By Philip Jankowski
Fort Hood Herald
A hearing Thursday for accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan showed his lawyers are concerned that his Muslim faith and Palestinian descent may bias jurors.
The concerns arose during litigation surrounding the finalization of a questionnaire that will be sent to more than 140 U.S. Army officers around the nation who make up Hasan's potential jury pool. It will contain more than 200 questions gauging the officers' opinions of the death penalty, the impact of the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting and Muslims in the Army.
"The Muslim faith of Mr. Hasan is a major issue, and the government intends to make that part of their case," lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris R. Poppe said during the hearing.
Hasan is a devout Muslim who was described as a "home-grown terrorist" by an expert witness for the government. During the shooting, witnesses said they heard Hasan shout "Allahu Akbar," a common expression in Islam that translates to "God is great."
Hasan's court-martial is set to begin Aug. 20. He is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Questions for potential jurors include asking whether the officers believe Muslims have a larger penchant for violence than non-Muslims and if Muslims in the Army pose national security threats.
The original questionnaire contained more than 350 questions, but military judge Col. Gregory Gross eliminated several during a conference outside of court.
Some were eliminated because they were redundant. He said others could be asked during formal jury selection next month.
Gross said he finalized the questionnaire Thursday and ordered the completed questionnaires to be returned to post by July 20.
Again, Hasan did not appear in the courtroom because of his refusal to shave a beard he claims he is growing for religious purposes.
The Army psychiatrist watched proceedings on a closed-circuit television from a trailer outside the Lawrence J. Williams Judicial Center.
Gross also indicated that the Army Court of Criminal Appeals denied a writ from the defense asking the judge to recuse himself from the case.
The defense requested access to reports from the FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence concerning Hasan. Gross did not rule on the request, but indicated he would likely deny it.
The FBI report indicates the agencies investigated Hasan months prior to the shooting but took no action.
"ODNI professionals reviewed him and everything they knew about him and determined he wasn't a threat," Poppe said.
The classified report has been provided to the prosecution. But lead prosecutor Col. Mike Mulligan said no new information was contained in those reports. He said they remain secret because they show the means and methods the agencies use in investigating potential terrorists.
The defense is also seeking access to an independent report that examines the FBI's actions surrounding the mass shooting. Political pressure continues to mount for the report to be released to the public in general.
Last Friday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called on the FBI to make the report public.
The report is said to contain 18 recommendations for reforms in a range of areas within the agency. Chairman of the Homeland Security Advisory Council Judge William Webster authored the 150-page report and was expected to submit it to FBI Director Robert Mueller on Friday.
The report examines the actions of the FBI before and after the Fort Hood shooting.
"This is a matter of accountability and lessons learned, so we can make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Cornyn said in a phone interview with the Herald.
In Cornyn's letter to Mueller, he stated that specifically the Fort Hood community has the right to know the contents of the report.
"The loss was most profound there in the Fort Hood community, but this is also about national security and particularly how the military shares information and identifies the tell-tale signs of potential problems," Cornyn said.
Cornyn noted that the Webster report is separate from the ongoing investigations of Hasan, who faces the death penalty in an upcoming court-martial.
He said Congress needs to know what changes, if any, have been made with information sharing since the mass shooting and the extent that the FBI has adopted post-Sept. 11, 2001, measures.
"Lives are at stake, and unfortunately 13 people lost their lives and 32 had their lives changed forever," Cornyn said.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.