FORT HOOD — Accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan told a military court Tuesday he was defending the Taliban during the 2009 mass shooting on post.
Hasan’s comments, offered in soft tones when questioned by the judge, marked the first time the Army psychiatrist made any indication as to a motive in the shooting that left 13 dead.
Presiding judge Col. Tara Osborn had been questioning Hasan about his new defense strategy, which he announced in court Monday after Osborn granted his request to represent himself at trial.
Hasan said he was defending “the leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban.”
He also named Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, believed to be alive somewhere in Pakistan, according to Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University.
“What Osama bin Laden was to al-Qaida, he (Omar) is to the Taliban,” Addicott said.
Hasan’s admission follows a narrative that has consistently painted him as a “home-grown terrorist” and a Muslim extremist.
A congressional report showed that Hasan exchanged emails with Anwar al’Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric with ties to al-Qaida slain in a 2011 drone attack. Hasan also made statements to the news network Al Jazeera indicating an identification with the mujahedeen.
Tuesday’s statements confirmed what Addicott had long thought.
“Hasan has declared himself an enemy combatant in league with the Taliban,” he said.
Hasan requested a three-month delay in the trial to prepare his defense, but Osborn made no ruling Tuesday. She did allow Hasan an additional day to prepare remarks to explain his strategy. The hearing will resume today at the Fort Hood courthouse, and jury selection was delayed until at least Monday.
Hasan, 42, appeared hesitant to talk in depth about his defense strategy. Though none of his comments will be available to the jury prior to trial, he told Osborn he wanted to gather his thoughts and asked to submit them in writing.
He is charged with the shooting deaths of 13 people on post on Nov. 5, 2009, and could be put to death if convicted.
After a brief recess, Osborn asked if the leaders of the Taliban were the people Hasan was defending when he used “deadly force.” Hasan replied, “Yes.”
“They were in the U.S. Army,” he said. “They were in an SRP (soldier readiness processing) site about to deploy to Afghanistan.”
Hasan also was set to deploy to Afghanistan when the shooting occurred.
Hasan’s trial would not be the first time an alleged Muslim extremist represented himself in a death penalty trial.
Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th hijacker” tied to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, represented himself in a trial that was permeated with extremist speeches and court filings that called high-ranking U.S. officials “soldiers of Satan.”
Moussaoui at first exercised his right to represent himself during his federal trial in Virginia. It was later revoked after he repeatedly disrupted hearings, Moussaoui’s lawyer Edward B. MacMahon said.
MacMahon said similar things would happen in Hasan’s trial if he attempts to hijack hearings with political speech.
“This guy is probably certain he is going to get convicted, so he’s looking to get as much press as he can on the way out,” MacMahon said. “He still has to behave as anyone else would. The minute he does something that the judge thinks was improper, she’ll revoke his pro se status.”
The lead attorney in the lawsuit between victims of the Fort Hood shooting and the Department of Defense said he was “outraged” by Hasan’s statement.
Neal Sher is representing more than 100 victims and their family members in an attempt to reclassify the attack from workplace violence to a terrorist act.
Many of Sher’s clients claim they were denied essential medical care and benefits due to the government’s refusal to label the shooting as a combat-related incident.
“Hasan has acknowledged what everybody but our government has understood — namely that he was a jihadist and that he committed this heinous act of terror, fulfilling his jihadist views,” Sher said.