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Fort Hood shooting trial set to begin

06 August 2013, 16:20

Washington - Opening arguments are slated to begin on Tuesday in the court martial of Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan, who faces 13 counts of murder in a 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

Hasan, aged 42, faces the death penalty if convicted on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the shooting spree on 5 November 2009, at Fort Hood as soldiers were preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. If convicted, he could be the first active-duty US soldier to receive the death penalty since 1961.

Hasan, who was shot by police officers during the attack and is paralysed from the waist down as a result, is to represent himself for the duration of the trial. Because Hasan is serving as his own lawyer, victims who will be called to testify in the case will be put in the unusual position of being questioned by their accused attacker.

On Monday, the military judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, questioned the 13-member jury of senior officers, which said it remained impartial.

Hasan had sought to plead guilty to the charges, but military legal rules do not allow guilty pleas for charges that carry the death penalty.

In documents sent to Fox News ahead of the trial, Hasan claimed he must renounce his US citizenship and his military oath to defend the US Constitution "over the commandments mandated in Islam".

Home-grown terrorism or workplace violence?

He had sought to claim during pre-trial hearings that the attack was carried out in defence of Taliban forces in Afghanistan, but the judge has said he could not use the defence in court.

Military prosecutors are expected to point to internet searches about the Taliban and jihad conducted by Hasan to show the US-born Muslim had become radicalised. Osborn told prosecutors they cannot use e-mails between Hasan and radial cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Hasan, in the documents sent to Fox News, called al-Awlaki "my teacher, mentor and friend. I hold him in high esteem for trying to educate Muslims about their duties to our creator. May all-mighty Allah accept his martyrdom".

Al-Awlaki was killed in a 2011 US drone strike in Yemen.

Osborn has not yet ruled on whether prosecutors can discuss other evidence that points to his radicalisation, such as an academic presentation he made in defence of suicide bombing.

It remained unclear whether the attack would be portrayed in court as home-grown terrorism or work-place violence.

A group of victims have accused the government of downplaying terrorist nature of the attack and have separately sued the Pentagon for not doing enough to prevent the shooting.



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