Suspected gunman in Fort Hood shooting continues to receive a salary

Posted Sunday, Aug. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Congressional leaders think it’s time to cut off the cash to Army Maj. Nidal Hasan.

On the eve of trial testimony for the suspected gunman in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage, lawmakers have proposed suspending military pay for service men and women charged with certain crimes.

They say they are frustrated that Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with multiple counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in one of the worst mass shootings on a military base, has received paychecks totaling nearly $300,000 while locked up, waiting for testimony that begins Tuesday at Fort Hood.

“It is outrageous that taxpayers continue to pay an accused terrorist that killed more than a dozen people,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, whose district includes part of Arlington. “Does anyone think this make sense?

“You are innocent until proven guilty in this country, but that doesn’t mean you should be rewarded while awaiting trial.”

The Stop Pay for Violent Offenders Act has been filed in the U.S. House — to let the military suspend pay for those arrested and charged with rape, sexual assault or a capital offense — by Reps. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., Tom Rooney, R-Fla., and Frank Wolf, R-Va.

“The fact that the sole suspect in this attack, Nidal Hasan, a major in the U.S. Army, has continued to draw his Army salary — costing taxpayers more than $278,000 — is outrageous,” Griffin said.

Current law lets the military stop paying civilian employees, but officials say they can’t stop paying military members on active service, such as Hasan, unless they are convicted.

“This bill would correct a huge oversight that has allowed military personnel charged with a serious crime to continue to receive their pay while awaiting trial,” Wolf said. “Does anybody really think it’s right that Nidal Hasan has collected more than $200,000 in taxpayer dollars since being charged in the Fort Hood shootings?”

The trial

Testimony in the military trial, or court-martial, for Hasan begins Tuesday at Fort Hood, where 13 officers from military posts across the country will serve as the jury that will determine his fate. If convicted, he faces the death penalty or life without parole.

On Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman opened fire on a group of soldiers in the Soldier Readiness Center, a personnel and medical processing center, at the sprawling Central Texas military base.

More than a dozen died; dozens were injured.

Because soldiers are required to remain unarmed on base, the gunman continued shooting until base police officers arrived and returned fire, striking the gunman multiple times.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, will serve as his own attorney in this trial. He sits in a wheelchair, paralyzed after being shot the day of the massacre.

He has said he shot the soldiers in the “defense of others” to defend the Afghanistan Taliban — an argument the judge has ruled Hasan may not bring up during the trial.

Hasan was a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for six years before he was transferred in July 2009 to Fort Hood, where he was on the verge of deploying to Afghanistan, military officials have said.

He is a graduate of Virginia Tech University, where he was a member of the ROTC and earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1997. He received his medical degree from the military’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., in 2001. At Walter Reed, he did his internship, residency and a fellowship.

This court-martial has cost the Army millions of dollars in various expenses, media reports have said.

Reaction to bill

The bill is drawing mixed reactions.

It would withhold military members’ salaries during the court process, but anyone acquitted would receive full salary payment.

“Our bill is simple – if you’re awaiting trial for a serious crime, you can’t collect a salary from the American taxpayer,” said Rooney, a former prosecutor at Fort Hood.

The measure also has provisions to give more compensation to victims of these crimes.

“The Fort Hood tragedy was so heinous that to even consider maintaining the suspect’s pay is disturbing to most Americans. But we are a country where guilt must be proven in the courts before punishments are levied,” said U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth. “I remain supportive of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which currently prohibits pretrial punishments, such as withholding pay, under the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.”

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, is among those urging their colleagues to support this measure.

“Maj. Nidal Hasan deserves his day in court, just like any other defendant,” said Carter, whose district includes part of Fort Hood. “But he doesn’t deserve the high salary he has been receiving, at the taxpayers’ expense.

“Having been a judge for 21 years, I understand the legal systems in place to ensure defendants receive a fair trial, but I do not believe taxpayers should be forced to pay salaries for defendants who are charged with capital or sex-related crimes.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has said he doesn’t understand why it has taken so long for this trial to get underway.

“But it is really adding insult to injury that he’s receiving all of this pay during this interim,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said he is reviewing the proposal.

“I agree entirely with the intent of the legislation to prevent Hassan from collecting any military pay but I have constitutional concerns with the wider implications of how this bill is written that assumes the guilt of any service member accused of a crime,” he said.

A few victims of the shooting have spoken to the media about the bill.

“There have been times when my wife and I cannot afford groceries,” retired Army Spc. Logan Burnett, who was shot three times at Fort Hood, has told reporters. “This makes me sick to my stomach.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610 Twitter: @annatinsley

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