The issue over Maj. Nidal Hasan’s embattled beard took another turn this week with a military appeals court ordering lawyers to present their cases in person.
Judges from the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals ordered lawyers representing the accused Fort Hood shooter and the military judge to be in the Virginia court Oct. 11.
They also joined the multiple writs filed with the court, meaning that several panels of judges will hear the arguments in one hearing. Hasan’s former defense attorney John Galligan said the decision shows the sensitive nature of the matters before the court.
“It gives heightened significance to the order,” Galligan said.
Hasan has asserted that he has grown his beard out of religious beliefs and a premonition that his death is imminent. His decision and the Fort Hood judge’s order to forcibly shave the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist have placed Hasan’s trial on hold.
Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. He is accused of perpetrating the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post, and could face the death penalty if convicted.
His trial was originally slated to begin Aug. 20, but a military appeals court stayed proceedings to review military judge Col. Gregory Gross’ intentions to forcibly shave Hasan.
At an Aug. 29 hearing, Gross formally ordered Hasan shaved and stayed hearings until the appeals are concluded. The issue has now been relegated to the Army appeals court.
Lawyers for Hasan and the government have submitted written arguments to the court. Most recently, the government appellate division submitted responses on Friday.
Hasan’s defense has asked for the appeals court to remove Gross from the case, prevent the Army from shaving Hasan and to overturn the multiple rulings of contempt. The court has made no rulings thus far.
Government attorneys did not challenge a diversely interpreted passage in the Quran that mentions whether Muslim men should grow beards. Instead, they said Hasan failed to prove his personal decision was out of his Muslim faith.
Hasan’s defense has pointed to an increase in the amount of time Hasan spends each day praying as evidence of his religious convictions. The government said it shows that Hasan is a devout Muslim, but was not pertinent to his beard.
“By analogy, the number of Masses that a Catholic attends does not translate into proof that they refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent,” the response states.
The response states Hasan could just as easily have grown the beard for secular reasons. It cites a July 17, 2011, phone conversation Hasan had with a producer at the Qatar-based news network Al Jazeera.
Hasan told the producer he wished to align himself with the Mujahedeen, asking “Almighty Allah to unite the believers as one solid fighting structure and not allow the enemies of His plan to divide us,” the response states.
The response also states Hasan may have grown the beard to prevent witnesses from identifying him during trial.