By Jennifer Rizzo
The Army psychiatrist accused of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting told the military judge his Muslim faith requires him to wear a beard, marking the first time Maj. Nidal Hasan has made a statement in court, according to his lawyer.
"Your honor, in the name of almighty Allah, I am a Muslim," Hasan said. "I believe that my religion requires me to wear a beard."
Hasan made the statement after the presiding judge, Col. Gregory Gross, asked why he was still in contempt of court - in other words, why Hasan hadn't shaved his beard, which is against Army regulations.
"I am not trying to disrespect your authority as a military a judge. And I am not trying to disrupt the proceedings or the decorum of the court," he said. "When I stand before God I am individually responsible for my actions."
Gross has threatened to have Hasan forcibly shaved, previously citing the regulations and the right to ensure "that a military trial proceeds without a distracting and disruptive sideshow."
Hasan was found in contempt of court again Thursday, fined $1,000 and sent from the court to a trailer where Hasan watched the rest of the proceedings via closed circuit TV.
A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, September 6, to discuss whether Hasan's religious claims would prevent him from being shaved.
Hasan's court martial was scheduled to start last week at Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, where he is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32. The trial was delayed when Hasan's legal team petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent Gross from ordering Hasan's facial hair shaved.
The Court of Appeals found that Hasan's petition was "premature" because Gross had not yet issued a definitive order. If an official order was given, the appeals court said, Hasan could file another petition.
The beard issue surfaced in June, when Hasan, who remains in the Army while awaiting trial, appeared at a hearing with the beard. Gross postponed that hearing, then found Hasan in contempt of court at a July hearing, fined him $1,000 and warned him he would be shaved by force unless he got rid of the beard.
Hasan had been expected to enter a plea during a previous hearing, but the proceedings were halted by the appellate court. Hasan has previously expressed interest in pleading guilty, but military regulations bar a judge from accepting a guilty plea in a capital case.
Hasan is accused of opening fire at the post's processing center, where soldiers were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq, in November 2009.
He faces a possible death sentence if convicted. He was paralyzed from the waist down in the shooting, when police officers exchanged fire with him.
Hasan, a U.S.-born citizen of Palestinian descent, was a licensed psychiatrist who joined the Army in 1997. He had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan before the killings, but had been telling his family since 2001 that he wanted to get out of the military.
He is a Muslim who had told his family he had been taunted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Investigations that followed the killings found he had been communicating via e-mail with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American radical cleric killed by a U.S. drone attack in 2011.
An FBI report in July found that a Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego that was investigating al-Awlaki passed two of the messages to another task force in the Washington area, where Hasan was living at the time. The report found those e-mails should have been given to the Pentagon, but the FBI saw no evidence of terrorist activities in his case, and believed the information in the e-mails was too sensitive to share. It noted that visiting extremist websites is not grounds for taking action.