Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Military Judge Has Hands Full with Nidal Hasan Court-Martial

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why Military Judge Has Hands Full with Nidal Hasan Court-Martial

Article excerpt

US Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist accused of murdering 13 fellow soldiers in a hail of gunfire at Fort Hood in 2009, will have a chance to be both star witness and star defense counsel in a long- awaited court-martial that looks ready to pit Western justice against justifications for Islamic jihad.

After determining that Hasan is mentally and physically fit to defend himself, the military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, is now weighing the extent to which she'll allow him to pursue his main defense: that he was justified in killing US soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to prevent the imminent deaths of Taliban soldiers.

Undoubtedly, military justice experts say, Hasan will have opportunity both in arguments and cross-examination to make bolder statements, some that may try to weave legitimate legal theory into political or religious ideology in order to use the trial "as a platform to advance radical jihad," as Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law in San Antonio, told the Monitor's Amanda Paulson on Monday.

While Judge Osborn has the power to limit testimony to the facts at hand, former military lawyers and legal experts suggest that it will be a difficult court-martial to manage, mainly because it exposes attack survivors to cross-examination by the same man whom they say pointed weapons at them and opened fire while yelling "Allah Akbar," Arabic for "God is great."

One expert on military courts, speaking on background, says the trial "is going to be an exercise in control, moment to moment."

Osborn "has got to figure out where to draw the line ... [if] she wants to prevent this from turning into a complete circus without depriving a defendant who is accused of a serious crime of his right to defend himself," adds Aitan Goelman, a former US Department of Justice terrorism prosecutor. "There doesn't seem much question about whether this guy opened fire on a bunch of soldiers ... so the legal battle that's going to be fought is going to be atypical. Despite the whole idea that his defense is that he came to the defense of others, [it'll create] an opportunity for him to make his political or theological case."

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Osborn's task may mirror in part that of US District Judge Leonie Brinkema, who shepherded the civilian trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker. At his 2006 trial, Mr. Moussaoui berated the court, cited Islamic law, and even threatened the jury while cursing his own defense team. Many doubted that the US could fairly try a terrorism suspect, while others said Judge Brinkema went too far in allowing Moussaoui's rants. Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison.

Before allowing Hasan to defend himself, Osborn spent more than an hour Monday grilling him about his request, suggesting several times that he would be better off if his appointed military lawyer were to handle the courtroom. …

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