There is a battle brewing over who should qualify for a Purple Heart. Some members of Congress want Fort Hood soldiers who were gunned down in 2009 to be eligible, but the Defense Department is showing strong opposition.
It's basing its argument on the government's case against the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Hasan.
Hasan's military trial is set to begin May 29. He is charged with premeditated murder and attempted murder for the 2009 shooting rampage that killed 13 people and injured 32 others.
Texas Congressman John Carter, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes Fort Hood, filed the legislation entitled the Fort Hood Families Benefits Protection Act. It would award both military and civilian victims of the shooting, status that would entitle them to receive the Purple Heart.
The Pentagon just came out strongly opposed to the legislation. It released a position paper claiming it would undermine Hasan's ability to receive a fair trial. Since the legislation would essentially declare Hasan a terrorist, the Pentagon claims this would give Hasan's defense the argument that government had prematurely judged Hasan before his case had even been tried.
Fox-26 legal analyst Chris Titico is surprised the Defense department is using this as their argument. He feels a stronger justification is that it would make Hasan's guilt harder to prove.
"The Justice Department can get to the same end., the death penalty is what they're looking for in this case," Tritico says. "They can get there as a traditional Capital Murder case without having to prove that Nidal Hasan is a terrorist, working for Al-Qaeda at the time that he committed it."
Tritico draws these parallels to cases here in District court: Gang murders where prosecutors simply file a murder charge because the gang connection is harder to prove, or trying someone accused of murdering a child with Injury to a Child because the punishment would be the same as a murder conviction, and intent to murder is harder to prove.
But denying the Purple Heart also denies benefits that go along with it. Several Fort Hood victims and their families have publicly criticized the military for neglecting their needs, despite assurances by President Obama they would be well taken care of.
The Pentagon also claims that Carter's legislation would change Purple Heart criteria. That's debatable, too.
Carter points out that casualties of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon in 2001 were awarded Purple Hearts. Carter's legislation would simply give the Fort Hood victims the same status.