The trial of a US army psychiatrist has begun in Texas. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Islamist extremist, is accused of shooting dead 13 people and wounding more than 30 others at the Fort Hood military base in 2009.
In opening statements on Tuesday, Hasan told the jury that the evidence will “clearly show” that he was the shooter at Fort Hood. Although Hasan admits that he carried out the massacre, US military law does not allow the accused to plead guilty to a capital offense. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Hasan, 42, originally wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting spree in “defense of others,” such as Muslim insurgents fighting US troops in Afghanistan. But the military judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, barred him from using that argument as a defense strategy.
In 2009, Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and opened fire inside of a Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where US troops were being prepared for deployment. He was shot in the back by officers responding to the attack and is now paralyzed from the waist down. Before the shooting, Hasan had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan.
“Witnesses will testify that war is an ugly thing. Death, destruction and devastation are felt from both sides, from friend and foe. Evidence from this trial will only show one side. I was on the wrong side, but I switched sides,” Hasan said in a statement that lasted only about two minutes.
Born to Palestinian parents in the US state of Virginia, Hasan had served in the military since 1995. But he began exhibiting increasingly radical religious views between 2003 and 2006, according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report.
Hasan attended a mosque where the radical US-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki preached. The two men had exchanged emails in the months leading up to the shooting at Fort Hood. Al-Awlaki, a former member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Victims face shooter
More than 250 witnesses are expected to testify against Hasan, including family members of each of the 13 people who were killed. Hasan has said he plans to call only two witnesses in his defense. He could call some of his victims to the stand.
“A guy who tried to murder you and your friends, and you have to be cordial and nice, it is going to be difficult,” said Shawn Manning, who served as a mental health specialist in Hasan’s unit and was shot six times, told the AFP news agency.
“In a lot of ways, I hope he doesn't ask me, but I've prepared myself,” Manning said.
Manning is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to have the military reclassify the shooting from “workplace violence” to “terrorism.” A terrorism designation would offer more compensation to the victims.
slk/tm (AP, AFP)