Ft. Hood - This afternoon’s hearing should tell the tale as to what kind of case an accused murderer, a man who vowed to avenge the deaths of jihadist Muslims and defend the lives of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan, will mount.
Though he’s not a lawyer, he has been given the right to conduct his own defense. The question remains, in what manner of professional expertise will he be assisted by three Army lawyers now relegated to the status of “standby counsel.”
A psychiatrist by profession, the accused in the general court martial attacked unarmed soldiers and civilian workers at this post’s Soldier Readiness Center on Nov. 5, 2009. Shouting “God is great!” in Arabic, the Palestinian-American native of Washington, D.C., mowed down 13 in cold blood, injuring 32 others, which netted him charges of 13 specifications of premeditated capital murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.
Sun rays pour through the conical glazed roof of the round structue, The Starlite Room, which is the staging area for news media representatives at the pre-trial hearings for Maj. Abu Nidal Malik Hasan.
The radiant energy makes itself felt in spite of the wheezing, gasping air conditioning system battling to defeat the infrared energy that pours through the 16 acute triangular panes of lightly tinted plate glass that sit on a steel-reinforced concrete tension ring supported by 8 12 by 18-inch columns.
Venetian blinds shielding glass walls offer some respite from the sun’s ferocious onslaught. It is connected to a long corridor by glazed French doors on one side, and a cozy den complete with wood paneling and a very large fireplace where two large-screen television monitors dominate the scene.
The trial’s proceedings are depicted there in an unblinking stare that includes a view of the judge, the court reporter, and the witness stand. The voices of the lawyers are disembodied, carried by a balky audio system that hisses and pops, fades and strengthens with the position of the speaker to the directional microphone in front of him.
A floor paved in concentric rings of orange bricks holds seven banquet tables topped with starched white linen cloths where seating under the air conditioning vents attached to the round tension ring that supports the roof afford shelter from the sun’s glare. Those who compose their stories on laptops need the shade as much as the way they need air and water in order to be able to see their coputer screens.
It’s all part of The Club at Ft. Hood - billed by the Army as “The Great Place” - a rambling brick structure of meeting and banquet rooms, kitchens, barber and beauty shops and common areas adjacent to an opulent swimming pool in a small copse of live oak. On-base family housing surrounds the area in an approximation of a sixties-era suburban housing development.
A half-mile away, the Lawrence Williams Justice Center - known as the courthouse - sits behind makeshift barriers of Conex shipping containers stacked three-high, concrete traffic barriers, and Hesco bomb and rocket protective devices. They are huge cylinders of cardboard inside galvanized wire mesh filled with sand and gravel, and are proven resistant to small arms fire, rocket attacks and mortar rounds.
It’s been described as an “armed outpost” by Col. Poppe, the lead defense counsel who, along with two other colleagues is seeking to either be released from the trial as standby counsel following Col. Tara Osborn’s ruling that Maj. must be allowed to represent himself, or to be allowed to have paralegals furnish the Major with legal research without the obligation to provide legal advice.
He and his colleagues have argued in extensive litigation that such a function is unethical under the rules of their state licensing authorities.
Judge Osborn disagrees. She has ordered the lawyers to do “whatever it takes” to help the Major conduct his defense, as long as it does not interfere with his right to self representation.
In other matters, the judge may or may not grant a defense motion to delay the trial by 3 months in order for the Major to research and compile a new witness list in support of his avowed intention to offer a “defense of others” attack in which he will seek to prove to jurors that he was acting to protect the lives of Mullah Omar and others in the top leadership of the Taliban in the Emirate of Afghanistan.
In spite of conscientious objection, he had been assigned to serve a tour of duty in that troubled republic.