Expert: Hasan might be holding back until sentencing
In this courtroom sketch, FBI special agent Donna Cowling testifies at the trial of U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. Also pictured are the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, defense counsel Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, and Maj. Larry Downend from the prosecution team.
Stars and Stripes
FORT HOOD, Texas — He bought the semi-automatic pistol on Aug. 1, 2009, had it mounted with a laser sight and magazine extender, and started buying large quantities of ammunition every week.
He hijacked the microphone for the call to prayer the morning of Nov. 5, 2009, and said goodbye to the congregation at the Killeen Islamic Center.
After lunch, he told a civilian data entry clerk working at the Fort Hood soldier readiness processing center that her boss needed to see her immediately, and when she was gone, he shouted “God is greatest” in Arabic before opening fire on uniformed soldiers waiting to be medically cleared for deployment. He shot many of them over and over again, even as some lay bleeding on the floor.
The prosecutors began the court-martial against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan with a detailed opening statement, explaining exactly what the court would hear as witnesses took the stand. And since then, they’ve worked painstakingly to prove their case, asking nearly 80 witnesses so far to describe what Hasan asked when he went to buy the weapon, what he gave away to neighbors before the shooting, what soldiers were doing in the seconds before they watched their friends fall, how many worked desperately to save strangers as the clinic turned dark with gunsmoke, and where each of the dozens of shell casings were found after Hasan was shot by police.
As the third week of the trial begins, the prosecutors will call their last witnesses – though the judge has not yet ruled on whether some evidence, such as a presentation Hasan did in 2007 about suicide bombers and adverse impacts of conflicted Muslim soldiers, will be allowed.
Friday, one of the police officers who responded to the scene recalled firing at a soldier with a weapon who was running toward her. Sgt. Kimberly Munley stood up to face him, at the end of the exchange just eight feet apart, and the two began exchange fire.
Munley apparently had hit Hasan twice, which likely saved her as Hasan fumbled with his FN Five-seveN before he was felled by another officer.
Munley was shot three times in the exchange, and still walks with a slight limp.
Strategy of silence
Hasan opened the trial by admitting his guilt.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” he said, though “the evidence presented will only show one side.”
Hasan is representing himself in the proceedings, though three military lawyers have been ordered to assist in his defense.
The head of the standby defense team, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, has asked the judge to relieve the men from having to help because they believe Hasan is seeking the death penalty.
The American-born Muslim planned to argue that he was protecting the lives of Taliban leaders by killing soldiers before deployment to Afghanistan, but the judge ruled he cannot use that defense. He is forbidden from pleading guilty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice because it is a capital case.
Still, many believed Hasan would use the court-martial as an attempt to grandstand, and have been surprised that he has stayed mainly quiet throughout the proceedings.
But Geoffery Corn, a retired Army lawyer and professor at South Texas College of Law, said he expected Hasan to stay passive in the courtroom while the prosecution makes its case – then use the sentencing phase to explain the reasons for his alleged actions.
“We do know … that he subjectively believes that what he was doing was justified,” Corn said.
Throughout the trial, the judge has taken pains to protect the court record and prevent Hasan from inadvertently revealing privileged information or doing anything else that could open the door to a mistrial or overturned verdict.
Friday, she reminded Hasan that she had warned him that representing himself put him at a disadvantage. She asked if he still wanted to proceed without a lawyer.
“I do,” he said.
Corn said Hasan has a constitutional right to represent himself, but by choosing to do so, he waives the right to file an appeal based on inadequate representation.
“You don’t have to be able to do it well, you don’t have to be able to do it effectively,” Corn said. “You don’t have to be a good lawyer. But you can’t complain later that you had a bad lawyer.”