FORT HOOD, Texas » The soldier on trial for the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood refused to put up a fight today, resting his case without calling a single witness or testifying in his own defense.
Maj. Nidal Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted for the attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others at the Texas military base. But when given the chance to rebut prosecutors’ lengthy case — which included nearly 90 witnesses and hundreds of pieces of evidence — the Army psychiatrist declined.
About five minutes after court began today, a day after prosecutors rested their case, the judge asked Hasan how he wanted to proceed. He answered: "The defense rests."
The judge, Col. Tara Osborn, then asked Hasan: "You have the absolute right to remain silent. You do not have to say anything. You have the right to testify if you choose. Understand?"
Hasan said he did. When the judge asked if this was his personal decision, he answered: "It is."
Osborn then adjourned the trial until Thursday to give prosecutors time to prepare closing arguments, and jurors were led out of the courtroom.
Hasan’s move wasn’t completely unexpected, considering he has made no attempt since his trial began two weeks ago to prove his innocence. He has sat mostly in silence, raising few objections and questioning only three prosecution witnesses.
Instead, he appears to be making his case through leaks to the media — even though jurors are barred from reading media reports about the case.
Taken together, the leaks reveal that Hasan, an American-born Muslim, justifying the shooting as a necessary killing of American soldiers to protect Muslim insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hasan allowed his civil attorney to give The New York Times a report showing that he told military mental health workers after the attack that he could "still be a martyr" if convicted and executed by the government. He also sent a personal letter sent to the local newspaper.
Most recently, two emails he released to the Times show that Hasan asked his Army supervisors how to handle three cases that disturbed him. One involved a soldier who reported to him that U.S. troops had poured 50 gallons of fuel into the Iraqi water supply as revenge.
"I think I need a lot of reassurance for the first few times I come across these," Hasan wrote in an email on Nov. 2, 2009 — three days before the shooting.
Hasan’s email signature included a quote from the Quran: "All praises and thanks go to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds."
On the first day of the trial, Hasan had tried to cross-examine a former supervisor about the fuel-dumping allegations, but Osborn quickly silenced him. She ruled the line of questioning out of bounds and not relevant to the case. The judge also barred Hasan from arguing during trial that the killings were in defense of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Richard Rosen, a military law expert who teaches at Texas Tech University and has followed the trial, said Hasan might be using the media to present the case that Osborn won’t let him in court.
"I thought he might use this as a show trial to kind of put the Americans on trial for things we’re doing in the Middle East and Afghanistan," Rosen said. "But this may be an alternative means of doing that."
Inside the courtroom, Hasan has done little to challenge the narrative of military prosecutors, who showed evidence of Hasan’s laptop being used to search the Internet for "jihad" and find articles about calls to attack Americans in the days and even hours before the rampage.
He declined to challenge witnesses, including several shot during the attack, who recalled hearing a shout of "Allahu Akbar!" — Arabic for "God is great!" — inside a crowded medical building at Fort Hood before Hasan opened fire using a laser-sighted handgun.
Hasan did address jurors during a brief opening statement, but he told them that evidence would show he was the shooter and called himself a soldier who had "switched sides" in a war.
However, he has never played the role of a high-threat, angry extremist. Hasan, who was paralyzed from the waist down when shot by Fort Hood police officers responding to the rampage, hasn’t gotten agitated in court or raised his voice.
The military defense attorneys ordered to help him during the trial have accused Hasan of trying to secure himself a death sentence. The attorneys asked that their advisory roles be minimized, but the judge refused.
Hasan began the trial signaling that he would call on just two people to testify — one a mitigation expert in capital murder cases and the other a California professor of psychology and religion. But on Tuesday, he indicated to the judge that he would now call neither, leaving Osborn raising her own skepticism that he would seize his last chance to defend himself.
Prosecutors were expected to give their closing argument on Thursday. It was unclear whether Hasan would do the same.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report from Fort Hood.