Foreign Policy Blogs

Postponement of Major Hasan's Military Trial

Major Nidal Hasan in April 2010 (AP Photo/Bell County Sheriffs Department)

Major Nidal Hasan in April 2010 (AP Photo/Bell County Sheriffs Department)

The trial of the alleged Fort Hood shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, was scheduled to commence yesterday but instead was postponed till October 2nd. The Associated Press stated, “Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who was paralyzed after being shot by two Fort Hood police officers, uttered only a soft ‘Yes, sir’ to questions about the proceedings.” Hasan’s lawyers are waiting on a ballistics and government report and need more time to review documents.

Now provided with a delayed trial date, it is still interesting that Major Hasan is even being afforded this military trial. Back in November of last year, NPR‘s Tom Gjelten reported on the justification for a military trial over a federal trial:

The decision of whether Nidal Hasan should be tried in federal or military court hinged in part on what charges would be brought against him. Were he to be tried for terrorism, federal prosecutors might want to pursue him.

But senior US officials say the fact that Hasan is an Army officer accused of killing other soldiers on an Army post mean it’s appropriate for him to be tried in a military court.

FBI officials are assisting in the investigation of the shooting spree at Fort Hood. So far, the officials say, there is no evidence Hasan was directed by anyone else to carry out the massacre or that he had any conspirators.

The officials say they quote “took a look” at Hasan in recent months because of communications with an unnamed individual who espoused radical views. But their concerns did not rise to a level warranting further investigation, the officials say.

Additionally, here is an excerpt from an FBI statement released last year:

There has been and continues to be a great deal of reported information about what was or might have been known to the government about Major Hasan prior to the shooting.

Major Hasan came to the attention of the FBI in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by one of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are FBI-led, multi-agency teams made up of FBI agents, other federal investigators–including those from the Department of Defense–and state and local law enforcement officers.

Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning. Other communications of which the FBI was aware were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF.

Our top priority is to ensure that the person responsible for the Fort Hood shooting is held accountable. The ongoing investigation includes forensic examinations of Major Hasan’s computers and any Internet activity in hopes of gaining insight into his motivation. But the investigation to date indicates that the alleged gunman acted alone and was not part of a broader terrorist plot.

It is now public knowledge that Major Hasan had been conversing by email with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical imam (and the subject of my May 26th post). And although Hasan acted alone, this hasn’t kept others from claiming victory by proxy. So, it seems that if an individual with extremist ideals just keeps broader terrorist networks at an arm’s length, then there is little risk of being tried as a terrorist. This is yet another example that the line between terrorist and non-terrorist criminal activity still remains very fuzzy. As a result, deciding how to handle this distinct type of criminal is going to require discussion for a long time to come.