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Government asks court to allow Fort Hood murder case to continue

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 - 12:09pm

The government has asked an appeals court to allow the trial against Maj. Nidal Hasan to move forward after a stay was issued last week amid a dispute about the beard the Army psychiatrist grew while awaiting trial in the 2009 Fort Hood killings.

Hasan's court-martial had been scheduled to start this past Monday at Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, where he is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32. The presiding judge, Col. Gregory Gross, had threatened to order him forcibly shaved unless he got rid of the beard, which is against Army regulations.

The government's response to the stay ordered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces cited those regulations and stated the judge's actions are the "least restrictive" means to ensure "that a military trial proceeds without a distracting and disruptive sideshow."

Hasan had been expected to enter a plea during a hearing last week, but the proceedings were halted by the appellate court. Hasan has previously expressed interest in pleading guilty, but military regulations bar a judge from accepting a guilty plea in a capital case.

Hasan is accused of opening fire at the post's processing center, where soldiers were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq, in November 2009.

The beard issue first surfaced in June, when Hasan -- who remains in the Army while awaiting trial -- appeared at a June hearing with the facial hair. Gross postponed that hearing, then found Hasan in contempt of court at a July hearing, fined him $1,000 and warned him he would be shaved by force unless he got rid of it.

Hasan would faces possible death sentence if convicted. He was left paralyzed from the waist down in the shooting, when police officers exchanged fire with him.

His lawyers had been seeking a delay of the case until December, but Gross had refused and set Monday as the trial date.

Hasan, a U.S.-born citizen of Palestinian descent, was a licensed psychiatrist who joined the Army in 1997. He had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan before the killings, but had been telling his family since 2001 that he wanted to get out of the military.

He is a Muslim who had told his family he had been taunted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Investigations that followed the killings found that he had been communicating via e-mail with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American radical cleric killed by a U.S. drone attack in 2011.

An FBI report in July found that a Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego that was investigating al-Awlaki passed two of the messages to another task force in the Washington area, where Hasan was living at the time. The report found those e-mails should have been given to the Pentagon, but the FBI saw no evidence of terrorist activities in his case, and believed the information in the e-mails was too sensitive to share. It noted that visiting extremist websites is not grounds for taking action.

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