Trial of Nidal Hasan, Accused Fort Hood Shooter, Begins

Representing himself, the former army psychiatrist will cross-examine his own victims. The trial, held four years after the attack, gives the major a chance to air radical views

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Bell County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

Army Major Nidal Hasan

The soldier who killed 13 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood nearly four years ago will go on trial Tuesday.

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who has said the United States is at war with Islam will be representing himself in court, faces the possibility of a death sentence in the military trial for the killing spree at the Texas military base.

According to prosecution, Hasan, then a 39-year-old psychiatrist in the Army, walked into a waiting room for soldiers undergoing routine processing on Nov. 5, 2009 and began firing a semi-automatic pistol, killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others. A responding civilian police officer ultimately shot Hasan, who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his injuries.

“When people can finally start reporting on the actual evidence that’s introduced in this trial, people are going to see how incredibly brutal this was, and incredibly heartbreaking,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law and retired Army lieutenant colonel. “This is a heartbreaking case.”

(PHOTOS: The Troubled Journey of Major Hasan)

Hasan has embraced radical Islamic views and made a point of publicizing them. He has not denied that he was the murderer and has claimed that he was defending the Taliban leadership.

Last week, he provided Fox News with mostly unpublished transcripts of a past interview with Al-Jazeera in which he renounced his U.S. citizenship and accused the United States of waging war on Islam.

Hasan also grew a beard in jail, which he said was a symbol of his Muslim piety, in violation of military rules on decorum. The beard led to months of legal wrangling.

By representing himself, Hasan, who has twice fired his court-issued attorneys, will be able to cross-examine the very victims he fired on and, if he chooses, testify on the stand.

“Everything else about his conduct during the process leading up to this trial suggests that he will want to give a speech. And if he does it’s likely to be highly inflammatory and disturbing,” said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School.

(MORE: The Fort Hood Killer: Terrified … or Terrorist?)

Hasan faces overwhelming evidence against him, including 270 witnesses called up by the prosecution, according to the Los Angeles Times. But experts say that if he is found guilty and then sentenced to death, the lengthy appeals process could delay his execution for years if not overturn it altogether. No active-duty soldier has been executed since 1961.

Prosecutors have charged Hasan with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. Corn said that, while prosecutors could have sought to charge Hasan under specific federal terrorism laws, the charges of premeditated murder provide a more reliable path to sentencing which is less prone to appeal.

“The most effective way of getting there is to stick with the simplest charge, which is premeditated murder,” he said.

The government has refrained from characterizing the shooting as an act of terrorism, citing intent to ensure a fair trial. Victims are suing to change the designation and receive accompanying military benefits.

FBI investigators were aware of communication between Hasan and the radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack. In 2011, al-Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.

PHOTOS: Inside the Apartment of Nidal Malik Hasan