Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Court proceedings for Maj. Nidal Hasan on the Fort Hood shooting and their signficance

The military seems to have done an impressive job keeping a lid on information about the accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, and his attack last November. But now pretrial court hearings are finally under way, and new information is emerging.

There has been some public comment from American officials, however. As By Patrik Jonsson reports in the Christian Science Monitor article linked below:

Congressional reports on the Fort Hood shooting have highlighted the veteran soldier's contact with Anwar Al-Awlaki, a US-born cleric known to foment violence against the US over the Internet. Personal problems, inappropriate statements at work, and a looming deployment to Afghanistan all hint at a man driven to the brink, fueled by stories about war injustices he'd heard from US soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In September, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Senate panel that broader Al Qaeda strategy has diversified in terms of tactics and targets.

But while the Obama administration did not reference the Fort Hood shooting as an example, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, the Homeland Security Committee ranking member, said, "I am convinced that terrorists are beginning to focus their efforts on smaller-scale attacks, with small arms and explosives such as we saw at Fort Hood, Arkansas, and in India." [my emphasis]
Anwar Al-Awlaki is one American citizen that is a designated hit target in President Obama's controversial assassination program, in which he asserts sweeping Executive power that can rightly be called tyrannical - though it's unlikely that you'll hear any of our supposed Tea Party Republican lovers of freedom criticize him for that. It's the kind of authoritarian government power they tend to support; they just think it should always be in the hands of a Republican President.

Al-Awlaki's supposed connection to the Ft. Hood massacre has been used, as Susan Collins uses it in the quote above, to validate the hit on Al-Awlaki and the Presidential assassination authority more generally. So whatever we learn about Hasan's motives will be interesting for the extent to which it validates those assertions. (Glenn Greenwald, among others including Marcy Wheeler, has been following the assassination program, as in Obama argues his assassination program is a "state secret" Salon 09/25/2010.)

Apart from whatever current ideological uses may be made of it, it's important to understand domestic terrorist attacks. And the Ft. Hood massacre was a serious one. There are clear indications that Hasan's motives were extremist Islamist ones. The fact that bigots will try to demagogue it doesn't mean we shouldn't try to understand it. On the contrary, for people who actually care about the relevant issues, it's important to understand realistically the influences that acted upon him.

In commenting on this case, I'll try to refrain from constantly referring to what should be painfully obvious but clearly isn't to Republicans more interested in smearing Democrats than in understanding domestic terrorism: there's nothing "liberal" or "progressive" about Islamist jihadism. Nor do American liberals and Democrats - or European Greens, liberals and social-democrats - share their outlook. Religious fundamentalism, Islamic or otherwise, is rightwing in political terms. And is generally understood as that, outside the strange bubble of American Republican thinking right now.

But domestic Islamist terrorism also shouldn't be confused with other far-right brands of terrorism. Almost all of the ones in the United States are anti-Islamic along with their other hatreds. That's not necessarily always going to be the case. Extreme patriarchal, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic attitudes are common to many non-Islamic- and Islamic-extremists. But in the US, Christian Reconstructionism plays such a large role in much of today's far-right militia mentality, it would make actual cooperation with Islamic extremists particularly difficult.

Jeremy Schwartz reports in the 10/12/2010 article linked below that Hasan is "paralyzed from the chest down from bullet wounds received during the shooting [but] is able to move his arms."

The proceeding now under way is called an Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether Hasan will be court-martialed and whether the death penalty could apply. The presiding judge is is Col. James Pohl. This is a military equivalent of a grand jury, though unlike civilian grand juries Article 32 hearings are normally open to the public.

Hasan is being tried through the regular military legal system, not through some special military commission or other Kangaroo Court kind of proceeding.

Jeremy Schwartz of the Austin American-Statesman has been following the case closely. His recent articles include:

Witness: Man's face was 'blank' during Fort Hood shooting 10/18/2010

Fort Hood shooting hearing postponed as judge mulls continuance 10/12/2010

Hasan has hearing today in Fort Hood shooting case 10/11/2010

Hasan hearing to give rare look at military justice 10/11/2010

Hasan's lawyer says case is important test of justice system 10/09/2010

Seasoned legal talents will play key roles in Hasan case 10/09/2010

Hasan loses bid to close hearing to public, media 09/16/2010

He is also doing live-blogging updates at the paper's Austin Legal blog. The Austin American-Statesman also is tweeting the trial (presumably Schwartz at least part of the time) at FtHoodShootings.

Schwartz mentioned in an online chat last week that he didn't expect a lot of details about Hasan's potential motivations in the shooting to emerge in the course of the Article 32 hearings. His 10/12/2010 article does contain this interesting observation:

Tuesday's request for a continuance is the latest in a string of delay petitions from Hasan's attorneys, who have complained that they have not received stacks of discovery evidence, including classified portions of investigations ordered by the White House after the shooting.
He recorded this testimony in a 10/13/2010 blog entry:

A third witness just testified in the Article 32 hearing and described a bizarre interaction with Maj. Nidal Hasan a few seconds before witnesses say he opened fire inside the soldier readiness processing center.

Latoya Williams, a civilian data entry clerk at the center, said Hasan approached her desk just after lunch and told her that there had been an emergency and that her supervisor needed to see her.

"I said, 'Me?' He said yes. I got up and walked toward (her supervisor’s) office," she said. "I looked back to see if he was coming with me, but he was still in my area. I figured he didn’t need to go with me."

She said that walked away from Hasan and seconds later, she heard several pops that sounded like "firecrackers." Williams said she threw herself to the floor and eventually ran out of the building unharmed.

Williams did not say why she thought Hasan told her to leave the room and said she had never seen or met Hasan before. After the Nov. 5 incident, witnesses said that Hasan appeared to be targeting soldiers in uniform. [my emphasis]
This could be significant in indicating that Hasan had a conscious goal of specifically killing soldiers and not civilians. I don't imagine the defense counsel was glad to hear that one.

Further testimony showed that one civilian was killed, a physician's assistant who tried to stop Hasan by hitting him with a chair. Hasan shot and killed him first.

Schwartz' 10/15/2010 blog report includes the curious detail from the testimony of PFC Lance Aviles "testified under cross-examination that he made two videos of the shooting scene but deleted them later that day under directions from his superiors." Why would a superior want video evidence of such a crime destroyed?

In his 10/18/2010 blog post, Schwartz recounts this heart-rending incident:

Five witnesses testified, all via live feed from Afghanistan and Iraq. Spc. Jonathan Sims, with the 20th Engineer Battalion, testified that during the shooting he saw a female soldier laying in the fetal position, screaming "My baby! My baby!" A few minutes later he saw the same soldier flat on the floor, face down and unmoving. When nurses turned her over, her eyes were rolled into the back of her head, Sims testified.

Sims didn't give the soldier’s name, but it was most likely Pvt. Francheska Velez, who was pregnant and had just returned from Iraq at the time of the shooting. Velez was one of 13 killed during the shooting.

Amanda Kim Stairrett of the local Killeen Daily Herald his reporting on the Article 32 hearings at the paper and on Twitter at KDHmilitary.

Other recent coverage:

Patrik Jonsson, Will Fort Hood shooting trial find motive – or link to terrorism? Christian Science Monitor 10/19/2010

Sig Christenson, Chilling testimony at Fort Hood hearing San Antonio Express-News 10/14/2010

Charley Keyes, Witness: Police shouted 'put the gun down,' then more shooting CNN 10/18/2010.

Charley Keyes, Witness: Emotionless Fort Hood shooter 'wasn't happy, wasn't angry' CNN 10/18/2010

Taylor Barnes, Fort Hood shooting 'was a horror movie,' witness testifies at pretrial Christian Science Monitor 10/14/2010

Patrik Jonsson and Tracey Samuelson, Fort Hood suspect: Portrait of a terrorist? Christian Science Monitor 11/10/2009

Dan Murphy, Fort Hood shooting: Was Nidal Malik Hasan inspired by militant cleric? Christian Science Monitor 11/10/2009

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