with a high-profile al Qaeda recruiter and discussed the merits of jihad months before the massacre.
“Looking at the red tape you’ve got to get through, we put the video together to try to raise awareness,” one of the victims, Army Staff Sgt. Alonza Lunsford, told ABC News.
In the video, police officer Kimberly Munley, who was shot multiple times, says, “It was discovered, has been discovered, re-discovered that this was part of a terrorist activity.”
“[The Fort Hood victims] were killed and wounded by a domestic enemy — somebody who was there that day to kill soldiers, to prevent them from deploying,” another victim, Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning says in the video. Manning was shot in the chest. “If that’s not an act of war or an act of terrorism, I don’t know what is.”
The Coalition of Fort Hood Heroes, the organization that released the video, said in a statement that unless the government labels the attack terrorism, victims and their families will be “denied the recognition and benefits they are rightfully due,” in particular eligibility for the Purple Heart Medal, along with which comes veterans’ medical benefits and higher priority for veterans’ disability compensation.
But Army spokesman George Wright told ABC News that “the victims who were allegedly killed at Fort Hood in November 2009 did not meet the criteria of the award of the Purple Heart as outlined in the Department of Defense Manual of Military Decorations and Awards.”
The manual states that the Purple Heart is awarded to service members who are killed or wounded “in action against an enemy of the United States; as the result of an act of any hostile foreign force; or as the result of an international terrorist attack against the United States, provided the Secretary of the military department concerned recognizes the attack as an international terrorist attack.”
As defined by U.S. law, a terrorist act must be “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents,” and for it to be an international terrorist act, it must involve “citizens or the territory of more than one country.” All of those killed and a majority of those wounded in the attack were either active duty or reserve military personnel.
Some of the victims in this week’s video point to Hasan’s online correspondence with American-born radical cleric and major al Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaki, who at the time was based in Yemen, as a reason the Fort Hood shooting should be treated as a terrorist attack. Before his death by drone strike in September 2011, some government officials considered al-Awlaki the greatest individual threat to America.
As ABC News reported in the weeks following the attack, Hasan exchanged at least 18 e-mail messages with al-Awlaki within a six month period between December 2008 and June 2009, in which he asked al-Awlaki questions including when jihad is appropriate and whether it is permissible if there are innocents killed in a suicide attack.
ABC News also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies were aware months before the Fort Hood shooting that Hasan was attempting to make contact with Awlaki, a fact that Coalition of Fort Hood Heroes, said should have raised red flags. The emails were monitored by the FBI, but at the time the bureau “did not assess this guy as a terrorism threat,” according to a lengthy FBI review of the case.
The references to “workplace violence” in the video apparently refer to Department of Defense memos in which officials recommend the Department take steps to address workplace violence in response to the 2009 attack. In the Defense Department’s final review of recommendations issued by an independent panel following the attack, published in August 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates highlighted workplace violence as an area in which the Defense Department would “strengthen its policies, programs and procedures.”
Various official reports on the attack refer to it as a “shooting,” “murder,” and the result of “extremism,” but not terrorism. In President Obama’s lengthy remarks at a memorial for the dead days after the attack, he never uttered the words “terror” or “terrorism.”
Last week, Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying they found it “inconceivable” that the Defense Department “continue[s] to label this attack ‘workplace violence’ in spite of all the evidence that clearly proves the Fort Hood shooting was an act of terror,” and also asked that all those killed and wounded in the attack be given Purple Hearts.
Nidal Hasan stands accused of murdering 13 people in the attack on Fort Hood and will face a military trial. After a short controversy, last week the court ruled that Hasan must shave his beard before appearing for court martial to face the murder charges, in consistency with Army uniform rules. Hasan had said he grew it for religious reasons and forcing him to shave would violate the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio