KXXV/CNN — The Pentagon is fighting a push to award the Purple Heart to victims of the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, fearing it could hurt the case against the Army officer charged with turning on his comrades.
"If you deal with the perpetrator of these crimes, he was a terrorist, essentially," one of the bill's co-sponsors, Texas Republican Rep. Bill Flores, told CNN affiliate KXXV. "We ought to treat these military men and women that were hurt like they were in a battlefield theater."
Maj. Nidal Hasan is awaiting a court-martial on charges that he gunned down 13 people and wounded 32 at Fort Hood, the country's largest Army post. Prosecutors aim to show that Hasan was a radical Islamist, and investigations have found that he had been communicating via e-mail with radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone attack in 2011.
But in a position paper obtained by CNN, the Defense Department argues that awarding the Purple Heart to the Fort Hood victims would make it harder to convict Hasan in the death-penalty case and "deprive the victims of these crimes the right to see justice done."
"Defense counsel will argue that Major Hasan cannot receive a fair trial because a branch of government has indirectly declared that Major Hasan is a terrorist -- that he is criminally culpable," the document states. That could lead to a delay of the case or the reversal of a guilty verdict on appeal, it continued.
"This laudable sentiment mistakenly and unwillingly supplants the criminal trial process by infusing official, formal statutory conclusions about the motive, intent and culpability of the man charged with the crime," the memo reads.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined comment Monday, citing the pending case. But a congressional source, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the military's position "dead wrong."
"If they stand by this, they should ask for all the Pentagon's 9/11 award recipients to give their medals back," the source said. "They're not gonna do that, though."
The Pentagon document notes that victims of an international terrorist attack are eligible for the Purple Heart. But expanding that to include domestic crimes or terrorism, it asserts, "would be a dramatic departure from the traditional Purple Heart award criteria."
"Ultimately, such an unprecedented action would thwart the real and lasting measure that will bring closure to the grieving and harmed victims and families -- the trial itself," the position paper states.
However, the bill Flores co-sponsored states that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee branded the Fort Hood killings a "terrorist attack" in a 2011 report.
"It basically just says if you were shot at Fort Hood that day or you were shot in Afghanistan, you're treated exactly the same," Flores said.