WASHINGTON - The military’s top appellate court dismissed the judge in the Fort Hood shooting case, saying he appeared to be biased.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces here ruled Monday that Col. Gregory Gross had acted in a way that would make a reasonable person “harbor doubts about [his] impartiality.”
The court martial stalled when the accused, Maj. Nidal Hasan, 42, grew a beard against Army regulations. Gross, saying the beard was a disruption, removed Hasan from the courtroom and cited him for contempt on several occasions before eventually ordering him to be forcibly shaved.
The back and forth between Gross and Hasan’s defense team went on for months, and the appeals court chided Gross, writing in the opinion that he had “allowed the proceedings to become a duel of wills ... rather than an adjudication of the serious offenses with which [Hasan] is charged.”
Hasan, an Army psychologist, is facing a possible death sentence if convicted of 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 counts of premeditated attempted murder in the 2009 shooting rampage at the Texas military base.
The ousting of Gross leaves the issue of Hasan’s beard unresolved. The appeals court sidestepped the issue by simply vacating Gross’ order because of his removal, and specifically noting that they were not ruling on whether it was legal to force Hasan to shave.
The Army’s grooming regulations prohibit facial hair, unless a rare exemption is granted for religious reasons. Hasan, who claims he grew the beard in accordance with his Muslim faith, applied for and was denied such an exemption last summer.
His lawyers argued that forcing Hasan to shave violated his religious freedoms. Although the appeals court said that grooming regulations should be enforced by a soldier’s command, not a military judge, the court did not weigh in on the merit of Hasan’s religious rights argument.
Both the prosecution and the defense will be back to square one on whether Hasan must be clean shaven for his court martial.
“Should the next military judge find it necessary to address [Hasan’s] beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew,” the appellate court wrote.
A new judge has not yet been assigned to the court martial.