FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The soldier charged in one of the worst mass attacks in U.S. history told jurors “I am the shooter” as his trial began Tuesday in the Fort Hood military base rampage that killed 13 and left more than 30 wounded.
Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has never denied attacking his fellow soldiers in 2009. He is representing himself at trial, meaning he could end up questioning his victims directly, facing them for the first time since he shouted “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great!” — and opened fire.
Military prosecutor Col. Steve Henricks told jurors Hasan planned to “kill as many soldiers as he could,” and he said the prosecution will show jurors that Hasan picked the date of the attack — Nov. 5, 2009 — for a reason.
But when it came time for him to speak, Hasan countered prosecutors’ detailed portrait of the attack with a simple statement: “The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” but added that it wouldn’t tell the whole story.
Hasan, a 42-year-old U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, has wanted to argue that he carried out the shooting in “defense of others” — Muslim insurgents fighting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan — but the judge denied that strategy. The judge also said he will not be able to make speeches about his beliefs.
Hasan, who faces charges of murder and attempted murder, told jurors that evidence would show “that we are imperfect Muslims trying to establish the perfect religion. … I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor.”
Hasan earlier had tried to plead guilty, but military law requires a not-guilty plea in death penalty cases.
Henricks told jurors that Hasan tried to clear the area of civilians as he walked through and opened fire inside the military base’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where service members were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Hasan only shot at one civilian who tried to stop him, Henricks said.
The prosecutor called it a meticulously planned attack that included stockpiling bullets. On the day of the attack, Hasan sat among fellow soldiers after hiding the sound of his equipment by stuffing paper towels into the pockets of his cargo pants, Henricks said.
“All those fully loaded magazines do not clink, do not move, do not give him away,” the prosecutor said.
The trial opened under heavy security. Guards with assault rifles stood watch outside the courthouse, which was almost entirely hidden by stacks of heavy, shock-absorbing barriers that extend to the roofline.
Hasan, who was shot in the back by officers responding to the attack, is now paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.
Alonzo Lunsford, who was wounded, is expected to testify.
“That man strikes no fear in my heart. He strikes no fear in my family,” Lunsford said. “What he did to me was bad. But the biggest mistake that he made was I survived. So he will see me again.”
But Shawn Manning said he dreaded the expected confrontation.
“I have to keep my composure and not go after the guy,” said Manning, a mental health specialist who was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan with Hasan. “I’m not afraid of him, obviously. He’s a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair, but it’s sickening that he’s still living and breathing.”
Hasan’s defense strategy remains unclear. He has released statements to media outlets about his views on the Islamic legal code known as sharia and how it conflicts with American democracy. The government has said that Hasan sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed by a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.
The first three witnesses called by prosecutors worked at the gun shop where Hasan purchased his equipment, but Hasan chose not to question them.
If Hasan is convicted and sentenced to death, it likely would be decades before he goes to the death chamber, if at all. The military has not executed an active-duty soldier since 1961. Five men are on the military death row, but none is close to an execution date.
Eleven of the 16 death sentences handed down by military juries in the last 30 years have been overturned, according to an academic study and court records.
That’s one reason why prosecutors and the military judge have been careful leading up to trial, said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at the South Texas College of Law and former military lawyer.
“The public looks and says, ‘This is an obviously guilty defendant. What’s so hard about this?’” Corn said. “What seems so simple is in fact relatively complicated.”
AP National Writer Allen G. Breed and Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Ramit Plushnick-Masti contributed to this report.