“When we started this trial with the Article 32 (evidentiary) hearings, this was a courtroom. We have become a combat outpost.” - Col. Poppe, lead defense counsel
Ft. Hood – It's a very fine distinction, but it's there.
Two men – both American soldiers – are accused in general courts martial of murderous attacks by assault weapons resulting in the slaughter of large numbers of unarmed victims.
Both readily acknowledge the facts of their premeditated deeds.
Both men are willing to plead guilty to escape the judgment of jurors that could likely lead to a sentence of death.
The court accepts one man's plea in a negotiated bargain that precludes a death sentence. In another case, the court rejects a similar plea.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, testified on Wednesday, June 5, that after he struggled with a woman in a remote Afghani village on the dark night of March 11, 2012, he made a decision to kill her and a total of 16 victims in two communities near his duty station, Camp Belambay.
Prosecutors objected that his testimony differed from a stipulation of the facts that he had previously filed with the court which stated that his decision to kill came each time he raised his M-4 carbine to fire.
Asked by the judge if there was any reason for his actions, he replied, "This act was without legal justification...Sir, as far as why - I've asked that question a million times since then. There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."
He also testified that he has no recollection of burning the bodies of some of his victims, but the fact that there was a kerosene lantern at the crime scene and he had matches in his pockets makes the allegation “The only thing makes sense.”
Sgt. Bales is known to have been using steroids at the time, something he told the judge contributed to an anger problem. He also admitted to being drunk on bootleg alcohol and snorting valium he obtained from other soldiers. There is evidence he had suffered a traumatic brain injury and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder during his fourth deployment overseas.
A judge will decide on either a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, or a life sentence that holds the possibility of release from prison on some undetermined date in the future.
In the case of former Army psychiatrist Major Abu Nidal Malik Hasan, 42, the facts and the ramifications of drugs and PTSD are a part of the drama that is waiting in the wings, just off stage in this extremely well-crafted drama about murderous casualties in a war that is carried out by terroristic means on multiple continents and three oceans.
In this case, the attack came on a sunny fall day, November 5, 2009, in the American heartland not far off America's Main Street, I-35, at America's largest military post, Ft. Hood.
The Major had been dreading a deployment to Afghanistan because he is a devout adherent to Islam and had become enraptured with the jihadist teachings of Yemeni-American Mullah Anwar Awlaki, a devotee of the Taliban and Al Quaida who was recently killed in an American rocket attack launched from a drone UAV aircraft in the Yemeni desert.
He attended a mosque where Awlaki, who is also an American citizen, inveighed against the American mission in the mideast, calling for religious redress known among muslims as jihad.
Major Hasan is a Palestinian-American from the Washington, D.C., area who became a doctor after he studied at the Armed Forces Institute of the Health Sciences, then served a 4-year residency in psychiatry.
His daily duties at Ft. Hood included making evaluations of soldiers who complained of the symptoms of PTSD, soldiers for whom he often prescribed therapeutic drugs.
He went to the Soldier Readiness Center, a large building that once housed a sports complex at the fort, where be launched an attack on unarmed soldiers and civilian workers with a high-capacity handgun that shoots rounds designed to pierce the body armor worn by police officers and soldiers.
Shouting in Arabic the battle cry, “God is great!” he methodically targeted people as they attempted to flee, according to the testimony of some of the 32 persons he wounded, victims who survived to testify in evidentiary hearings held to determine if there is sufficient evidence of premeditated murder and premeditated attempted murder.
He will next appear in court on Tuesday, June 11, to explain a stipulation of facts in which he will attempt to justify his actions as a “defense of others.” The Major told the judge that he attacked American servicemen being readied to deploy in order to protect Mullah Omar and “the Taliban of the Emirate of Afghanistan.”
In his case, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, has ruled out the possibility of a guilty plea designed to avoid the death penalty because military law disallows a plea agreement in specifications of multiple premeditated murder.
Col. Tara Osborn, ruled Hasan cannot plead guilty to those lesser charges or the 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder that he also faces because he still would have been tried on the premeditated murder charges.
Pleading guilty to the attempted premeditated murder charges could have been used against him at trial, Col. Osborn said.
She also said he would not be allowed to plead guilty to unpremeditated murder and unpremeditated attempted murder, because that "would be the functional equivalent of pleading guilty to a capital offense." A capital offense is a charge that carries the death penalty.