During his first full day in court defending himself, accused shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan for the first time outlined his new defense: that he shot fellow soldiers to protect the Taliban, specifically their spiritual leader.
Hasan, 42, asked for a three-month delay Tuesday to prepare his new defense, filing his first motion after the judge allowed him to fire his military attorneys Monday and defend himself. Hasan was charged with premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder in connection with killing 13 and wounding 32 during the mass shooting at the central Texas Army base. If convicted, he faces a possible death sentence.
The military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, pressed Hasan to explain his new defense strategy Tuesday.
“Defense of others,” Hasan said.
Hasan was shot by police responding to the Fort Hood attack and is now paralyzed from the chest down. He has no legal training or experience.
In one of the first tests of Hasan’s ability to defend himself, the judge on Tuesday asked him to cite the military law underlying his proposed defense. After pausing to confer with one of his three standby military lawyers, his former counsel, Hasan cited a specific rule of courts-martial providing for defense of others.
Osborn continued to press Hasan to explain — who were the “others” he was protecting? The shooting occurred at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, a Fort Hood medical facility processing soldiers for deployment where Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, worked. The month of the shooting, Hasan was also due to deploy to Afghanistan.
Hasan said he was protecting “the leaders of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban specifically,” including Mullah Omar, their spiritual leader. Then he asked for a break to “gather my thoughts.”
When Hasan returned, the judge asked him to further detail his defense, and he demurred.
Hasan has been housed at a local jail where he does not have internet access.
He will be allowed to do legal research at a trailer next to the courthouse equipped with computers, to use the internet through his standby attorneys and paralegals, but that had not been set up ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, and he said he needed more time to prepare.
“I’m not going to be able to do a good job,” Hasan said, sounding subdued.
He appeared in court as usual lately wearing fatigues instead of the dress uniform typically worn by military defendants. Instead of appearing clean-shaven as required by Army regulations, Hasan wore a full beard, which he has fought for, citing his religious beliefs as an American-born Muslim.
The judge read from his request for a continuance, seeking to confirm Hasan’s defense: that he acted “because death or grievous harm was about to be inflicted on the members of the Taliban and Mullah (Mohammed) Omar specifically by the people against whom you used deadly force.”
“That is correct,” Hasan said.
When the judge continued questioning him, Hasan said he didn’t want to “brainstorm” his defense without adequate time to prepare.
“I need time to put this together in a coherent fashion,” he said.
The judge persisted: Was he seeking to defend just Mullah Mohammed Omar, or the entire Taliban leadership?
The leadership, Hasan said.
“So not just one person, multiple people?” she said.
Yes, he said.
“And these people are in Afghanistan?” the judge asked.
“Yes,” Hasan said.
And those who were threatening them?
“They were members of the United States military about to deploy to Afghanistan,” Hasan said.
The judge asked whether Hasan believed he was protecting others from “the victims, the people you were alleged to have murdered” because they “were about to deploy to Afghanistan.”
“The attack had already occurred. They’re just participating,” Hasan said, describing the attackers as “everybody who supported the government — the leadership, the soldiers.”
The judge said she would give Hasan 24 hours to outline his defense — and military prosecutors the same amount of time to file their opposition.
Hasan’s trial, which has been repeatedly delayed, was scheduled to start Wednesday with more than a dozen potential Army jurors flying in for jury selection.
Osborn effectively postponed it Tuesday, saying prospective jurors should not arrive before Monday.
The next pretrial hearing is Wednesday at noon.