In 2009, as hundreds of soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas prepared to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, terror struck. Or was it terror?
The mass shooting, for which Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan is being tried, lasted for nearly 10 minutes, leaving 13 dead and 32 wounded. It then led to an outcry for greater security from domestic terrorism, which, in turn, caused a political split on whether or not the shooting should be labeled as such.
U.S. House Republicans argue that Hasan is responsible for the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, citing Hasan's Muslim religion as well as his last words before firing: "Allahu akbar" (Arabic for "God is great"). U.S. Representative Mike Conway (R - TX) publicly opined that Hasan's actions were "a terrorist attack against American soldiers" and that Hasan should have been tried for as much "a long time ago". Republicans further allege that Hasan's motives behind the Fort Hood attack were fueled by "strongly-held jihad ideology", claiming that Hasan identified himself as a "soldier of Allah" and had previously supported suicide attacks against non-Muslims. The Obama administration, however, warns that branding the attack an 'act of terrorism' jeopardizes Hasan's right to a fair trial, and that the attack should instead be labeled 'violence in the workplace'.
Of the 'terrorism' versus 'workplace violence' dispute, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Shawn Manning, who was shot six times in his chest during the act, supports the former position, disagreeing with the notion that Hasan's actions constituted "a random act of violence where a guy was having a bad day." Those in agreement with Manning claim that Pentagon officials "are twisting themselves into a pretzel" to avoid attributing the attack to terrorism. Although Colonel Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, refused to characterize the attack as terrorism or not, he did release the statement that "the accused is innocent until proven guilty", and praised "the integrity of the ongoing court-martial proceedings".
From an apolitical perspective, Morris Davis, chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay from 2005 – 2007, chooses to view the matter from a purely legal standpoint. Davis, now a law professor at Howard University, explains that while deeming Hasan's actions those of a terrorist "may have some political appeal", it is more sensible – legally speaking – to charge Hasan with "straight-up traditional murder".
Hasan, who has elected self-representation in his court-martial trial, faces execution or life without parole if convicted. As jury selection began this week, testimony is set to commence on August 3.
To learn more about this story or to obtain hard-hitting criminal defense for your military case, contact Dishman Military Advocates.