April 1, 2013 — -- The Department of Defense is making it clear: The military opposes awarding Purple Hearts to the victims of the Fort Hood shooting.
A Pentagon position paper, delivered to congressional staff on Friday and obtained by ABC News, says giving the award to the Fort Hood victims could "irrevocably alter the fundamental character of this time-honored decoration" and "undermine the prosecution of Major Nidal Hasan [the alleged Fort Hood shooter] by materially and directly compromising Major Hasan's ability to receive a fair trial."
The Department prepared the paper in response to legislation introduced by Rep. John Carter, (R.-Texas), the Congressman whose district includes Fort Hood. The Fort Hood Families Benefits Protection Act would award both military and civilian casualties of the Fort Hood attack combatant status.
Carter re-introduced the legislation in February in the wake of an ABC News investigation detailing claims by victims that they have been neglected by the military. In a report that aired on "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline," former police sergeant Kimberly Munley, who helped stop the Ft. Hood shooting, said she felt "betrayed" by President Obama and that he broke a promise to make sure the victims would be well taken care of.
There has been no comment from the White House about Munley's allegations.
Thirteen people were killed, including a pregnant soldier, and 32 others wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009 rampage at the Army base in Killeen, Texas. Hasan now awaits a military trial on charges of premeditated murder and attempted murder. After numerous delays, that trial is now set to begin with jury selection on May 29.
Despite extensive evidence that Hasan was in communication with al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack, the military has denied the victims a Purple Heart and has treated the incident as "workplace violence" instead of "combat related" or terrorism. Last month, a spokesman for recently appointed Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, told ABC News the Department's position had not changed under his leadership.
In a February statement, Rep. Carter said the Fort Hood Families Benefits Protection Act "would award the military and civilian casualties of the 2009 Fort Hood attack the same status that was awarded to the casualties of the Pentagon attack on Sept. 11, 2001. All of the casualties would be eligible for the Purple Heart Award or the Department of Defense civilian equivalent."
In a new statement to ABC News, Carter said, "After additional investigation into the potential implications of pre-trial publicity, I am postponing any future publicity on these bills at this stage of Maj. Hasan's trial. However, the victims of this tragic shooting fully quality for compensation pay and purple heart recognition."
"The DOD position paper is dead wrong to oppose this legislation," Carter said. "These victims deserve recognition and compensation for the injuries and loss of life from a direct attack on a U.S. military installation."
Carter said his aim was not to undermine Hasan's trial, but said he "will not rest until these victims get the recognition they deserve."
Many of the Fort Hood victims also filed a lawsuit against the military alleging the "workplace violence" designation means that in addition to not receiving Purple Hearts, they are receiving lower priority access to medical care as veterans, and a loss of financial benefits available to those whose injuries are classified as "combat related."
The attorney for the victims, Reed Rubinstein, told ABC News, "It's a slap in the face. Given everything that has occurred over the last three and a half years, this is incomprehensible, and in many respects, not worthy of the army. It's regrettable and tremendously wrongheaded."
The position paper says awarding the victims purple hearts "will be viewed as setting the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist," and that, in turn, will allow Defense counsel to "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."
Nevertheless, an expert witness for the prosecution, Evan Kohlmann, has said Hasan meets six factors that indicate someone is a homegrown terrorist. Prosecutors said his testimony would show motive. But defense attorneys have tried to limit Kohlmann's testimony, saying since Hasan isn't charged with terrorism and claiming Kohlmann's testimony would be prejudicial to the military jury.
The position paper also states, "The Government has vigilantly tended to the needs of the victims and their families since the tragic events of November 5, 2009."
Attorney Rubinstein, noting that a majority of the victims have joined the lawsuit alleging precisely the opposite, asked ABC News, "Who are they kidding?"
Army officials declined to comment further for this report, saying they didn't want to jeopardize the case.