On its face, the decision of the Army to prosecute Major Nidal Hasan for workplace violence seems peculiar. By all accounts, including his own, Hasan undertook his killing rampage at Ft. Hood as a mujaheddin fighting for his Islamic faith. Wasn’t this an act of terror, or maybe war?
The prosecution contends that if Hasan had been charged with terrorism, the defense (i.e. Hasan representing himself) would have been able to claim that he could not get a fair trial — and that therefore it would be more difficult if not impossible to persuade the court martial to render a guilty verdict.
That seems unlikely. But if so, that’s what justice is all about. Hasan should be charged for what he did, and let the chips fall where they may.
Assuming, of course, that such a charge is possible. As reported by the AP, the Uniform Code of Military Justice has no punitive article for “terrorism,” and as an active-duty serviceman charged with criminal acts committed on a military base, there was no question but that Hasan would be court martialed.
One consequence of the “workplace violence” approach is to deny the victims and survivors Purple Hearts, and such benefits as that distinction affords them. I suppose action could be taken by the federal government to remedy that situation. In the meantime, the right-wing media has gotten its knickers in a twist.
Most notably, the staff of the National Review is circulating an on-line petition calling on Secretary of Defense Hagel to change the official designation of the charge against Hasan to “Act of Terror” and have Hasan designated as “an enemy combatant.” Never mind that the courts have rendered that Bush era designation problematic for judicial purposes and the Obama Administration has abandoned it. The idea seems to be that, as with accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the right would like to consign Hasan to the kind of military tribunal that once handled Guantanamo detainees.
The petition does not contend that such a tribunal would be more likely than a court martial to give Hasan the death penalty — something he may be aiming for himself. Rather: “By not designating this event as such an act, it disrespects the lives of the 13 who lost their lives that day, and dozens more who were injured and those helped their fellow soldiers.”
I don’t see how it disrespects those shot by Hasan to try him for workplace violence. In the end, it’s a technical prosecutorial issue that casts no doubt on the circumstances under which Hasan took up arms against fellow military personnel.
What’s really going on here is a determination on the part of the National Review staff and their ilk to make sure the country does not lapse into quiescence about Al Qaeda and its ilk. As the prologue to the petition says, “The Fort Hood massacre was an act of war carried out by a violent jihadist who had infiltrated our Armed Forces…We are a nation at war…If the war is to be waged seriously, the government must recognize that the Fort Hood massacre – in which twice as many Americans were killed as were killed in the jihadist bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 – was an act of terrorism committed by the enemy.”
Actually, Hasan did not infiltrate the Armed Forces, but, as the prosecution has indicated it will demonstrate at trial, he underwent a kind of conversion experience that caused him to believe that he was “on the wrong side.” When the verdict is rendered, no one will be under any illusions about why he did what he did. That should be good enough.