By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The U.S. Army on Friday formally declined to award Purple Heart medals to the victims of Major Nidal Hasan's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, saying the move would damage his ability to receive a fair trial.
The Army in a position paper said that awarding the medal to those wounded and posthumously to those killed in the November 2009 attack would 'set the stage for a formal declaration that Major Hasan is a terrorist' because the medal is presented to military members who are 'wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States.'
Hasan, 42, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire on a group of soldiers who were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan, killing 13 and wounding 32 before he was shot and permanently paralyzed by two civilian Fort Hood police officers.
He faces the death penalty if he convicted by a military jury on 13 specifications of premeditated murder. His court martial is set to begin in July.
The Army formalized its ongoing opposition to awarding the Purple Hearts in a position paper responding to language inserted in the Defense Authorization Bill, which would require the Secretary of the Army to award the medal.
Some of Hasan's wounded victims and families of the deceased have filed a federal lawsuit and among the demands is that each of the victims be awarded financial compensation and a Purple Heart.
"U.S. military personnel are organized, trained and equipped to combat foreign, not domestic, forces or threats," the Army wrote. "To expand the Purple Heart award criteria to include domestic criminal acts or domestic terror attacks would be a dramatic departure from the traditional Purple Heart award criteria."
A spokesman for the Secretary of the Army did not return a phone call seeking further comment.
Neal Sher, the New York-based lawyer for the Fort Hood victims, called the Army's claims 'rubbish.'
"This is a cynical travesty," Sher said. "The only thing the government has done is guarantee that anything done to help the victims will effectively impair and prevent Hasan's prosecution. These victims have been given the back of the hand by their government."
The Army says it has the interest of the victims in mind, saying any government declaration that Hasan is a terrorist could mean a delay of another 'year or more' in a trial which has already been pushed back several times by lengthy debates over Hasan's beard and other side issues.
"Such an unprecedented action would thwart the real and lasting measure that will bring closure to the grieving and harmed victims, the trial itself," the Army concluded.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Gevirtz)