Maj. Nidal Hasan (Bell County Sheriff's Department via AP)
FORT HOOD, TEXAS — A U.S. Army psychiatrist charged with shooting dead 13 soldiers on a Texas military base said he was compelled to do so because deploying troops posed an imminent danger to Taliban fighters.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty or life without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 attack.
Hasan is representing himself at trial, but the military judge hinted Tuesday that his “defense of others” strategy could be thrown out. Such a defense requires Hasan to prove the killings were necessary to protect others from immediate harm or death.
“A ‘defense of others’ strategy is not going to work when you’re at war and the ‘others’ are enemies of the U.S.,” said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University. “And what makes it more egregious is that he targeted medical personnel whose primary purpose was to heal, not to kill.”
Witnesses have said that on Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman wearing a combat uniform shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — “God is great!” in Arabic — and opened fire in a crowded medical building where deploying soldiers get vaccines and tests. Witnesses said the gunman paused only to reload.
Government documents show that in the years before the shooting, Hasan told some colleagues that the U.S. was at war with Islam. In some emails to a radical Muslim cleric, Hasan indicated that he supported terrorists and was intrigued with the idea of U.S. soldiers killing comrades in the name of Islam.
When the military judge on Tuesday asked what evidence Hasan had to support his defense, he said Taliban leader Mullah Omar and “leadership of the Taliban in general” were in immediate danger from U.S. troops on the Texas base, because “the U.S. has attacked and continued to attack the Taliban.”
While Hasan’s argument may have been a bit more sympathetic if he said the rampage was necessary to protect Muslim women and children, that defense strategy does not apply in a war situation, said Lisa M. Windsor, a retired Army colonel and former judge advocate.
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has requested a three-month delay to give him more time to prepare his defense. The military judge was to rule on that Wednesday.
Retired Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning, shot six times in the 2009 attack, said five of the 13 killed were in units that had been training to help soldiers deal with stress and mental health issues. Deployed soldiers in those units are allowed to fire their weapons only in self-defense, Manning said. Hasan was to deploy to Afghanistan with one of those units.
But not everyone killed was about to deploy — to Afghanistan or anywhere else. Pvt. Francheska Velez, who was pregnant, had just returned from Iraq. Michael Grant Cahill, who tried to stop the gunman with a chair, was a physician assistant working in the building.
“It makes me sick to my stomach” that Hasan would use such a defense strategy, Manning said.