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, is seeking another few months delay in his trial, in order to prepare his defense. But his statement Tuesday that he will use a "defense of others" approach, specifically naming the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan as the "others," has raised the question of whether he should not be tried as an enemy combatant.
Although jury selection was supposed to have begun Wednesday, the presiding judge, Colonel Tara Osborn, has postponed all court proceedings until next week so that she can make a decision on the latest motion from defendant Major Nidal Hasan. He has asked for three months to prepare a defense based on a so-called "defense of others" strategy.
In a statement to the court Tuesday, Hasan made clear that the "others" in this case were leaders and fighters of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The soldiers he is accused of shooting at Fort Hood were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.
His statements contradict the government's position that the attack was not an act of terrorism. Military prosecutors say that using words like terrorism would make it difficult to give Hasan a fair trial. But his statement Tuesday is seen by many analysts as an admission that he carried out the attack on behalf of a foreign enemy.
Among those who see it that way is former military lawyer Jeff Addicott, who now heads the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas.
"He was admitting that he was an unlawful enemy combatant and it does matter because we operate under the law of war when we deal with them. If he is an enemy combatant then the people he murdered are entitled to the full benefit of our veterans who were killed or wounded in combat," Addicott said.
Family members of those killed or wounded in the shooting rampage have complained that they are undergoing hardships, while Hasan receives his full salary as the case drags on month after month. Much of last year, for example, was taken up in a dispute over whether the defendant should be allowed to have a beard, something he claimed was an expression of his Muslim faith. After the first judge was removed, Osborn took over the case and ruled he could keep it.
But Jeff Addicott believes Hasan is manipulating the supposedly strict military legal system.
"He has already won; he has the beard, there is no tight control there. He won't wear the Class A uniform that all defendants are required to wear, military personnel. He is wearing fatigues. So he has already won significant minor victories in his mind. So he is on a roll," Addicott said.
Defenders of the military court, however, say Judge Osborn is doing the right thing in allowing every request that is made within the legal framework so as to make sure the trial is fair and to minimize the possibility of a later appeal.
She denied Hasan's request for access to the Internet, for example, but she ordered his former attorneys and legal assistants to do research for him. She granted Hasan's request to defend himself, but has ordered his court-appointed attorneys to remain on standby in case she needs to have them resume the defense.