Fort Hood Court-Martial Madness
The accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, began his court-martial Tuesday admitting he’s guilty. “The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” said Hasan, who faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder for those he wounded. But because this is a death penalty case, the Army won’t allow Hasan to plead guilty.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, also described himself as mujahedeen. Witnesses say that he yelled “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as he opened fire on a roomful of unarmed service members.
Hope the Pentagon was listening. To date, the Department of Defense has refused to call the shooting a terrorist attack. In 2010, the Department of Defense released a report that classified the shooting as an episode of “workplace violence” and suggested the use of violence prevention programs modeled on those used by the Postal Service. Clueless.
The report was in keeping with the military’s willful tone-deafness to warning signs that Hasan was a radical Islamist. He had vocally defended suicide bombers and given a lecture defending Osama bin Laden at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Superiors described the Army psychiatrist as a zealot and “ticking time bomb.” No worries. The Army promoted Hasan to the rank of major in 2009.
The FBI discovered Hasan had exchanged more than a dozen emails with U.S.-born militant cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who later was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Unfortunately, the feds dropped the ball; there was no thorough investigation, which might have prevented this vicious crime.
The trial has given Hasan new opportunities to pour salt in the wounds of not only victims and family members but also the public.
In June 2012, Hasan showed up in court with a beard, which is against Army regulations. The judge ordered Hasan to shave. Hasan and his lawyer used the legal standoff to prompt a higher court to remove the judge. The new judge, Col. Tara Osborn, just gave up and let Hasan keep his facial hair. Because higher courts have overturned 11 out of 16 death penalty sentences since 1984, the brass bench is taking no chances.
Hasan fired his attorneys and announced he wanted to defend himself. More delays. Osborn ordered two attorneys to serve as standby counsel; they asked to be excused, as Hasan’s admission likely had helped the prosecution. Voila, another delay.
And delays pay. The Army has paid about $280,000 as legal antics repeatedly have jammed the wheels of justice.
Geoffrey S. Corn, a South Texas College of Law professor, defends the system on the grounds that rights that protect the wrongly accused also apply to the “obviously guilty.” Ultimately, with so many victims willing to testify that Hasan was the shooter, Corn told me, “it is really unimaginable that he will not be convicted.”
It also is inconceivable that the military designates the attack as work-related and will not designate the victims’ deaths and injuries as “combat-related.”
Retired Army Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford took the stand Tuesday knowing that the man who shot him seven times would have the opportunity to cross-examine him. (Hasan declined.) Lunsford and others risked their lives defending this country. Perversely, Hasan gets all the benefit, and they get all the doubt.
Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].