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Army court orders Fort Hood suspect to shave

WASHINGTON — The Army psychiatrist accused of the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood must shave his beard, an Army court ruled Thursday.

The accused, Maj. Nidal Hasan, started growing the beard in confinement and has refused to shave in defiance of Army grooming regulations. The judge in his case, Col. Gregory Gross, ordered him forcibly shaved if he wouldn’t do so voluntarily.

The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Gross’ order.

Hasan, an American-born Muslim, says he is growing the beard in accordance with his Islamic faith. His lawyers argued that forcing him to shave violated his religious rights.

The appeals court, however, found that Hasan had not proved he was wearing the beard for sincere religious reasons, and even if he had, there were compelling government interests that justified forcing him to shave, the court said.

The court agreed with Gross’ determination that Hasan’s beard would be a disruption and would bias the jury against him, a particular concern in a death penalty case.

“In front of a military panel, it is undeniable that [Hasan’s] failure to comply with Army grooming regulations ... would cast him in a negative light,” the court’s opinion states.

Hasan’s defense lawyers had also argued that Gross’ order showed he was biased and he should be dismissed, but the majority of the seven-member court did not find that Gross compromised his impartiality. However, two dissenting judges did, saying Gross should not have himself ordered the defendant forcibly shaved when he could have instead directed Hasan’s command to ensure he was clean shaven.

In a military courtroom, Col. William Kern wrote in his partial dissenting opinion, a judge “must remain keenly aware of not only the authorities he holds, but how orders executing those authorities are viewed and [the] options available to him, always keeping in mind perceptions regarding impartiality.”

The dissenting judges argued that Gross acted inappropriately and shouldn’t preside over the case any longer.

Hasan’s lawyers said they would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which is a civilian court that oversees the military justice system. Either side could then appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hasan’s court-martial for 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder won’t begin until the matter of his beard is resolved.

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