(FORT HOOD, Texas) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood rampage hinted Monday that he would try to justify the attack, revealing for the first time his defense strategy after a military judge said he could represent himself — and question the soldiers he is accused of shooting — during his upcoming trial.
Maj. Nidal Hasan did not elaborate when announcing he would use a “defense of others” strategy, which requires defendants to prove they were protecting other people from imminent danger. Military experts speculated that Hasan may argue he was protecting fellow Muslims in Afghanistan because soldiers were preparing to deploy from the Texas Army post.
Hasan also asked the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, for a three-month delay to prepare his defense. The judge said she would decide that issue Tuesday, a day before jury selection was scheduled to begin.
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times during the rampage in November 2009, said Monday he was upset and angry the judge was allowing Hasan the ability to question the wounded soldiers. Lunsford said he expects Hasan to try to intimidate them through mind games.
“It’s a battle of wits, and he’s going to lose,” said Lunsford, who lost most of the sight in his left eye in the attack. “I was there. I saw what this man did. I’m living proof of what he did, but I survived. … I’m not going to show any fear.”
After questioning Hasan for about an hour, Osborn ruled that he was mentally competent to represent himself and understood “the disadvantage of self-representation.”
She repeatedly urged Hasan to reconsider, noting that he would be held to the same standards as all attorneys regarding courtroom rules and military law and be going up against a prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience. She also said he must be courteous to witnesses and not get personal with them.
After the judge asked once again if he understood that representing himself was not “a good idea,” Hasan replied: “You’ve made that quite clear.”
Hasan, who was set to deploy with some of the troops killed that day, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted, the 42-year-old faces the death penalty or life without parole.
Hasan’s attorneys will remain on the case but only if he asks for their help, the judge said.
Military experts not involved in the case speculated that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, likely will try to show that he was trying to defend Muslims against U.S. troops in a war that he believes is illegal and immoral. Government documents show that Hasan, in speaking with some colleagues, expressed support for Osama bin Laden and said the U.S. was at war with Islam. In some emails to a radical Muslim cleric, Hasan indicated that he supported terrorists and was intrigued with the idea of U.S. soldiers killing comrades in the name of Islam.
“Even if he feels the U.S. is in an unjustified war, this defendant is not going to be able to show a threat was immediate because these soldiers were on U.S. soil and unarmed,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.
Reed Rubinstein, who is representing about 150 Fort Hood victims and their families in a lawsuit alleging negligence by the government, said the wounded soldiers “never had any doubt about why he shot them.” But if Hasan tries to use the trial as a platform for his beliefs, “he’s making a mockery of the judicial system,” Rubinstein said.
Hasan in 2011 cut ties with his previous lead attorney, John Galligan, a civilian who is a former military judge. Galligan said recently that he didn’t know why his former client wanted to represent himself.
Also on Monday, at Osborn’s request, a doctor testified about Hasan’s physical condition; Hasan was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the Fort Hood attack. The doctor said Hasan’s paralysis won’t have a significant impact during proceedings, but added that Hasan can sit for only four consecutive hours and has limitations writing.
At a hearing in May, Hasan told Osborn that he wanted to plead guilty. But Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea to charges that could result in a death sentence. Osborn also denied his request to plead guilty to lesser murder charges.
Witnesses have said that after lunch on Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great!” in Arabic — and opened fire in a crowded medical building where deploying soldiers get vaccines and tests. Witnesses said the gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting at some soldiers as they hid under desks and fled the building.