Alleged Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan faces March 2012 trial

Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan's military trial date has been set. Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood, Texas.

Pat Lopez/Reuters
U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan appears before Fort Hood Chief Circuit Judge Colonel Gregory Gross with a military lawyer during an arraignment July 20. Gross set a trial date of March 5, 2012, for Hasan's court martial, where he faces the death penalty if unanimously convicted by a 12-member jury of U.S. military officers.

More than two years after the attack on military personnel at Fort Hood, accused shooter Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan now has a trial date: March 5, 2012.

The trial date was set Wednesday, during Hasan’s arraignment at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. Hasan did not enter a plea, although military law does not allow a guilty plea in cases where the defendant faces the death penalty. The court also learned Wednesday that Hasan had dismissed his civilian lawyer. He will continue to be represented by military lawyers.

The attack on Nov. 5, 2009, killed 13 people and wounded another 32, making it the worst terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. Hasan was stopped by police bullets, which left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He faces the death penalty, a recommendation made after the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding – an Article 32 hearing under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – last November.

While the basis for Hasan’s defense has not been stated, it is likely to focus on his mental state at the time. If his lawyers can show that he did not know right from wrong at the time of the rampage, he can be sentenced to life without parole instead of executed. Executions in military court cases are rare. The last one was in 1961.

That he shot the victims, pausing only to reload his weapon, is not in question. An evidentiary hearing last November included testimony from some two dozen of those wounded in the attack.

In the past two years, eight attacks have been planned or carried out against military installations in the US, the Associated Press reports.

In a special report earlier this year, US Senators Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, and Susan Collins of Maine, the committee’s top Republican, said the Defense Department and the FBI should have recognized that Hasan had become an adherent of “violent Islamist extremism” before he went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

According to the report, some Army officials had raised concerns about Hasan’s extremist behavior at Fort Hood, referring to him as “a ticking time bomb.” Hasan was known to have communicated with US-born Muslim cleric and terrorist recruiter Anwar Al-Awlaki. A cursory investigation was conducted, but nothing came of it.

Officials increasingly see attacks like the one at Fort Hood – carried out by a single individual driven by ideology and perhaps mental or emotional instability rather than by a group involved in a conspiracy, as was the case with 9/11 – as the greatest threat to domestic security.

“Our review of attempted attacks during the past two years suggests that lone offenders currently present the greatest threat,” concluded a recent assessment by federal agencies, marked “for official use only” and obtained last month by AP.

While “soft targets” – public gathering places, for example – are seen as potentially most vulnerable, Hasan and Fort Hood presented a unique circumstance in which a secure military base became a lucrative target. With proper ID as an Army psychiatrist, Hasan was free to come and go and to carry his personal weapons.

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