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Fort Hood shooting: Judge nixes Nidal Hasan defense strategy. What now?

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan cannot use the defense that he acted to protect Taliban leaders from US soldiers deploying to Afghanistan, a military judge ruled Friday. His challenge now is to come up with another explanation to argue at his court-martial.

A military judge said Friday that she would not allow Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage that left 13 dead, to tell jurors that he did so to protect Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

Bell County Sheriff's Department/AP/File

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A military judge overseeing the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan ruled Friday that the Army psychiatrist cannot argue in court that he killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in defense of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, including leader Mullah Omar.

Hasan’s decision to forego his court-appointed Army lawyers and forge his own defense has slowed the proceedings, more than they already had been. Questions that have previously arisen include whether the American-born Muslim can wear a beard at trial, and whether his claim that he acted on behalf of the Taliban proved that the shootings were an act of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism rather than of “workplace violence,” as the Pentagon characterizes it. 

The legal gyrations speak to two key issues, military law experts say. For one, the Hasan case indicates that the inability of defendants in capital murder cases to simply plead guilty is a flaw in the military justice system. Given the judge's decision Friday, Hasan is left with no real defense, beyond insanity, to try to explain his attack on the Fort Hood soldier readiness center on Nov. 5, 2009, they note.

For another, the stakes are high for a military justice system that has seen every death-penalty sentence since 1962 overturned, says David Frakt, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has worked as defense counsel at the US terrorist detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“He has to put on a defense, and now when this particular defense has been rejected he still has to come up with some other totally fictitious defense,” says Mr. Frakt. Moreover, Army justice officials "are really trying to be extroardinarily careful with this case not to blow it, so that if they do get a death verdict they want it to stick. The easiest way to do that is to bend over backwards, to be accomodating to the defense, to remove potential appelate issues.”


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