Nidal Hasan can represent himself at trial, raising specter of jihadist rants (+video)
The judge in the Nidal Hasan murder trial ruled Monday that he can represent himself at trial. Hasan's only motivation is likely a desire to use the trial as an ideological platform, legal experts say.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, will be allowed to represent himself at his trial, a military judge ruled on Monday.Skip to next paragraph
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Hasan made his request at a hearing last week, and the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, said she first needed to be sure he was physically able to perform the job. A psychiatric evaluation had already determined he was mentally competent to defend himself, but Hasan, who was shot in the attack, is paralyzed from the chest down, and his lawyers have said he has difficulty sitting for long periods. Jury selection is set to begin Wednesday, and the trial is slated to begin July 1. If convicted, Hasan faces the death penalty.
The judge had little choice but to allow Hasan's request after a doctor testified Monday that Hasan's paralysis won't have a significant impact, legal experts say. But the situation raises concerns for some. Will Hasan attempt to use the trial to advance a platform of jihad? What sort of defense will he be able to provide himself? And what does it mean for victims in the shooting, some of whom will now have to face a cross-examination by their alleged shooter, and many of whom are also concerned about their safety.
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Hasan's trial invites comparisons with that of Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be 9/11 hijacker who also represented himself at his trial and pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill US citizens. Mr. Moussaoui, who is currently serving a life sentence, used his defense to justify his actions, to pontificate against the United States, and at various times to threaten both the judge and jury.
"I expect Hasan to follow that pattern," says Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio.
There's no other reason for a defendant in a case like this to forgo counsel, he adds.
"Clearly when you represent yourself in a case of this nature, it's not because you’re trying to avoid the death penalty or get the panel to agree you’re not guilty," says Professor Addicott. "If you’re motivated by radical Islam to murder, which he was, it's no surprise that he’s going to want to use this trial as a platform to advance radical jihad.... He's hoping to inspire other would-be jihadists that are in our nation."
If Hasan does this, the judge can stop the proceedings, and will also, presumably, need to take time to explain to Hasan many of the rules. Osborn also ruled that Hasan's current attorneys will remain on the case as standby counsel.