The man behind the fusillade of bullets that felled 13 people at Fort Hood last November enters the public spotlight for the first time starting Wednesday. That’s a 24-hour delay, granted by the military judge to give Maj. Nidal Hasan’s defense team until then to detail their request for postponing the legal proceeding until Nov. 8. Hasan is the Army psychiatrist and ardent Muslim who allegedly sprayed gunfire inside a deployment center at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu akbar!” — God is great — before being shot and seriously wounded himself.
The so-called Article 32 hearing — which could last a month or more — will determine whether or not Hasan will face a court martial. The hearing is somewhat like a civilian grand jury proceeding but is open to the public. Both the prosecution and defense will be able to call witnesses. Hasan, 40, faces 13 murder counts and 32 attempted murder counts. He could be executed if convicted at a later trial. Many of the 32 he wounded are expected to testify.
It’s a safe bet Hasan, now paralyzed from the chest down, won’t be the only one on trial. Was he a “nut case,” acting alone and therefore making his violence difficult to foresee and impossible to thwart? Or did the known red flags — pro-Islamic comments in class, jotting “Allah willing” on a patient’s medical chart, e-mails to a radical imam in Yemen intercepted by U.S. authorities who said they were innocuous — signal a breakdown in U.S. intelligence that should have prevented the massacre?
A review panel appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates following the attack took note of missed warning signs involving Hasan and a lack of proper oversight by his superiors. But details have not been released.
Army prosecutors are expected to parade soldiers who were at the shooting scene last November 5 to offer up the most graphic and detailed accounting of that day yet. They will try to make clear that Hasan was the shooter and draw out all the details of the bloody 10-minute rampage. But Hasan’s attorney, retired Army Col. John Galligan, may raise questions about Hasan’s mental state at the time of the shootings.
With dozens of witnesses likely to identify Hasan as the shooter, Galligan may be compelled to claim his client was insane at the time. That may require him to delve into Nasan’s past to uncover disquieting signs that his client was a ticking time bomb that his Army superiors overlooked. But Galligan has complained that the Army has withheld documents containing such information from him, complicating any defense into Hasan’s mental stability. And there is a possibility that Hasan will reject an insanity defense, preferring instead to claim he was motivated by his faith. How much about Hasan’s motive emerges at the Article 32 hearing, rather than the trial, remains to be seen.
Several of Hasan’s colleagues at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., told reporters after the killings that Hasan spoke in class about how he felt the U.S. was at war with Muslims, and how he felt his Muslim faith took precedence over the U.S. Constitution he swore to uphold as a U.S. Army officer. To what extent, if any, the Army overlooked such comments remains unknown. Several of Hasan’s colleagues suggsted he was permitted to remain in uniform because of a dire lack of Army psychiatrists.