Shooter won't run from facts

Shooter won't run from facts

A military psychiatrist who went on a shooting rampage has proudly embraced his jihad-motivated attack as an act of war against the United States.

Four years after he killed 13 and wounded 32 people in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, Maj. Nidal Hasan stood before a military court and acknowledged the obvious.

"The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter," said Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist who is representing himself after firing his lawyers.

The Hasan trial is drawing considerable attention, not just because of the spectacular nature of the shooting rampage but also because he is representing himself and not contesting the charges against him. Because it is a death penalty case, military rules of evidence blocked Hasan from pleading guilty.

Now his former lawyers, who are on standby at the trial in the event Hasan changes his mind about representing himself, have sought to intervene in the trial because they contend Hasan wants to be sentenced to death. On Thursday, the judge denied the lawyers' request.

It's always a dicey situation when defendants choose to represent themselves. In most cases, trial judges vigorously seek to persuade defendants that they're making a big mistake by doing so but ultimately acquiesce because defendants have an absolute right to handle their own defense, even if they are woefully unprepared to do so.

Having said that, it's no great concession on Hasan's part to acknowledge that he was the shooter. Neither is it a major mistake for him not to cross-examine the string of people he shot during the 2009 attack.

The facts essentially are not in dispute. The major issue in the trial is not who did it or even why but what the penalty will be.

Hasan's standby lawyers are probably correct that he wants to be executed; after all, Muslims aspiring to martyrdom believe paradise offers them multiple rewards. The evidence is clear that Hasan expected to be killed during the shooting spree. Instead, he was shot, paralyzed and now gets around the courtroom in a wheelchair. Considered in that context, perhaps a sentence of life in prison would be a more fitting punishment.

The bigger question — and one not likely to be answered — is how Maj. Hasan, who made no secret of his increasingly fervid jihadist beliefs, was allowed to remain in the military. It's beyond outrageous that his final fitness report, one written just three days before the shooting, characterized him as an outstanding officer who carried out his duties in a "superb manner." Given his increasingly erratic and outspoken behavior, this was obviously not the case, as subsequent events tragically demonstrate.

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