Court to hear arguments about Fort Hood shooting suspect, beard
WASHINGTON -- The controversy over the beard of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan, which has delayed his murder trial, continues today with an Army appeals court hearing arguments about whether he should be forcibly shaved.
In defiance of Army grooming regulations, Hasan has grown a beard, and he has appealed the judge’s order that he be clean shaven for his court martial.
Hasan, who is charged with the Nov. 5, 2009, rampage at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead and dozens wounded, claims he grew the beard because he is a Muslim and his faith requires the facial hair.
The judge, Col. Gregory Gross, has repeatedly held the Army psychiatrist in contempt for refusing to shave and banned him from the courtroom. He then ordered the defendant forcibly shaved, which by Army rules would be done by the military police with electric clippers.
The defense is expected to argue to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals at Fort Belvoir, Va., that Gross’ order violates Hasan’s religious rights. In written arguments earlier this summer, Hasan said he dreamed he would die soon and it would be a sin for him to do so without a beard.
The government maintains that it is well within Gross’ authority to order Hasan to comply with basic Army regulations and that Hasan’s religious rights are not at stake.
All soldiers in the Army regardless of their religion are subject to the grooming rules, however a soldier can request an exception based on their religious beliefs, which is only occasionally granted. The military is strict about grooming, maintaining it is part of good order and discipline.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, was clean shaven throughout his career. From confinement, he asked for and was denied a religious exemption in June.
The appeals court said it will also consider whether Gross should be removed from the case. The defense argues he overstepped his bounds as a judge and shouldn’t be allowed to be involved in the proceedings.
The court martial was scheduled to begin in August, but it has been postponed indefinitely until the beard issue is resolved. Either side could appeal the Army’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and possibly all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could delay the murder trial for years, military experts said.
Hasan could be sentenced to death if found guilty for what was the worst mass shooting at a military base.