FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage said Monday that he'll use a "defense of others" argument when he represents himself at his upcoming murder trial.
Maj. Nidal Hasan did not elaborate when announcing his strategy Monday, shortly after a military judge agreed to allow him to represent himself.
But it was the first time Hasan hinted at his reasoning behind the worst mass shooting on a U.S. military installation.
Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty or life without parole if convicted of 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Hasan, who was set to deploy to Afghanistan with some of the troops killed that day on the Texas Army post, likely will try to show that he was trying to defend Muslims against U.S. troops in a war that he believes is illegal and immoral, military law experts said. To prove a "defense of others" argument, a defendant must show a threat was imminent.
Hasan also asked for a three-month delay to prepare. The judge said she would decide that issue Tuesday, a day before jury selection was scheduled to begin.
"Even if he feels the U.S. is in an unjustified war, this defendant is not going to be able to show a threat was immediate because these soldiers were on U.S. soil and unarmed," said Jeff Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, who is not involved in Hasan's case.
After questioning Hasan for about an hour, the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, ruled that Hasan was mentally competent to represent himself and understands "the disadvantage of self-representation." She repeatedly urged him to reconsider his request, noting that the lead prosecutor has more than 20 years of experience and that Hasan will be held to the same standards as all attorneys regarding courtroom rules and military law.
"You've made that quite clear," Hasan said after the judge asked if he understood that representing himself was not "a good idea."
At Osborn's request, a doctor testified Monday about Hasan's physical condition. The doctor said Hasan's paralysis won't have a significant impact during proceedings but that Hasan can sit for only four consecutive hours and has limitations writing. He was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the Fort Hood attack.
Hasan's attorneys will remain on the case but only if he asks for their help, the judge said.
Hasan in 2011 cut ties with his previous lead attorney, John Galligan, a civilian who is a former military judge. Galligan said recently that he didn't know why his former client wanted to represent himself.
At a hearing in May, Hasan told Osborn that he wanted to plead guilty. But Army rules prohibit a judge from accepting a guilty plea to charges that could result in a death sentence. Osborn also denied his request to plead guilty to lesser murder charges, citing legal issues that could have arisen because his death penalty trial still would have proceeded.
Witnesses have said that after lunch on Nov. 5, 2009, a gunman wearing an Army combat uniform shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — "God is great!" in Arabic — and opened fire in a crowded medical building where deploying soldiers get vaccines and tests.
Witnesses said the gunman fired rapidly, pausing only to reload, even shooting at some soldiers as they hid under desks and fled the building.
Government reports on investigations after the shooting revealed that Hasan had become a "ticking time bomb" and radical extremist while he was a psychiatrist in training at Walter Reed, where he started in 2004.
The government has also said that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, had sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed in Yemen in 2011. According to the emails released by the FBI, Hasan asked questions indicating he was already thinking about or planning the attack.