Army Psychiatrist's Preliminary Hearing Wraps After 4-Minute "Defense"

Trial Will Likely Take Place Early Next Year

November 17, 2010

November 17, 2010 — The defense team for accused army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan took only 4 minutes to wrap up its case, saving its legal ammunition for the actual trial, which will likely take place sometime early next year.

Monday's evidentiary hearing at Fort Hood, Texas, concluded after presiding army Judge Col. James Pohl asked Hasan if he had anything to say. "No" was Hasan's response.

US Major Nidal Hasan is shown at the San Antonio to Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas, April 9, 2010. Bell County Sheriff's Department, via AP

Hasan said only one other thing, the word "yes," when asked if he understood that he had the right to speak in his defense.

But more words had been anticipated from a forensic psychologist, Xavier Amador, PhD, who interviewed Hasan last week. Dr. Amador was used as an expert defense consultant in the cases of Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted for his role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Dr. Amador also served as cochair of the schizophrenia section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition).

It was anticipated that Dr. Amador's testimony might shed some light on Hasan's motivation for the shooting spree, which killed 13 people and injured 32 others, but the psychologist's statement never came.

Hasan's lead defense counsel, retired air force Col. John Galligan, decided not to call any witnesses and noted that the burden of proof is on prosecutors.

"Typically the defense doesn't put on evidence [in Article 32 hearings]. The prosecution has to establish probable cause that an offense was committed and the accused committed it," Col. Galligan told Medscape Medical News.

Hearing "Pointless"

Hasan gave little indication of his thoughts as he sat expressionless in his wheelchair at the defense table, paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by a civilian police officer, who ended his rampage.

Galligan used the word "pointless" to describe the military Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury hearing. Earlier he indicated that Hasan's defense may include an insanity plea, based on the accused exhibiting symptoms of secondary posttraumatic stress, which allegedly developed after listening to accounts of war crimes from his patients who had served in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He was professionally concerned about these statements," said Galligan. "At the time, he made complaints to the deputy judge advocates office, and nothing was done."

Mental Instability Ignored?

The defense may try to persuade a military jury in Hasan's eventual trial that the army ignored Hasan's mental instability. Even before Hasan arrived in August 2009 at Fort Hood, colleagues at Walter Reed Medical Center reportedly raised concerns that he was obsessed with the idea that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan amounted to a war on Muslims.

A 3-man military sanity board has still not examined Hasan. Defense attorneys blocked the board's first attempt to interview Hasan last month, before the Article 32 hearing began, because of concerns that the board, which is entirely made up of uniformed US Department of Defense members, would prevent him from receiving a fair evaluation.

Galligan had heated words for military authorities. "They're still messing with my client's body; he can't even get a proper toilet chair in his cell and has to defecate into a trash can. I don't want them messing with his mind."

Judge Pohl will issue a recommendation to Fort Hood commanders, but it is likely Hasan will be bound over for a trial sometime next year, where the maximum punishment will be the death penalty.