Hasan questions potential jurors on Islam
By JEREMY SCHWARTZ | Austin American-Statesman | Published: July 10, 2013
FORT HOOD, Texas — Maj. Nidal Hasan on Wednesday pressed potential jurors in his court-martial about their thoughts on Shariah law, Islam and the Taliban, and he complained that a military judge wouldn’t let him publicly claim responsibility for the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood.
“I would like to state my frustration with not being able to (tell potential jurors) that I was the shooter on Nov. 5,” Hasan, who is representing himself, told judge Col. Tara Osborn on the second day of jury selection.
Hasan faces the death penalty on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He had previously sought to plead guilty to the charges, but military law doesn’t allow a judge to accept a guilty plea from a defendant facing the death penalty.
Osborn told him that during jury selection he must act as an attorney and should avoid speaking in the first person when talking with potential jurors.
“You seem to want to use your (jury selection) question to testify,” Osborn told Hasan. “The words you are using are not testimony, not evidence.”
On Wednesday, four potential witnesses were dismissed, meaning 10 Army officers have been tentatively approved to sit on the jury panel. At least 13 are needed for the jury. Six more potential jurors will arrive at Fort Hood before jury selection resumes Monday.
Osborn had set aside nearly a month for jury selection, but the process could end far sooner. Regardless of when the panel is selected, opening statements won’t begin until Aug. 6, she said. The quick pace was due largely to Hasan, who ditched plans to ask jurors dozens of questions and instead quizzed them only about their thoughts on Islam. He also told the judge he wouldn’t be assisted by a previously approved jury selection expert. He chose to question only the same officers singled out by prosecutors for further probing.
In wide-ranging discussions that touched on various topics — including the Saudi royal family and Sadr City, a suburban district of Baghdad that was the scene of heavy fighting during the Iraq War — Hasan told officers he embraced a strict interpretation of Islam, reiterated his support for the Taliban and described what he saw as the main differences between American democracy (based on the rule of people) and Shariah law (based on the rule of God).
Hasan told one officer he believed the Quran allowed him to “kill in the name of Islam,” and he told another that Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American-born Muslim who opened fire on an Arkansas Army recruiting station in 2009, killing a soldier, was a “brother and friend.”
He challenged many of the officers about their answers to a 2012 pretrial questionnaire in which they reported less than favorable views of Islam or Shariah law.
One officer said he formed his opinion of Islam serving in Saudi Arabia about a decade ago, where he saw what he viewed as the excesses of Saudi royal family members.
“You basically called the Saudis on their hypocrisy,” Hasan told the lieutenant colonel. “Thank you for that on behalf of all Muslims.”
He also pressed a female major about why she held unfavorable views of Shariah law, or Islamic religious law. “I’m no expert in Shariah law, but it certainly seems like something I would not want to live under,” she told him. “I think it would pretty much suck, especially as a woman in that society.”
Hasan asked another potential juror if he would hold against him the fact that he believed that the Taliban, who imposed a strict version of Shariah law on Afghanistan, “were imperfect Muslims trying to establish a perfect religion of almighty Allah.”
The questioning also revealed the difficulty of finding high-ranking Army officers who haven’t formed an opinion about the shooting. One colonel told the judge that while he would attempt to be impartial, “(Hasan) is sitting here in a wheelchair because of wounds he received on that specific day.”
Another said he has tried his best to form no opinion about Hasan’s guilt and had only been “95 percent” successful.
The four officers who were dismissed were a colonel who served with the brother of a soldier who was shot and wounded in the incident, a major who knew Osborn personally, a colonel with medical issues and a lieutenant colonel who was helping to design response strategies for military police based on lessons from the shooting.