U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, who is accused of killing 13 people in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas on November 5, 2009, has asked the judge presiding over his trial to allow him to represent himself. Legal experts expect that the judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, will grant the request in a hearing Wednesday, but she also will explain the risks.
The news that Major Nidal Hasan has asked to represent himself in court was met by outrage and puzzlement in the Fort Hood community, home to many of the people whom he is accused of killing or wounding and their families. Some fear it may be an antic meant to further delay the trial, but military law expert Geoffrey Corn, speaking to VOA by telephone from The South Texas College of Law, says Judge Osborn probably will grant the request.
"The judge really cannot deny the motion unless she determines that he doesn't understand what he is doing or that he has been pressured into doing it and I don't think she is going to find either of those factors," said Corn.
Corn says military courts, like civilian courts, are bound by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming an accused person's right to defend himself. Corn, however, says that in Wednesday's hearing, the judge will make it very clear to Major Hasan that he is taking a big risk and that his acceptance of that risk precludes an appeal.
"He cannot complain later that he did an ineffective job defending himself; he can't raise on appeal that he was ineffective," he said.
Some people in the community worry that Hasan will use his time before jurors for jihadist rants or to justify his actions in a twisted interpretation of Islam. But Geoffrey Corn says the judge will require Hasan to adhere to the same standards of conduct that apply to prosecutors.
And, he adds, it is possible that Hasan has another strategy in mind - just sitting there and doing nothing.
"Maybe he is thinking the writing is on the wall and he is going to be convicted, he is going to be sentenced to death, so he is just going to create the perception that he is a victim and be a martyr in the eyes of segments of the international population that might be sympathetic to him."
Corn says the judge is likely to order the lawyers assigned to Hasan to remain in court on standby for the entire trial so that, if it becomes necessary, they can step back in without any need for her to declare a mistrial and start over. If Hasan's request to defend himself is granted, jury selection could start as early as Thursday, although Corn says it is more likely to be put off until next Monday to give Hasan ample time to reconsider.