Ft. Hood - Today’s pre-trial hearing removed all doubt that the defendant considers the murderous actions he carried out at this military outpost to be both political and religious.
He now wishes to take time out to discuss being represented by a known opponent to the war in Afghanistan, a former appointee of President Lyndon Johnson.
Col. Tara Osborn made no attempt to hide her exasperation when Major Abu Nidal Malik Hasan refused to enter a plea of either guilty, or not guilty to killing 13 fellow soldiers and attempting to kill an additional 32.
His request for an additional 3 days to discuss the possibility of being represented by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark left her nearly speechless. Mr. Clark was a member of the defense team that represented Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
She ruled the motion “untimely and obstructionist.”
Moments earlier, the former psychiatrist asserted, in prim and pious tones, “Initially, I tried to plead guilty because the elders of Islam advised me I had broken the law.” Because military law precludes such a plea in cases of multiple killings, the Court had no choice but to reject his offer.
He learned through further consultation with a man named Francis Boyle, an individual whom he described as an expert on both military law and the rules of war, that “The war in Afghanistan went against the Constitution and was illegal.”
That was his motive for asking to represent himself, he explained. But events have conspired to change his mind again, he told Col. Osborn.
“Ramsey Clark has asked to represent me as my attorney.”
Thunderstruck, the judge sat quietly for long moments, then replied, “What you’re asking for before your plea is you no longer want to represent yourself.”
In a tone of voice best described as bewildered, she recited the history of his dismissal of his original attorney, the former Army Circuit Judge, Col. John Galligan, his dismissal of three Army lawyers, his decision to represent himself, and the legal wrangles that have resulted.
Under the Rules of Courts Martial, she decided, the law is clear that a judge must enter a plea of not guilty to both charges and specifications.
“I object for the record,” the Major said.
That stormy ending to the morning’s pre-trial hearing set the stage for jury selection, which will begin on July 9.
Though he told the Court earlier that he has spent each business day in a trailer next door to the Courthouse with all appropriate legal materials while working to form questions to ask jurors, Maj. Hasan is clearly inexperienced in the application of the rules for the examination of prospective jurors.
Most of the day’s hour and a half-long hearing consisted of the judge instructing the defendant on the semantics involved in the appropriate way to form the questions he intends to ask in general of panels of 20 prospective jurors at a time.
He had in the latest pre-trial hearing, which was held one week ago, told her he had no objection to allowing the Court to ask the questions to be put to the entire panel, as a group.
Col. Osborn culled through more than 100 questions Maj. Hasan proposed in writing. She rejected many of them on the grounds that they are semantically flawed, and thus illegal.
The judge corrected him as to the proposed question, “Do you have any doubt I am the shooter?” The judge ruled that calls for a finding of fact, but the prospective jurors at that point will have heard no presentation of facts in the case.
To ask of prospective jurors, “Have you heard in the past 10 years of any death penalty cases?” comes under the heading of a prohibited practice of proposing a cause, then making an objection for that cause.
“You cannot create an issue and then use it for a challenge,” the judge ruled. Such a question should be part of the Court’s instructions.
“Asking if you have heard of X necessarily causes them to hear about X.”
The judge ruled inappropriate the question, “How many of you believe that Muslim soldiers accused of intentionally killing fellow soldiers should have to prove their innocence?”
Instead of asking “Do you believe justice can be served with a not guilty verdict?”, Judge Osborn ruled, Maj. Hasan should ask “Have any of you considered the possiblity of any penalty other than the maximum (death) penalty?”
She also disallowed any questions about mass shootings at Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, or the feelings of prospective jurors about the bombing at the Boston Marathon.
“The panel members don’t know the facts of those cases,” said Col. Osborn.
The afternoon jury examinations will not begin until 2 p.m. in order to allow the Major to face the east and pray following his ritual ablutions.