FORT HOOD — The presiding judge in Maj. Nidal Hasan’s upcoming court-martial ordered the accused Fort Hood shooter shaved Thursday.
Military judge Col. Gregory Gross ruled that at any further pretrial hearings, Hasan will be clean-shaven. If necessary, U.S. Army personnel will shave Hasan by force.
Gross’ ruling effectively put a stay on all hearings until the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals rules on whether he has the authority to have Hasan shaved.
Hasan, 41, could face the death penalty if convicted of 13 charges of premeditated murder stemming from the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting on post. He also faces 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Hasan has appeared in court wearing a beard since June, defying military regulations that limit facial hair to a closely cropped mustache. Gross has held the Army psychiatrist in contempt repeatedly and barred him from the court, calling his appearance a disruption.
But Gross allowed Hasan, a Sunni Muslim, to remain in the courtroom Thursday while lawyers argued over whether military regulations trump religious freedoms granted by the Constitution.
Gross ruled that while religious freedom did apply to courts-
martial, Hasan’s defense team did not prove Hasan has grown a beard purely out of his religious convictions. The judge also stated that having Hasan shaved was less restrictive than instructing a jury to ignore his beard.
His ruling came in spite of an affidavit from Hasan asserting his religious beliefs and an Army chaplain who stated Hasan’s notion that he needs to have a beard is sincere.
“I realize the appellate courts may not agree with my rulings,” Gross said.
Government prosecutors argued that Hasan has grown a beard in order to obscure his appearance.
Col. Steve Henricks stated that two eye witnesses had trouble identifying Hasan as the Fort Hood shooter during his Article 32 hearing. Henricks said that their difficulties would be exacerbated by the difference in Hasan’s appearance and the length of time from the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting.
He also spoke of an unaired June 18, 2011, interview Hasan had with the news network Al Jazeera. Henricks told the court Hasan made statements that he was ashamed of being a member of the Army, which he called an “illegal organization.”
During the interview, Hasan also associated himself with the Taliban and mujahideen — Muslim holy warriors — Henricks said.
Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe argued that any of Hasan’s past actions were not relevant to his current religious beliefs. Poppe said Hasan also offered to plead guilty to all charges in January.
Military courts prevent a defendant from pleading guilty to charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty.