The Athens Review
FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army psychiatrist accused in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood targeted fellow soldiers in a meticulously planned attack that included stockpiling bullets and researching Taliban leaders calling for jihad, a military prosecutor said Tuesday during the opening day of the long-awaited trial.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan spent time at a shooting range and purchased a pistol and extender kit to hold more ammunition before carrying out his plan to "kill as many soldiers as he could," Col. Steve Henricks told jurors. The shooting, which killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others, remains the deadliest mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation.
Acting as his own attorney, Hasan told jurors the evidence would "clearly show" he was the gunman. But the American-born Muslim said the whole story wouldn't be revealed during the trial, which is under heavy security — including armed guards and 15-foot-tall stacks of shock-absorbing barriers — on the sprawling Texas military base.
Still, prosecutors are being careful. Hasan is charged with numerous counts of murder and attempted murder, and he would face the death penalty if convicted, but death sentences are often overturned in military courts.
Jurors were told by the judge to prepare for a trial that could take several months. Hasan, who is confined to a wheelchair, needs regular breaks because he was paralyzed after being shot by officers responding to the shooting.
On the day of the attack, Hasan sat among his fellow soldiers preparing to deploy at a building on the sprawling Army base. He had masked the sound of his equipment by stuffing paper towels into the pockets of his cargo pants, Henricks said.
"All those fully loaded magazines do not clink, do not move, do not give him away," the prosecutors told jurors, all military officers, during his opening statement. "He sits among the soldiers he's about to kill with his head down."
Hasan tried to clear the area of civilians, even walking over to a civilian data clerk to tell her she was needed elsewhere in the building because a supervisor was looking for her. The prosecutor said the clerk thought that was odd but went anyway.
"He then yelled 'Allahu akbar!' and opened fire on unarmed, unsuspecting and defenseless soldiers," Henricks told the jury, noting that one of the soldiers who was killed ran after Hasan armed with nothing but a chair.
When Hasan left the building, a civilian approached him and asked what was going on. Hasan told him not to worry about it, and the civilian "walks away from the encounter unscathed," the prosecutor said. Hasan allegedly told another civilian that there was a training exercise going on and he was carrying a paintball gun.
Hasan only shot at one civilian who tried to stop him, Henricks said.
Henricks also said Hasan picked the date of the attack — Nov. 5, 2009 — for a specific reason, though he didn't immediately reveal details.
Hasan spoke for less than 2 minutes during his opening statement, which offered few details but touched on his religion.
"The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter," said Hasan, who occasionally leafed through paperwork with his right hand while seated at the defense table. He added later that the evidence would show, "that we are imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion. ... I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor."
Hasan had tried to plead guilty, but military law requires a not-guilty plea in death penalty cases. That failed effort was among numerous requests that delayed the trial for years. A fight over his beard, which violates military regulations, led to a stay shortly before his trial was expected to begin last year and the eventual replacement of the judge.
Hasan dismissed his attorneys earlier this year, and his brief opening statement on Tuesday mirrored his demeanor during jury selection last month when he did not speak often and asked only a few questions about religion.
He had wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in "defense of others," namely members of the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan, but the judge denied that strategy. Over the next several weeks, he is expected to question witnesses and possibly present his own evidence — which will likely turn the trial into a faceoff between the gunman and his victims.
On the witness stand will be many of the more than 30 people who were wounded, plus dozens of others who were inside the post's Soldier Readiness Processing Center. They've also said they saw Hasan shout "Allahu akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — and opened fire on unarmed fellow soldiers.
The government has said that Hasan had sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
Hasan has never denied carrying out the attack, and the facts of the case are mostly settled. But questions abound about how the trial will play out. How will Hasan question his victims? How will victims respond? How will his health hold up?
The defendant is paralyzed from the waist down. He requires 15- to 20-minute stretching breaks about every four hours, and he has to lift himself off his wheelchair for about a minute every half hour to avoid developing sores.
Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was wounded, is expected to testify. He said he looked forward to seeing Hasan, in a way.
"I'm not going to dread anything. That's a sign of fear," Lunsford said. "That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family. What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again."
But Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning said he dreaded the expected confrontation.
"I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy," said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. "I'm not afraid of him, obviously. He's a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it's sickening that he's still living and breathing."