For the first time in nearly a year, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan will come face to face with dozens of people he’s accused of attacking in last year’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood.
An Article 32 hearing, which starts Tuesday in military court and is expected to last at least three weeks, will determine whether there is enough evidence to put the Army psychiatrist on trial. It will also be the first time witnesses have testified about the worst-ever shooting on a U.S. military base.
Such hearings are unique to military court, where prosecutors and the defense can call witnesses, and both sides are able to question them and present other evidence.
Hasan, 40, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. When the proceeding begins, he will be sitting just a few feet from the witnesses, who are expected to describe graphic details of the attack.
The shootings happened on a sunny autumn day at Fort Hood, one of the nation’s largest Army posts. About 300 people were in the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, a facility where soldiers must go before they are deployed to update vaccinations, get vision and dental screenings, finalize their wills or sign up to talk to a chaplain.
As soldiers waited in various lines, a man suddenly jumped up on a desk, shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — and started firing two guns, witnesses said.
The soldiers and civilian workers were unarmed as 100 rounds came at them directly or ricocheted off the desks and tile floor. Some dove for cover. Others ran outside, bullets whizzing by their heads while they pulled wounded comrades to safety. Victims moaned in pain and screamed for help.
Outside the building, soldiers in nearby buildings heard shouts for medics and ran to a grassy area where people lay bleeding. They ripped off their shirts and used them as a tourniquets. One young soldier loaded a few of the wounded into the back of his pickup and rushed to a hospital.
The rampage lasted only about 10 minutes, until two Fort Hood police officers shot and wounded Hasan, who is now paralyzed. He remains in custody.
The dead ranged in age from 19 to 62 and came from all walks of life: a pregnant soldier who had just returned from Iraq and wanted a lifelong Army career; a woman who had joined the military after the 2001 terrorist attacks and had vowed to take on Osama bin Laden; and a young father excited about his first deployment.
To grief-stricken families who had feared losing their loved ones on a foreign battlefield, this was unimaginable.
“He was on a base,” Marikay DeCrow, the widow of Staff Sgt. Justin M. DeCrow, said last year after the attack. “They should be safe there.”
Three who died and six who were seriously injured were in the same Army Reserve unit that Hasan was supposed to deploy with the following month.
The Madison, Wis.-based 467th Medical Detachment had just arrived at Fort Hood, so it’s unclear if Hasan knew any of the 40 members or was targeting them. Most of the unit, which provides counseling and other mental health services for soldiers, deployed to Afghanistan as scheduled a month after the attack.
In the wake of the rampage, a disturbing picture of Hasan began to emerge. The American-born Muslim was trying to get out of his pending deployment because he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently had been saying goodbye to friends and neighbors, and had given away his Quran and other belongings.
But there had been warning signs much earlier. Some fellow students in a graduate military medical program complained to the faculty about Hasan after he reportedly gave a presentation that justified suicide bombings and said the war on terror was a war against Islam.
But no one filed a formal complaint, out of fear that doing so would appear discriminatory toward a Muslim student.
After the shootings, government investigations uncovered critical security lapses. A local terrorism task force run by the FBI had learned months earlier of Hasan’s e-mail contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen who encouraged Muslims to kill U.S. troops, but the information was not adequately shared with the Pentagon.
An internal Pentagon review concluded that several medical officers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center failed to use “appropriate judgment and standards of officership” when reviewing Hasan’s performance as a student, internist and psychiatric resident. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said disciplinary action is possible.
According to government documents obtained by The Associated Press, Hasan’s supervisors sanitized his performance appraisals during his residency at Walter Reed, even though he was described as a loner with lazy work habits and a fixation on his Muslim religion. He once appended “Allah willing” to a patient’s medical chart.
Despite their concerns that he might have been developing a psychosis, no mental health evaluation was done, documents show.
The Fort Hood attack spurred the military to make many changes, including a comprehensive weapons policy for military bases. The Defense Department’s final report on the shootings said military supervisors must have access to soldiers’ personnel records and be aware of signs of potential workplace violence. The Pentagon recently said it is taking new steps to beef up security and surveillance programs at its bases, and will join an FBI intelligence-sharing program aimed at identifying future terror threats.
Prosecutors have not said whether they would seek the death penalty if the judge determine there is enough evidence for a court-martial.
Hasan, 40, has been in custody since the shootings, first in a San Antonio military hospital and now in the nearby Bell County Jail, which houses military suspects for Fort Hood. The military justice system does not offer bail.
It’s unclear if Hasan’s military record or mental health issues will be addressed at the Article 32 hearing.
Lead defense attorney John Galligan said a defense psychiatrist plans to review Hasan’s military files, as well as government reports about Hasan’s alleged e-mails with al-Awlaki and the Pentagon review of Hasan’s time at Walter Reed. Galligan said he has not decided what evidence to present, “if anything at all.”