FORT HOOD, Texas (AFP) – The army psychiatrist who has admitted to opening fire on fellow soldiers in the Fort Hood massacre is deliberately seeking the death penalty, his stand-by defense attorney said Wednesday.
Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe urged a military judge to either prevent Major Nidal Hasan from representing himself at the high-profile trial or allow the court-appointed lawyers tasked with assisting him to be removed from the case.
“It became clear his goal is to remove impediments and obstacles to the death penalty,” Poppe told the court as the second day of Hasan’s trial got underway. “Should he decide he wants to fight the death penalty, then we are here and ready to defend him.”
Hasan interrupted Poppe, declaring “this is a twist of the facts” and insisting he was not trying to martyr himself.
Military judge Colonel Tara Osborn cleared the courtroom to discuss the matter privately with Hasan and then called an early end to the day’s proceedings.
Hasan has repeatedly attempted to plead guilty to killing 13 people and wounding dozens more in the 2009 attack at a Texas military base.
Military law prohibits Hasan from pleading guilty to a capital offense. So he has been given the opportunity to try to convince the jury that he does not deserve death for his actions.
Now aged 42, Hasan was due to deploy to Afghanistan weeks after the attack. He has said he shot the soldiers to protect his fellow Muslims from an “illegal” war.
“The evidence will clearly show I am the shooter,” Hasan declared in his opening statements Tuesday.
The statement, which lasted just a couple minutes, reiterated his radical views.
“We, the mujahedeen, are imperfect Muslims trying to establish a perfect religion in the land of the supreme God,” Hasan said. “I apologize for any mistakes that I made in this endeavor.”
The Fort Hood killings prompted calls for stronger safeguards against internal security threats and “homegrown” terror attacks.
Born in Virginia to Palestinian parents, Hasan joined the Army in 1995.
It was during a residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2003 to 2006 that he first exhibited signs of radical Islamic views, according to an FBI report entitled “A Ticking Time Bomb.”
Hasan attended a mosque where radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki — a key figure in Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula until his death in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen — worked in 2001.
He exchanged emails with Awlaki in the months leading up to the shooting, in which he questioned the morality of killing soldiers if they intended to attack Muslims. Awlaki later called Hasan a hero.