- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

Military officials lodged charges Thursday that could bring the death penalty to accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, as President Obama ordered a review of the case to see whether authorities missed signs that may have prevented the massacre.

Maj. Hasan, 39, remained hospitalized with gunshot injuries he received from two civilian police officers credited with stopping the massacre last week that left 13 dead and 29 wounded.

Army Criminal Investigation Division spokesman Chris Rey said Maj. Hasan will face charges in military court of 13 counts of premeditated murder. Though the charges are capital crimes, officials have not said whether they would seek the death penalty.

“These are initial charges and additional charges may be in the future,” he said during a brief news conference. “This is the first step in the court-martial process.”

Mr. Obama also announced Thursday that he has ordered an inventory of all relevant intelligence files that existed before the shooting “especially any having to do with the alleged shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan.”

“In addition, I directed an immediate review be initiated to determine how any such intelligence was handled, shared and acted upon within individual departments and agencies and what intelligence was shared with others,” Mr. Obama wrote in a memorandum to the secretary of defense, director of national Intelligence and FBI director.

“The results of this inventory and review, as well as any recommendations for improvements to procedures and practices, shall be provided to John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, who will serve as the principal point of contact on this matter for the White House,” he said, ordering that preliminary results of the review be provided by Nov. 30.

Questions continue to linger about whether authorities missed troublesome signs before the deadly rampage.

An FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force knew that Maj. Hasan had extensive contacts with a radical imam located in Yemen, but did not pursue an investigation because the substance of the conversations was not considered to be related to threats or potential violence.

The Washington Times has also learned from two U.S. officials that Maj. Hasan had contact with numerous other Muslim extremists, some of whom are under federal investigation and/or have links to al Qaeda.

Authorities still believe Maj. Hasan acted alone and that the rampage was not part of a larger terrorist plot.

Experts in military law said Maj. Hasan’s court-martial will in many ways resemble a trial in civilian court.

“The military rules of evidence are almost identical to the federal rules of evidence,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston who also is a retired lieutenant colonel who served in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Procedurally, the case will begin with what is known as an “Article 32 hearing,” which is akin to a civilian grand jury, but with some notable differences. Unlike a grand jury, the Article 32 proceedings are not secret and the defendant may participate by presenting evidence and cross-examining witnesses.

After the hearing, an officer will make a recommendation to a commanding general as to whether there is enough evidence to pursue charges. The commanding general will then decide whether to let the case proceed to trial and whether prosecutors can seek the death penalty.

The trial is presided over by a military judge with a jury consisting of officers whose ranks are higher than that of the defendant. In Maj. Hasan’s case, that means the jurors would at least have the rank of lieutenant colonel, Mr. Corn said.

If Maj. Hasan is facing the death penalty, the jury would have 12 members, if not, it would at least have five members. If it is a death-penalty case, a hearing would be held after conviction in which the same jury would decided whether death would be the appropriate sentence.

A conviction may be appealed through the military system all the way to the Supreme Court. The president must personally sign a death warrant before a soldier can be executed.

The death penalty is a rarity in the military; the last soldier put to death was John Bennett, who was hanged in 1961 for raping and trying to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. President George W. Bush signed a death warrant for another soldier in 2008, Ronald Gray, a convicted serial rapist and killer, but his execution has been delayed pending further appeals.

The military’s death row is located at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Lethal injection is the method of execution.

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