Ever since Nidal Malik Hasan (I’m ethically bound to say “allegedly”) opened fire on his comrades and colleagues at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas in 2009, thereby accomplishing the bloodiest attack on a domestic U.S. military base ever, there has been a heated controversy about whether to classify Hasan’s actions, which appear to have been motivated by an increasing adherence to radical Islam, as an act of terrorism. The Army has thus far chosen to label the killings “workplace violence.” Now that seemingly trivial linguistic debate has become more significant. Several news outlets including NBC have revealed that the military has paid Hasan $275,000 since his arrest. The victims, meanwhile, have been denied the Purple Hearts and medical benefits afforded to combat casualties.
The media coverage of this story has understandably emphasized the emotionally wrenching juxtaposition between a 401k-accruing terrorist and his out-of-luck victims, and our natural gut instinct is to condemn the military for continuing to pay Hasan while he awaits what will likely be execution. However, as the last 12 years have shown, we are collectively inclined to conduct sloppy moral reasoning when we allow unbridled anger to inform our wartime ethics.
There are two separate — and they are separate — questions that need to be addressed here: (1) Should Nidal Hasan be paid while he awaits trial? And (2) Should his victims fail to receive combat-injury benefits?
The reason Hasan has been paid for four years is simple: All military service members accused of crimes are. According to a military law fact sheet posted by the Marines: “While awaiting trial, a civilian confinee usually does not receive pay and may actually lose his or her job. Service members do not have to post bail, receive their regular military pay, and do not lose their jobs while awaiting trial.” In other words, paying Hasan is par for the course. As abhorrent as giving a single dime to a probable terrorist is, abandoning the integrity of our justice system by treating a not-yet-convicted person as guilty is undoubtedly far worse.
The real moral failure here is not the treatment of Nidal Hasan. Rather, it’s the inexcusable treatment of his still struggling victims that ought to draw our ire. The Defense Department, which is responsible for handling the distribution of benefits in these types of cases, has declined to comment on the “workplace violence” designation, citing the “integrity of the investigation,” but I’ll be happy to comment.
The U.S. government and the military administration ought to take a step back and examine the flawed paradigm under which they are operating in these cases. Nidal Hasan was almost assuredly motivated by the same ideas as the U.S.’s enemies on 9/11/2001 — and on 9/11/2012 for that matter. That his victims are classified differently just because their wounds were incurred on American soil rather than in, say, Afghanistan, reflects an illusory and antiquated vision of what modern warfare actually is: nation-less and uniform-less. Furthermore, that the shooter is being tried in military rather than civilian court — hence Hasan’s continued pay — despite the Defense Department’s civilian-sounding “workplace violence” tag, suggests that treating the wounded’s injuries as “non-combat” results from a confused and contradictory designation system.
Casualties of war are casualties of war, whether in Fairfax or Fallujah. Let’s treat them as such.