On November 5, 2009, at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, a gunman opened fire at his workplace killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 others. The man, then 39-year-old U.S. Army major psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, walked into the Soldier Readiness Procession Center and opened fire at soldiers awaiting medical treatment. Hasan is now standing trial in military court.
Not only was this incident the most deadly shooting to ever take place on a military base, but the almost theatrical nature of the trial proceedings have got the media talking. First, Hasan has opted to represent himself at trial. However, he has been appointed a defense team, led by Lt. Col. Kris Poppe. The team has asked the judge to be excused from the trial, claiming that Hasan is trying to win the death penalty for himself. They claimed it was “morally repugnant” for them to help him achieve this goal. The judged ruled just yesterday that Hasan will remain in charge of his own defense.
Before the trial even began, Hasan was fined twice for violating army regulations and appearing at court with a beard. At a following court appearance, judge Colonel Gregory Gross ordered Hasan’s beard forcibly shaved. This was brought to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and was overturned because it fell under military command’s responsibility instead of the court. Colonel Gross was then removed from the case.
Hasan could be the first person the military puts to death in five decades, if convicted. He openly admitted his guilt during opening remarks and claimed allegiance with mujahideen, or holy warriors. Hasan planned on using a “defense of others” strategy in court by claiming his shot Fort Hood soldiers to prevent further Taliban deaths in Afghanistan. However, the court has ruled that this defense will not be allowed.
Many of the victims and their families have expressed frustration with the government’s actions in trying this case as an act of violence in the workplace instead of an act of terrorism. He was charge with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder by the army. The prosecution did not press charges for the death of the fetus of Francheska Velez, but it is available to them.
On August 7, Autumn Manning, the wife of Fort Hood survivor Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning went to Twitter to voice her outrage to the government’s alleged “gag orders” to victims. She claimed that the U.S. Department of Defense ordered witnesses and family members not to speak to the media.
Every morning Hasan is wheeled into the courtroom by the bailiff. He is a paraplegic after being shot by a police officer during the rampage. Many of the delays in trial have been due to his health. Like something out of an episode of Law and Order, Hasan may end of cross-examining his own victims, although it is still unclear whether or not this will occur.
Military trials are very different from civilian cases, but experts like Geoffrey Corn, a former Army judge advocate and professor at South Texas College of Law agree that, “The case is unprecedented on so many levels,” and “It’s totally unique in the annals of criminal military justice.”