SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Survivors of the Fort Hood massacre say they are frustrated that the man accused of the shootings three years ago has yet to face a court martial.
Major Nidal Hasan is accused of opening fire on a group of soldiers who were undergoing medical exams at the Army post in Texas on November 5, 2009, in preparation for their deployment to Iraq. Thirteen people died and 32 others were wounded in the attack.
Hasan was charged immediately with first-degree murder, which could result in a death sentence if he is convicted, but three separate trial dates have passed.
“It’s very frustrating. It has not allowed us to have any closure whatsoever,” Kimberly Munley, the civilian police officer who shot Hasan and helped end the shooting spree, told Reuters. “A speedy trial is definitely not what has taken place.”
The delays began when Hasan, who is now paralyzed from the chest down, fired his civilian attorney and his new counsel received time to question witnesses.
More recently, the trial has been on hold for months while military courts considered whether Hasan, who is a Muslim, should be allowed to have a full beard in the courtroom, a violation of Army grooming regulations.
“I can’t think of any other case in the history of the United States Army that has taken this long,” said retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Addicott, a professor of terrorism law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and a former legal adviser to the U.S. Army Special Forces and
Trials typically move more quickly in military courts than in civilian courts due to tighter rules on the gathering and admission of evidence under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Addicott said.
“This case is a high-profile case, and the world is watching,” Addicott said. “The government is bending over backwards to make sure they are fair in the eyes of the world.”
An inquiry by former FBI Director William Webster found that federal investigators had failed to properly investigate ties between Hasan and American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in 2011 by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen.
Several members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, have said the report shows the military was more concerned about “political correctness” and not offending Muslims, than protecting U.S. troops.
The question of whether the attack was terrorism, or, as the Army has labeled it, workplace violence, remains controversial.
Army staff Sergeant Shawn Manning, and others wounded in the attack, have said they are more bothered by the Pentagon’s refusal to classify it as terrorism than by the trial delays.
“I think the family members deserve that recognition that their son, daughter, husband, did sacrifice their life that day protecting this country,” Manning told Reuters.
Hasan is housed in a specially constructed cell in a county jail about 15 miles from Fort Hood awaiting trial.
Addicott said it was unlikely Hasan would be executed even if he is convicted and sentenced to death.
“The last time the military executed somebody was in 1961,” he said. “If you think the trial system is bad, just wait until you get to the military appellate system. He will die in jail.”
Editing by David Bailey and Paul Simao