(FORT HOOD, Texas) — More than three years since a deadly domestic assault on American troops — the 2009 Fort Hood massacre that claimed 13 lives, including that of a pregnant soldier — a top Army attorney maintains that incident was likely a “criminal act of a single individual.”
“…[T]he available evidence in this case does not, at this time, support a finding that the shooting at Fort Hood was an act of international terrorism,” Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman said this week in a letter to Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.) on behalf of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
The letter, obtained by ABC News, was apparently written in response to an inquiry from Rooney, Rep. Chaka Fatta (D-Penn.), and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Virg.) sent to Hagel on May 6, which questioned whether concerns of “political correctness” informed the Army’s decision to refer to the Fort Hood attack as an act of “workplace violence.” Victims of the shooting have long maintained that calling the attack “workplace violence” instead of “combat related” or an act of terrorism has had a massive impact on the benefits and treatment they’ve received.
In the Fort Hood attack, Maj. Nidal Hasan stands accused of gunning down 13 soldiers and injuring 32 others in November 2009. After the assault, investigators uncovered evidence that Hasan was in communication with al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack. Al-Awlaki was apparently such a threat that he has been the only American citizen ever targeted for a drone strike — though three others have been collateral damage, according to President Obama.
Witnesses reportedly said Hasan shouted “Allahu Akbar,” “God is Great” in Arabic, amid the chaos.
As reflected in Chipman’s letter, the Department of Defense has consistently said that in addition to a supposed lack of evidence, it would be irresponsible to call the Fort Hood attack “terrorism” because it “may have a negative impact on the ongoing judicial process” for Hasan.
The letter also denied that the Defense Department had made a decision to classify the attack as “workplace violence” and said, “[N]o benefit has been denied to any of the victims based on any such classification” — two claims to which the survivors object stringently.
Kimberly Munley, a police officer who was hailed as a hero for her role in stopping the alleged Fort Hood shooter, told ABC News Chipman’s letter is “disgraceful” and “another direct slap in the face.” Attorneys for Munley and most of the other Fort Hood victims called the letter’s claims “counterfactual” and an “insult.”
An attorney for several of the victims, Reed Rubinstein, said the Army’s new letter is “worse than word games.”
“The ‘workplace violence’ classification has been out there for years, and [the Army] has never walked it back,” he said.
In 2010, part of then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ response to the shooting was to “strengthen [the department’s] policies, programs and procedures in… workplace violence.” In October 2011, the Defense Department said it was reviewing the attack “in the context of a broader threat of workplace violence.”
Rubinstein and his partner, Neil Sher, also said calling the attack “an alleged criminal act by a single individual” “rewrites history, consigning the government’s admissions of Hasan’s al-Qaeda ties… down a bureaucratic memory hole.”
Munley said, “It is clear that the Army and the government will continue to not take responsibility for allowing a known terrorist to slip through the ranks while having multiple associations with the now-deceased Anwar al-Awlaki and has complete disregard for those injured on that horrifying day.”
In Chipman’s letter, she said the Army is willing to reconsider their classification of the event should “new, relevant evidence” arise.
“The Army’s decision, in no way, diminishes the common goal of ensuring the victims are treated and cared for promptly and compassionately,” the letter says. “Although we cannot undo the outcome of that day, taking care of those affected by the Fort Hood shooting… remains one of the Army’s top priorities.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Theodore Schleifer and Stephen Collinson, CNN
Andrea Cavallier and Samantha Tata, CNN