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At Ft. Hood court-martial, a rare cross-examination from Hasan

The accused shooter in the 2009 rampage has declined to question most witnesses. At issue appears to be the accusation that he fired at a disarmed female officer.

August 19, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is shown in a courtroom sketch at his Ft. Hood court-martial. He is defending himself in the 2009 mass shooting that killed 13 people.
Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is shown in a courtroom sketch at his Ft. Hood… (Brigitte Woosley / Associated…)

FT. HOOD, Texas — For much of his court-martial at this central Texas Army base, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan has declined to cross-examine most of the more than 80 witnesses who have described how he unleashed a bloody rampage that left 13 people dead and dozens wounded.

But on Monday came a rare confrontation between a witness and Hasan, a 42-year-old Army psychiatrist representing himself. He appeared, as usual, in fatigues and a full beard, his voice calm.

The witness he faced off against, Army Staff Sgt. Juan Alvarado, presented a stark contrast: clean-shaven, wearing his Army dress uniform but struggling to maintain his composure.

"Sgt. Alvarado, were you watching the whole time while I and Sgt. Kimberly Munley were shooting at each other?" Hasan asked.

"Yes, I saw you shooting Officer Munley," Alvarado said, detailing how he watched Hasan attack Munley, a civilian Ft. Hood police officer, repeatedly referring to Hasan simply as "you."

Munley provided her own account of the shooting when she testified last week. The police sergeant said she traded gunfire with Hasan and was shot three times in the thigh, knee and hand. When her gun jammed, she said Hasan kicked it away and stood over her, trying to shoot. But his gun jammed too, she said, and as he ran off to fix it, he was shot and wounded by another police officer, Senior Sgt. Mark Todd. Todd has yet to testify.

On Monday, Alvarado corroborated Munley's account.

Hasan, who prosecutors have argued targeted soldiers although he also killed a civilian, appeared to take issue with the accusation that he attacked an unarmed woman. Previously, Hasan objected when a witness testified that one of the female soldiers killed in the attack was pregnant.

"I don't want to put words in your mouth," Hasan told Alvarado on Monday, "but are you saying that after the shooter was down, after she was disarmed, that I continued to fire at her?"

"Yes," Alvarado said.

"No more questions," Hasan said.

Hasan faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder in connection with the shooting Nov. 5, 2009. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death by the military jury of 13 officers, all his rank or higher.

Hasan has admitted to the shooting, but has yet to testify about his motives, and the judge Monday declined to let prosecutors introduce most of the evidence they wanted to show a possible motive.

The military judge, Col. Tara Osborn, rejected some material as dated, prejudicial and potentially confusing. She said an academic presentation Hasan made years before the shooting on Muslim soldiers conflicted about fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was open to interpretation — perhaps Hasan made it to help doctors better treat Muslim soldiers.

Osborn also rejected as dated evidence that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, pursued conscientious objector status and a fellowship to avoid deploying.

Prosecutors wanted to argue that Hasan was copying Hasan Akbar, a Muslim soldier convicted of murdering members of his unit as it prepared to invade Iraq, but the judge emphasized that "Akbar is not on trial in this case" and that such a contention "would only open the door to a mini-trial" with the potential for "guilt by association."

Osborn also refused to accept a series of emails as evidence of Hasan's motive — it wasn't clear who he was writing to, but the FBI has said he emailed radical Muslim cleric Anwar Awlaki. The judge said the emails could "muddy the distinction" between motive and Hasan's "defense of others" legal strategy, which she has rejected — that he killed soldiers to protect Taliban leaders overseas.

However, prosecutors were allowed to show Web pages Hasan visited and Internet searches he made in the days and months leading up to the shooting, including searches about killing innocent women and children, fatwas and jihad.

Hasan agreed to prosecutors' revised definition of jihad Monday as, "under Islam, the central doctrine that calls upon believers to defend tenets of their religion" with "the heart, the tongue, the hand or the sword."

"Believers contend that those who die fighting in mighty Allah's cause are guaranteed a special place in paradise," a prosecutor said.

The Army psychiatrist said he "was defending my religion," according to a letter sent to the Killeen Daily Herald and published over the weekend, the latest in a series of documents released to the media that provide insight into his motives.

In the letter, Hasan said Islam should prevail over other religions as well as American democracy, and that a foreign policy replacing Muslim holy law, or sharia, with secular government was "not acceptable."

"We are imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion of All-Mighty Allah as supreme on the land," Hasan wrote, referring to Awlaki as "my teacher and mentor and friend" and signing the letter "SoA," an acronym for "Soldier of Allah," or "Servant of Allah."

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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