It is known as the worst shooting on a military base in US history: 13 soldiers killed, 32 wounded. When? 2009. Where? Fort Hood, Texas. Who? Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Why? It's complicated.
Hasan's original defense, "defense of others", was banned after judge Colonel Tara Osborn deemed the argument meritless. Prior to this ruling, the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist planned to maintain his actions were motivated by a desire to help prove the United States had engaged in "illegal war" in Afghanistan – that he acted in defense of a people "attacked by the United States." He planned to further argue that it took "a lot of courage for [him] to help defend the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." The implications of the ban prohibit Hasan from offering any evidence or testimony that he believed he was saving Muslim lives. In short, Hasan needs a new defense.
Military law experts are split over whether Osborn's ban is reasonable versus whether it violates Hasan's constitutional right to a fair trial. Richard Rosen, a military law professor at Texas Tech University, agrees with the ban – finding Hasan's defense 'obscene' and 'offensive', arguing that it "would justify shooting the president because he is targeting the Taliban and leaders of al-Qaeda." Hasan's former defense attorney, John Galligan, on the other hand, deemed Osborn's ban "a major, major error", likening the trial to "a kangaroo court."
If convicted of the mass shooting said to have "shocked the military", Hasan could face the death penalty. Despite Hasan's desire to plead guilty to all charges – 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder – US military law prevents him from doing so unless the death penalty is waived. Aware of the challenges he will face, Hasan has acknowledged that convincing a jury his actions were justified "is not going to be easy." Hasan's legal battle is expected to be particularly arduous due, in part, to the fact that he will be representing himself. Firing his lawyers days before jury selection was set to begin in May, Hasan afforded himself more time to prepare his defense.
Hasan neither took notes nor conferred with his former defense attorneys when he declined to question potential jurors as jury selection began this week. Potential jurors have filled out lengthy questionnaires and will continue to be questioned this week in court. Jury selection for the court-martial is expected to last at least a month.