Key members of Congress are intervening in a dispute over awarding the Purple Heart to soldiers attacked at a military recruiting office in Arkansas who were denied the honor because the shooter was charged with a criminal instead of a terrorist act.
The pledge from Republican and Democrat House and Senate lawmakers was made at a joint Homeland Security Committee hearing Wednesday in response to testimony from the father of Army Pvt. William Andrew Long, who was killed in the 2009 attack.
“I don’t understand why the Army has not offered the Purple Heart, at the very least,” said Rep. Chip Cravaack (R.-Minn.). “I am very disappointed in the secretary of the Army for not recognizing your son.”
Long was shot and killed in front of his mother outside the Little Rock recruiting office, and Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula was also wounded in the attack. Carlos Bledsoe, a Memphis native who converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad, confessed to the murder and is serving a life sentence.
“Given the circumstances, I believe they are deserving of the same recognition as their colleagues in a combat zone,” said Sen. Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.).
Daris Long’s stark and compelling testimony to the panel described his frustration at President Obama and the administration’s handling of the war against radical islamists. By treating his son’s death as a “drive-by shooing,” and the Fort Hood attack as “workplace violence,” Long said the wrong message is being sent to the military community. Long also said he was insulted that attacks on the military are treated as crimes, while the Obama administration treated the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller as a terrorist attack.
“I am convinced the government’s position is to deny Little Rock was a terrorist attack,” Long said. “To this administration’s shame, two soldiers have been abandoned on a battlefield in the advancement of a political agenda.”
“If you kill in this country under the banner of jihad, we’re told it isn’t terrorism,” Long said.
“We firmly believe that if the White House had shown the same attitude concerning Little Rock as was shown in the killing of Dr. Tiller, a clear message could have been sent. The political correctness exhibited by the government over offending anyone in admitting the truth about Islamic extremism, masked alarm bells that were going off. Warnings were ignored, Maj. Nidal Hasan was able to openly praise the Little Rock shootings in front of fellow Army officers, and then commit his own jihad,” Long said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I.-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D.-Miss), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Dan Lungren (R.-Calif.) are all conferees on Defense Authorization legislation currently moving through Congress, and said they will insert language to ensure the Purple Heart is awarded to the soldiers.
Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the hearing to examine the threat of homegrown terrorism to military communities. “Our troops volunteer to go into harm’s way overseas to protect all of us—they should not be in harm’s way here at home, and yet they are,” King said. “This threat is persistent and enduring.”
Since 2011, more than 30 plots against military targets in the U.S. by homegrown terrorists have been disrupted and prosecuted, while the attacks in Little Rock and at Fort Hood in Texas (by Hasan) were successful in killing 14 and wounding 30 people.
“Military communities in the U.S. have recently become the most sought-after targets of violent Islamist extremists seeking to kill Americans in their homeland. We cannot stand idly by while our heroes in uniform are struck down in the place they feel safest,” King said.
“The homegrown terrorist threat to military communities inside the United States is of critical significance, and one which we simply cannot afford to neglect,” King said.
Thompson took issue with the nature of this and other hearings King has held on the threat of Islamist terrorism, and said that focusing on religion threatened to undermine military morale.
“I imagine my colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to use these two attacks to paint a picture about the nature of the violent extremist threat facing this nation,” Thompson said. “Once again, the picture they draw is not likely to be accurate, nuanced or subtle.
“Focusing on the followers of one religion as the only credible threat to this nation’s security is inaccurate, narrow, and blocks consideration of emerging threats,” Thompson said.
Some Republicans took issue with the testimony offered by Lt. Col. Reid Sawyer, director of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center, and Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs.
Asked whether Islamists were the only terrorists who posed a threat, the men said the military is also concerned about the Christian right movement, white supremacists and skinheads.
Lungren repeatedly asked Stockton whether the U.S. is at war with “violent extremist Islamists, to which Stockton replied, “No.”
“Al-Qaeda would love to convince Muslims around the world that the U.S. is at war with Islam, and I’m not going to aid and abet their efforts to further their goal,” Stockton said.
“I understand that. I never said we are at war with Islam,” said Lungren, who questioned whether the Defense Department is able to make the distinction.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R.-Tex.) described the military strategy for dealing with homegrown radicals as “political correctness gone array.”
Added Rep. Jeff Duncan (R.-S.C.): “We’ve got to be able to identify the enemy if we’re ever going to defeat the enemy.”