Mr. President, In the Aftermath of the Boston Bombing Call the Fort Hood Shootings What They Are: An Act of Terrorism

05_25_12_news-_trull-_arlington_cemetery_-_editedA young aide once asked a British prime minister what he feared most when it came to upsetting a carefully laid agenda. “Events, lad, events,” supposedly was the answer.

Indeed, unexpected events have a way of upsetting the apple cart. After a long hiatus, I planned last week to post an analysis of the contemporary significance of the shots fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the event that prompted open warfare between Great Britain and the soon-to-be-born United States of America. But a contemporary event in Massachusetts – the Second Boston Massacre, a terrorist bombing on April 15 that killed three and grievously wounded as many as 170 people – stopped my plans cold. Frankly, April 15 brought back memories of what it is like to wonder if a loved one is dead because of an act of terror.

The day was Nov. 5, 2009. That was when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot 42 people, killing 13 soldiers who were among dozens of servicemen

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

gathered at the Soldier Readiness Center, Fort Hood, Texas, one of the largest military installations in the world. When I first heard the news, I swallowed hard because my son U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Wellington (ret.), a combat medic, was stationed there at the time. It’s a big base, I thought.  As soon as I could, I called his mother hoping that I would be the first to break the news of the attack and to reassure her. Not long after my call, Matthew sent us both a text message indicating that he was safe. We found out later that he helped treat a dozen casualties; all survived.

Although the two events are not part of a larger conspiracy, I can’t help but notice some disturbing similarities. Authorities say Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Chechen brothers accused of detonating two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs inflamed by information they obtained through the Internet. Concern about possible radical ties between Islamic extremists and Tamerlan apparently prompted the Russian security service to contact the U.S. government several times for information about him, and there are still questions about whether he was trained or mentored by foreign terrorists. In the months preceding his attack, Maj. Hasan exchanged e-mails with Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda talent scout once nicknamed “the bin-Laden of the Internet” who was linked with two of the 9-11 hijackers.  The Tsarnaev brothers benefited from American generosity ranging from a scholarship to a prestigious public school to welfare payments from the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Maj. Hasan earned degrees in medicine and public health at taxpayer expense from the Defense Department’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Both the Tsarnaevs and Hasan called the United States their home; all three eventually embraced an ideology dedicated to the destruction of the United States.

However, there is one infuriating difference between the two events. Federal law enforcement officials and President Obama are calling the April 15 bombing what it obviously was: an act of terrorism.  However, despite overwhelming evidence that Maj. Hasan spent years in the military while espousing terrorist ideology, despite the fact the FBI knew for months in advance of the Fort Hood shootings that Hasan had contacted al-Awlaki repeatedly before slaying his fellow soldiers, the official verdict from the Army’s investigation was the event was an act of workplace violence. In other words, Hasan was not an Islamic extremist dedicated to jihad. The report does not even mention Islam — he simply was the U.S. Army equivalent of an office worker who blew his stack and decided to “go Postal.” As of this writing, Hasan is in a jail cell awaiting his court martial on May 29, facing charges of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

It is human nature to seek meaning or even “the good” when faced with terrible events. I am blessed. My son was not killed during the Fort Hood shootings. The families in Boston grieving their dead and caring for their wounded carry a burden far greater than any I faced after Fort Hood. But I say the following with all respect to the people of the city of Boston: If Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s actions and goals match the actions and goals of the Tsarnaev brothers – and in my opinion they do – it is time for President Obama to correct the record and call the Fort Hood rampage the act of terrorism it was.

Undoubtedly, there are those who will say that by making this demand I am comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Or I am attempting to capitalize on the suffering of others. Or that I have a partisan political agenda. Fine: If it resurrects discussion about the worst terrorist attack ever on a U.S. military base I will gladly bear the heat. If it offers peace to the soldiers and their families who have given the last, full measure of their devotion to the cause our nation’s safety, so much the better.

There are multiple reasons for President Obama to correct the record.

1)      Many members of our armed forces feel betrayed by an administration that ignored clear evidence that Maj. Hasan was a radicalized Muslim who was not only tolerated, but promoted. Calling the Fort Hood attack what it was would be the first step in restoring their confidence in the Department of Defense and the commander-in-chief on this issue. In fact, by deeming the shootings workplace violence the victims receive lower priority for treatment and fewer financial benefits from the government than they would if the Pentagon acknowledged Hasan’s attack as “combat related.” Currently, many victims and family members are suing the government in an effort to overturn the decision. President Obama could settle the issue quickly through an executive order overturning the report.

2)      It would restore the confidence of the American people in a government that seems maddeningly dedicated to ignoring the obvious and defending the indefensible. For those who wonder why this nation is rife with conspiracy theories, look no further for reasons than two administrations that seemed dedicated to denial. While still in the Army, Hasan began to vocalize his radical ideology during the George W. Bush administration. He was on active duty when he made repeated contacts with a known terrorist recruiter during the Obama administration. Yet, for reasons swirling in double-talk and mystery, the Pentagon either ignored or tolerated the situation.

Perhaps this is because both administrations have a policy to avoid supposed offense to the Muslim world at all costs.  The result is the Bush and Obama administrations have done so in a way that often seems to imply terrorism against our citizens is the nation’s fault. I was floored by President Obama’s comments on April 19:

“That’s why we take care not to rush to judgment – not about the motivations of these individuals; certainly not about entire groups of people. After all, one of the things that makes America the greatest nation on Earth, but also, one of the things that makes Boston such a great city, is that we welcome people from all around the world –  people of every faith, every ethnicity, from every corner of the globe.  So as we continue to learn more about why and how this tragedy happened, let’s make sure that we sustain that spirit.”

Excuse me, Mr. President, but what else have Americans been doing for the last 12 years? In the wake of 9-11, this nation opened no internment camps and then packed them with Muslims. There have been no pogroms, no purges, no punishment for simply being a Muslim. Mosques have not been burned to the ground by angry mobs of Islamophobic Americans. I heartily agree that Muslims have faced bigotry from ignoramuses. I emphatically state it is the duty of every American to speak out against that kind of behavior while treating people with the decency inherent in a political system that includes freedom of religion. But rude behavior is not the same as systemized persecution, or even a “rush to judgment.” Neither should religious liberty somehow inoculate individuals from scrutiny if they hide behind their faith while working for the destruction of the United States or the death of its citizens. The right to preach violence in the name of religious liberty ends where your jihad touches my right to life and liberty. That applies to anyone of any faith in this country whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, or a member of the militant wing of the Salvation Army. Our president and commander-in-chief, his administration, and the federal government should recognize nothing less.

3)      It would provide the rationale for a search for radical Islam’s fellow travelers in the government and the military. Yes, I can hear it now: I am calling for a new age of McCarthyism. Hardly – I want due process, I want innocence until proven guilt is established, and I want the kind of non-publicity seeking investigations that true law enforcement and intelligence personnel excel in.  What I call for are policies based on common sense: If an individual is actively pursuing or supporting the violent overthrow of the United States or the death of its citizens, he or she should not receive aid from federal entitlement programs. He or she should not remain in the employ of the U.S. government. He or she should certainly not remain in the U.S. armed forces or the intelligence community. If you are a jihadi, you just lost your eligibility for food stamps. There is a precedent. During the Cold War, Soviet spies and agents penetrated the U.S. government. Vigilance and the FBI stopped most of them; after the Cold War, former-KGB officials conceded that the U.S. target was exceptionally difficult to penetrate more deeply because of a policy of watchfulness. We can repeat what worked and avoid the mistakes of the past while keeping the nation safe. If the future of terrorism in the United States is homegrown jihadis, then look for them and stop them before they carry out their attacks. That makes  more sense than cowering in fear of cries of “intolerance” or other kinds of politically correct claptrap.

4)      The words “honesty” and “president of the United States” are becoming more and more rarely linked. When the average American understands that the Fort Hood attack was perpetrated by an Army officer long motivated by jihad against his fellow soldiers, but sees his or her government decide Maj. Hasan simply suffered from “issues,” there is really only two possible conclusions. One is, “My government is run by idiots.” The second is, “My government is run by liars.” As tempting as it is to solely blame Conclusion No. 1, many Americans simply believe that their lawmakers from the president on down are liars. Recently, President George W. Bush inaugurated his presidential library by stating it would help reveal the truth; from the beginning, President Obama promised the most transparent administration ever. Both could keep their word to the American people by explaining why Hasan was kept in the Army despite his obvious radicalism.

I understand a change in labels on a report won’t bring back the dead, either in Boston or at Fort Hood. But justice and honesty can help reduce the pain terrorists caused and prove to the world we are a nation that lives by one of the best ideas expressed in that national creed called the Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I still believe that the government of the United States works for me and you and every other citizen of this nation. That relationship includes the responsibility to all citizens to present the truth without shying away from the facts of the world we live in. Only then can we stand confidently as a nation that knows the justice of our cause and care for those who have suffered. Mr. President, now is the time to act on behalf of the soldiers who call you commander-in-chief. In the name of a United States that stands for every decent thing that radical Islam would destroy, call the Fort Hood attack what it was: An act of terrorism.

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