In a letter to the Killeen Daily Herald, Maj. Nidal Hasan summed up his motive for the Nov. 5, 2009, Fort Hood shooting: “I was defending my religion.”
Hasan, who is Muslim, mailed three pages of handwritten notes and three additional typed pages to the Herald’s newsroom from his cell at the Bell County Jail.
“It is one thing for the United States to say ‘We don’t want Shariah (God’s) law to govern us’ but its [sic] not acceptable to have a foreign policy that tries to replace Shariah law for a more secular form of government,” the accused Fort Hood shooter wrote.
The hand-written portions contain new information about the motive of the 42-year-old Army psychiatrist accused of carrying out the worst mass shooting on a military base in U.S. history. The letter postmarked July 31 was received late last week.
The typed documents are identical to an earlier release sent to Fox News in which Hasan stated Shariah trumps U.S. law.
It is not the first time Hasan released documents to the Herald. He mailed a copy of a transcript of a conversation he had with an Al Jazeera reporter and authorized the release of a portion of his intended opening statement to a Herald reporter through his former civilian attorney, John Galligan.
Hasan states multiple scholars agree with him that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are illegal. He specifically cites Frances A. Boyle, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, whom Hasan intended to call to the stand to argue the validity of his “defense of others” claim.
“So I would argue participating in these wars breaks one’s oath of office not the other way around,” he stated. “At best you could argue I broke a law.”
In July, Boyle put Hasan in contact with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Clark expressed interest in defending Hasan, but ultimately Hasan chose to represent himself at trial.
The rhetoric is nothing new to Hasan, who after years of silence suddenly announced in court he carried out the Fort Hood shooting to protect Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
But, as Army prosecutors will attempt to show this week, Hasan’s move toward radicalization has been a gradual process.
Hasan was born in Arlington, Va., to parents of Palestinian descent. He attended Virginia Tech University and graduated in 1992 with an engineering degree.
In 1995, he entered the U.S. Army. He entered medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 1997 and graduated in 2003.
Hints of radicalization
According to the Senate report, “A Ticking Time Bomb,” the first hints of Hasan’s radicalization appeared in his performance and interactions with colleagues during his residency at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, despite uniformly positive performance reviews.
He openly questioned whether he could ever engage in combat with fellow Muslims. In his third year of residency, a superior urged Hasan to resign his commission. A captain at the time, Hasan also explored seeking conscientious objector status.
To complete residency, Hasan had to author a study known as “Grand Rounds.” His first draft suggested revenge might be a motive for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and highlighted portions of the Quran he argued may justify the killing of non-Muslims.
Despite criticism for a lack of scientific merit, Hasan was allowed to graduate. He began a fellowship at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 2006. Hasan confessed to a colleague that he applied for the position to avoid deployment to a Muslim country. Since he was the lone applicant, the university accepted him.
Sympathy toward radical Islam
He continued to display sympathy toward radical Islam to his colleagues at the university and gave a presentation titled “Is the War on Terror a War on Islam: An Islamic Perspective?” in August 2007. It theorized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars against Islam and gave a hypothetical defense of Osama bin Laden.
“Several colleagues who witnessed the presentation described Hasan as justifying suicide bombers,” the Senate report stated.
Over the following months, he dedicated two more projects to the study of radical Islam. Despite being in the bottom 25 percent in both his residency at Walter Reed and at the fellowship, Hasan received glowing performance reviews and was recommended for promotion to major.
He arrived at Fort Hood in late 2008, a precursor to deployment to a war zone, which he feared.
Corresponding with cleric
About the same time Hasan arrived in Central Texas, he reached out to a key figure in Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula.
Hasan emailed Anwar al-Awlaki in December 2008, asking the American-born cleric to give his thoughts about Muslims in the U.S. military, according to an FBI report analyzing actions by the Joint Terrorism Task Force leading up to the mass shooting.
“Some appear to have internal conflicts and have even killed or tried to kill other us [sic] soldiers in the name of Islam i.e. Hasan Akbar, etc.,” Hasan wrote.
Over seven months, he sent Awlaki 15 emails and messages.
On May 31, 2009, Hasan sent Awlaki an email asking for the cleric’s views on suicide attacks. Hasan wrote a suicide attack on the enemy on the eve of battle would be akin to a soldier jumping on a grenade to prevent the death of comrades.
“The suicide bombers [sic] intention is to kill numerous soldiers to prevent the attack to save his fellow people the following day,” Hasan wrote. “He is successful [sic]. His intention was to save his people/fellow soldiers and the strategy was to sacrifice himself.”
He then questions whether causing injuries to “innocents” during the attack would be justified.
“I would assume that suicide bomber whose aim is to kill enemy soldiers or their helpers but also kill innocents in the process is acceptable,” he wrote.
Awlaki never responded.
Can’t defend actions
On Oct. 14, 2009, Hasan learned of his imminent deployment to Afghanistan.
In the opening statement of his trial on Aug. 6, Hasan told the jury the evidence would show he was the shooter.
But he has not been able to present any motive for the attack.
Hasan is representing himself, but the presiding judge ruled he cannot defend his actions by telling jurors he was fighting on behalf of the Taliban.
Many thought Hasan would use the trial as a soap box to espouse radical Islamic ideals. But so far, Hasan has questioned only two of 76 witnesses and raised three objections.
South Texas College of Law Professor Geoffrey Corn said that once the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, threw out Hasan’s “defense of others” strategy, fighting the charges became moot.
“Once that was cut off, he said there is no point in contesting the guilt-innocence phase,” Corn said.
Hasan will be given the chance to address the court outright after the prosecution rests its case this week. Speculation is rising on whether Hasan will call himself to the stand, though the judge may still constrain him if he does testify.
If he is convicted, Hasan will have far more latitude during sentencing.