FORT HOOD, Texas – The U.S. Army psychiatrist charged in the mass shooting at Fort Hood asked pointed questions about religion and used several opportunities Wednesday to declare his support for the Taliban and a fellow American-born Muslim who killed a U.S. soldier, as he was allowed to zero in on potential jurors during the second day of jury selection.
Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is serving as his own attorney in his military murder trial, participated as nine of the remaining 14 Army officers in the group of potential jurors were questioned individually.
Hasan, 42, faces execution or life without parole if convicted in the rampage that left 13 dead and nearly three dozen wounded on the Texas Army post on Nov. 5, 2009.
Hasan told one colonel that Abdulhakim Muhammad, sentenced to life in prison for the June 2009 fatal shooting of a soldier outside a Little Rock, Arkansas, military recruiting station, was his “brother and friend.” Muhammad, who converted to Islam in college, has told The Associated Press that the shootings were an act of war on the U.S.
In answering Hasan’s questions based on jury questionnaires they filled out about a year ago, several potential jurors said they had negative views of Muslims, the Qur’an or Shariah, the Islamic legal and religious code. But they said they could put aside those views and only consider evidence in the case – including a colonel asked by Hasan if “the fact that I do believe the Qur’an justifies killing” would prevent him from being a fair juror.
The military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, told Hasan several times to rephrase his questions and avoid mentioning his beliefs and referring to himself as the shooter, saying he is acting as an attorney during jury selection. She reminded him that he was not testifying.
Osborn has denied his “defence of others” strategy, which must show that killing was necessary to prevent the immediate harm or death of others. The judge has barred him from telling jurors that he shot U.S. troops because he believed they were an imminent threat to Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.
Another colonel told a prosecutor Wednesday he didn’t understand questions about whether he had formed an opinion on whether Hasan is guilty.
“He sits here in a wheelchair because of wounds he sustained on that particular day,” said the colonel, one of the four later dismissed. “In terms of 13 victims and who the shooter was, I have an opinion that Maj. Hasan was the individual who pulled the trigger.”
Hasan is paralyzed from the abdomen down after being shot by police the day of the rampage.
A 13- to 16-member jury – with ranks equal to or higher than Hasan’s – will be chosen for his court-martial. Death-penalty cases in the military require at least 12 jury members, more than in other cases. And unlike other trials, their verdict must be unanimous in finding guilt or assessing a sentence.