A US army psychiatrist charged with a deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood will face some of the victims in court today as he begins a legal process that could result in his execution.
The rampage which left 13 people dead and 42 wounded at the Texas army base on November 5 last year shocked the nation and helped highlight the growing threat of “homegrown” terrorism. Military and intelligence officials have come under intense criticism for possibly missing an array of warning signs about the suspected gunman, Major Nidal Malik Hasan.
Hasan has been tied to Islamic extremism, including contact with a radical cleric now in Yemen who blessed the killing spree. The hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to court martial Hasan could run for more than a month in a small courtroom on the Texas army base. More than 100 witnesses could be called, including at least 32 survivors and the two police officers credited with shooting Hasan, who is paralysed from the chest down.
Veteran judge Colonel James Pohl, who presided over a series of trials related to the Abu Ghraib scandal, will sift through the evidence president at the Article 32 proceeding. It is not clear how Hasan’s lawyer will counter testimony from soldiers who said they heard the devout Muslim shout “God is great!” in Arabic as he let loose a hail of bullets in a crowded deployment center.
While the Army has not said whether it will seek the death penalty, defence attorney John Galligan said he faces an uphill battle to save his client’s life. “To get complete acquittal, it’s difficult to say whether that would happen or not until we’ve got him through the Article 32 and the sanity board,” the former military judge and army colonel said.
“If there’s a sanity board issue enough that presents a realistic mental responsibility issue, we could be talking about the possibility of an acquittal.” Lawyers familiar with the military justice system say the sanity board is Hasan’s best hope. The hearing is scheduled to run through October 29 and then recess until November 8 in order to mark the November 5 anniversary of the shooting.
It is currently set to run through November 18 but could reconvene on December 1 if necessary, Fort Hood officials said.
Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.