The court-martial of US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, began today, and the accused killer admitted he pulled the trigger in a brief opening statement.
"The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter," said Major Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who was agitated over the prospect of a deployment to Afghanistan at the time of his killings. "Evidence will show I was on the wrong side of America's war and I later switched sides," Hasan said. "We in the mujahideen are imperfect beings trying to establish a perfect religion … I apologize for any mistakes I have made in this endeavor."
A mujahideen, or holy warrior? It appears that Hasan believes gunning down 13 unarmed people he was sworn to protect and fight with makes him a "warrior," since his interpretation of Islam justifies such killing. Though Hasan may tell himself that he was attacking soldiers, his 12 military victims and 1 civilian victim were not armed at the time he killed them, nor were they near a field of battle. His trial is a last chance to feed his grandiose self-image, and his words indicate today he's going to try to take full advantage of it.
But his comments put me in mind of what Judge William Young said at the sentencing of would-be shoe bomber and wannabe jihadi Richard Reid, who tried to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to the US on Dec. 22 2001.
You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.
And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.
We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.
So war talk is way out of line in this court. You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.
In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and you said you're no big deal. You're no big deal.
The trial of Hasan will justifiably be given a great deal of attention, though Hasan's comments today have guaranteed its conclusion. He stole 13 lives, a huge and important loss to the friends and loved ones of Hasan's victims.
But beyond that, he's no big deal.