Fort Hood Shooter Gets the Death Penalty He Allegedly Sought

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sits in court for his court-martial Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, in Forth Hood, Texas. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Aug. 23, 2013, 10:22 a.m.

Maj. Nid­al Has­an was con­victed last Fri­day of pre­med­it­ated murder in the 2009 shoot­ing at the Fort Hood mil­it­ary base in Texas. The at­tack killed 13 people and in­jured more than 30. Has­an, an Army psy­chi­at­rist, said his goal was to help Muslim in­sur­gents over­seas.

The con­vic­tion made Has­an eli­gible for the death pen­alty, and pro­sec­utors pushed for it. On Wed­nes­day, a mil­it­ary jury sen­tenced him to death. He could be the first Amer­ic­an sol­dier to be ex­ecuted since 1961. But, based on the be­liefs of an at­tor­ney dur­ing the case, that sen­tence could give Has­an just what he wants.

Dur­ing the tri­al, Has­an chose to rep­res­ent him­self, but he had three standby mil­it­ary law­yers on hand for ad­vice if he re­ques­ted it. One of those de­fense at­tor­neys wor­ried earli­er this month that Has­an was “work­ing in con­cert with the pro­sec­u­tion in achiev­ing a death sen­tence.” That at­tor­ney, Lt. Col. Kris Poppe, told the judge in the case that it is “clear [Has­an’s] goal is to re­move im­ped­i­ments or obstacles to the death pen­alty and is work­ing to­wards a death pen­alty.”

Has­an took is­sue with the at­tor­ney’s in­ter­pret­a­tion of his de­fense, say­ing the at­tor­ney “made an as­ser­tion that is in­ac­cur­ate.”

In his self-de­fense, Has­san did not try, even a little, to present him­self as in­no­cent. In his open­ing state­ment, he said, “Evid­ence will clearly show that I am the shoot­er, and the dead bod­ies will show the war is an ugly thing.” The gov­ern­ment tried to make the case that Has­an “came to be­lieve he pos­sessed a ji­had duty to kill as many sol­diers as pos­sible.”

Wheth­er the death pen­alty is Has­an’s goal likely didn’t mat­ter in the sen­ten­cing, be­cause that is the pen­alty the pro­sec­u­tion was look­ing for. But it raises real ques­tions about how ser­i­ous a pun­ish­ment can be if it is what the crim­in­al is look­ing for. In court, the gov­ern­ment ar­gued that the death pen­alty is the only way to give the mil­it­ary and fam­il­ies of Has­an’s vic­tims justice and peace of mind. But if Has­an is look­ing to be­come a mar­tyr for his cause, it’s hard to see how giv­ing him that would help vic­tims and their fam­il­ies.

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