President Obama is scheduled to travel to Fort Hood Wednesday to honor the three people killed in the recent shooting there, but a survivor of the 2009 Fort Hood massacre has asked that the President take a few minutes out to keep a promise he made the last time a gunman opened fire at the Army base.
“As you may know, the President and high-ranking members of the military promised me, my family and other Fort Hood terror attack survivors that the federal government would ‘make them whole,’” Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford (Ret.) wrote in a letter to the White House today. “After more than four and one-half years, however, the government has yet to make good on this promise.”
Lunsford was shot seven times when Army psychiatrist Maj. Nadal Hasan opened fire on soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan in November 2009. Thirteen people were killed in the attack, which Nadal said in his trial was “in defense of others” – in his case, Hasan said he was defending the Taliban.
But despite Hasan’s admitted motive, and revelations that he had been in contact with high-level al Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, the Department of Defense has refused to classify the 2009 incident as an act of “international terrorism” – a distinction that a lawsuit filed by the survivors says has denied them not only Purple Hearts for combat-related injuries but additional medical and financial benefits.
As seen in an ABC News investigation in February 2013, the Fort Hood police officer who eventually stopped Hasan, Kimberly Munley, was so fed up with the government’s treatment of the survivors that she said she felt Obama had “betrayed” her.
Reed Rubinstein, an attorney representing the survivors in the lawsuit against the government, told ABC News Tuesday that his clients have a “tremendous amounts of empathy for the survivors and victims” of the most recent attack. In that case, authorities say last week Spc. Ivan Lopez, a soldier with “mental health issues” killed three people after an altercation at the Army base before turning the gun on himself.
As tragic as last week’s shooting was, Rubinstein said he felt it impossible not to draw distinctions between that shooting – which he said appeared to be “classic” workplace violence – and the 2009 attack.
“Just the contrast will point out really the underlying fallacy of what the government has tried to tell people… the idea that the  Fort Hood shooting was workplace violence is a lie,” he said. “They know it’s a lie. Everyone knows it’s a lie.”
Authorities are still investigating the cause of last week’s attack, but military officials have said it appears Lopez’s rampage began after a possible altercation with other soldiers on the base. The father of one of Lopez’s victims who survived the shooting, Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook, told ABC News his son said Lopez had become enraged after an employee wouldn’t give him an leave of absence form. Lopez left the building and returned with a gun, Westbrook said.
In the 2009 case, Hasan admitted in court that he planned his shooting spree in order to defend the Taliban, to which the American troops posed an immediate danger. In his communications with Awlaki, Hasan had asked if it was justified in Islam to kill American soldiers. Hasan reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar,” or “Good is great,” during the attack and called himself a “mujahideen,” or holy warrior, during his trial.
Still, the military declined to call the 2009 attack an international terrorist attack, a decision that some lawmakers blamed on “political correctness.” Last April, a Pentagon position paper obtained by ABC News outlined the military’s reasoning: Giving the Fort Hood victims the Purple Heart could “irrevocably alter the fundamental character of this time-honored decoration” and “undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan’s ability to receive a fair trial.” Hasan has been sentenced to death now, but the military’s position is unchanged.
In an email exchange with ABC News today, a spokesperson for the Army said the service had never called the 2009 attack “workplace violence,” but said evidence showed Hasan was a “lone wolf.” Therefore his actions did not fit the bill for an “international terrorist attack,” the spokesperson said, but “investigations into the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood concluded that Nidal Hasan committed the criminal acts of murder and attempted murder.”
“While there has been no intelligence or findings to date that indicate Hasan was under the direction or control of a foreign element, we stand ready to act accordingly should any evidence to the contrary be presented,” the spokesperson said.
The Defense Department’s comprehensive report following the attack, 2010’s “Lessons From Fort Hood [PDF]” repeatedly referenced the need for improving policies regarding workplace violence prevention – “including the potential for self-radicalization.” In their lawsuit, the survivors said they are suffering because of the military’s insistence on avoiding the term “terrorism.”
The FBI defines an international terrorist act as having three characteristics: It must involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; it must appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, government policy or conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and occur primarily outside the U.S. or “transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.” Domestic terrorism shares the first two requirements, but the act must take place “primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.”
In a Congressional hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said that had a similar attack taken place at his Department of Justice he “could see” how it would be classified a terrorist attack, though he said he did not know “all the factors that went into the [Department of Defense] designation.”
“They’re trying to shove it under the rug,” Rubinstein said. Rubinstein said his clients’ lawsuit against the government was put on hold during Hasan’s trial, but has still not been reopened since his conviction.
Lunsford wrote in his letter to the White House he was requesting a “brief meeting” with Obama Wednesday.
“We believe that if the President could hear, first-hand, our plight and our mistreatment at the hands of bureaucracy, that he would take the steps needed to set things right,” Lunsford wrote. “Therefore, we ask for ten minutes of his time.”
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, confirmed the White House had received the letter and said the administration plans to respond directly.
[This report was updated with further Army response 10:30 a.m. April 9.]