By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
Mental health professionals visited Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan Thursday morning to begin his sanity board to determine whether he was competent to stand trial, but they walked away empty-handed.
Hasan's defense attorney, retired Col. John Galligan, turned the three mental health professionals away at the Bell County Jail, where the former Army psychiatrist has been kept in an infirmary cell since mid-April. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the Nov. 5 shooting at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center. He was shot during the incident and is paralyzed from the chest down.
Galligan said he received a formal notice via e-mail at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, stating the mental health professionals, who make up Hasan's 706, or sanity, board, would arrive at the jail at 9 a.m. to begin their evaluations. Galligan said Thursday it's been his understanding that Col. Morgan Lamb, who leads the Special Court-Martial Convening Authority level, delayed the evaluation until after Hasan's Article 32 hearing, which is slated to begin Tuesday at Fort Hood.
Col. James Pohl, the officer appointed to preside over Hasan's Article 32 hearing, will hear evidence from both sides before determining whether there is enough for the case to advance to a court-martial.
Making this change at the 11th hour is another indicator that Hasan's case isn't being handled fairly, Galligan added.
Though Fort Hood officials wouldn't answer specific questions regarding Thursday's actions, a statement was issued that read prosecutors requested Lamb order the board to proceed without further delay following a Sept. 16 status hearing.
The defense team replied with a written statement. After review, Lamb sided with the prosecution.
"There was never any requirement that the 706 board be completed by 12 October in Col. Lamb's order," according to the statement.
Galligan said the board should not yet begin its evaluation because the Article 32 is not complete, Hasan is not in a clinical setting, research and fact-gathering is not complete, proposed protocols have not been examined and the defense's Army-authorized psychiatrist is not available until Nov. 1.
"I will not be compliant in a shady investigation," he said.
A military law expert and former Army lawyer said there is no set notice period for a sanity board. Because Hasan is in pre-trial confinement and under government control, short notice should not cause a problem, said retired Lt. Col. Geoffrey S. Corn, an associate professor of law at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Fort Hood officials referred questions about the proceedings to Corn Thursday because Army prosecutors can't comment on cases.
"This is not an adversarial examination," Corn wrote in an e-mail to the Herald. "It is merely an assessment. So in my opinion, the objection on the basis of short notice is a bit of a smoke screen for something else that is probably going on between defense counsel and client."
Fort Hood officials wouldn't give details about the board, but Galligan said it was made up of a retired Navy mental health professional from San Diego, an Air Force mental health professional from Seattle and an Army mental health professional from San Antonio.
Corn said the prosecution's next step is working with the defense to reschedule the evaluation or moving forward with the Article 32 process. If the case proceeds without a sanity board process and it is sent to court-martial, it would be up to a military judge to order an assessment to determine whether Hasan was competent to stand trial, Corn added.
"What this means is that the judge must be satisfied that the accused is capable of understanding the nature of the charges and process and able to assist in his own defense," Corn wrote. "However, beyond that, it is entirely the decision of the accused whether he wants to raise an insanity defense at trial."