The commanding officer of Fort Hood has recommended that the Army major accused of an on-base massacre in 2009 be court-martialed and face a possible death sentence.
Maj. Nidal Hasan is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 in a Nov. 5, 2009, rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. According to witnesses, the Muslim psychiatrist calmly walked through the medical center, randomly firing his handgun at people, yelling “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic), the typical war cry of jihadists.
“After considering all matters submitted by defense counsel and considering other appropriate matters, including the recommendations of Hasan’s chain of command, the Article 32 Investigating Officer, and his own legal adviser, [Lt. Gen. Donald M.] Campbell has referred the case to a general court-martial for trial,” reads a statement from the press office at the base.
The statement goes on to say, “The court-martial is authorized to consider death as an authorized punishment.”
A presiding judge has yet to be named.
The verdict will be determined by a panel of 12 officers, all of whom must outrank Maj. Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down when he was shot by a Fort Hood police officer. Court-martial rules do not permit plea bargains in capital cases. Any death sentence would have to be reviewed by both military and civilian appeals courts and personally approved by the president.
U.S. intelligence officials cite the Fort Hood shooting as the highest-profile example of how al Qaeda targets American citizens for radicalization with a view to getting them to commit violent attacks inside the country.
The U.S. government has said Maj. Hasan was in contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who now is a senior figure inside al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. Both al-Awlaki and a U.S.-born al Qaeda spokesman praised Maj. Hasan, with Adam Gadahn calling him a “trailblazer” and holy warrior.
However, Maj. Hasan’s attorney has said that crucial evidence against his client regarding contact with al-Awlaki has been kept from the defense team.
Maj. Hasan’s case spurred the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to investigate and report that some of Maj. Hasan’s colleagues saw evidence that their colleague was becoming radicalized - for example, defending suicide bombings.
That report concluded that the FBI and the Department of Defense “collectively had sufficient information necessary to have detected Hasan’s radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it.”
The report also found, “specific and systemic failures in the government’s handling of the Hasan case and raises additional concerns about what may be broader systemic issues.”
Since the Fort Hood massacre and other incidents of homegrown terrorism, the Obama administration has renewed its focus on the threat from what it calls “adherents” to al Qaeda’s ideology.
Last week, John Brennan, the president’s top adviser on counter-terrorism and homeland security, unveiled a new strategy that focuses on the threat posed by Americans who have been inspired by al Qaeda to launch attacks.
Mr. Brennan defined the new threat as “individuals, sometimes with little or no direct physical contact with al Qaeda, who have succumbed to its hateful ideology and who have engaged in, or facilitated, terrorist activities here in the United States.”
The Uniform Code of Military Justice has the death penalty on its books, but it is rarely used. The last soldier executed by the military was Army Pvt. John Bennett who was hanged in 1961 for rape and attempted murder. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan reintroduced the death penalty in the military. In 2008, Army Pvt. Ronald Gray, who was convicted of rape and murder, was set to be executed by injection but was granted a stay.