Major Nidal Hasan, if he did what he is accused of doing, is a traitor and a war criminal, not a terrorist.
A terrorist is a civilian who commits or threatens an act of harm against a civilian target in pursuit of political goals.
That definition doesn’t differ much from many of the others you will find, if you look. We can quibble over a word or two, but there are three basic requirements.
- A terrorist is a civilian
- Who targets civilians
- For political reasons
Without the political motivation, the person is not a terrorist but an ordinary criminal.
But a member of the military who performs the same kind of acts terrorists do is committing a war crime. If he is out of uniform, or takes the uniform falsely, or abuses prisoners of war, or targets civilians generally, then he is a war criminal. If as Hasan did he targets unarmed combatants, then he is a war criminal.
President Obama doesn’t appear to know what separates terrorism from criminal activity (ABC video link):
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Philosophically, what separates an act of violence from an act of terrorism?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, we — we have seen, in the past, rampages of this sort. And in a country of 300 million people, there are going to be acts of violence that are inexplicable. Even within the extraordinary military that we have — and I think everybody understands how outstanding the young men and women in uniform are under the most severe stress — there are going to be instances in which an individual cracks. I think the questions that we’re asking now and we don’t have yet complete answers to is, is this an individual who’s acting in this way or is it some larger set of actors? You know, what are the motivations? Those are all questions that I think we have to ask ourselves. Until we have these answers buttoned down, I’d rather not comment on it.
Given the definition above, it is clear that if he did what he’s accused of doing, Nidal Hasan is a war criminal. If he’s legally a member of our armed forces, then as an officer owing allegiance to these United States he is also a traitor (one guilty of Treason). 18 USC § 2381:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against
them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within
the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer
death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under
this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of
holding any office under the United States.
Major Hasan is not a terrorist. But if he’s a member of Al Qaeda, then he’s a war criminal for another reason.
Assuming the enemy’s uniform is a war crime.