This week military judge Gregory Gross barred Major Nidal Malik Hasan from appearing in court because he has refused to shave a beard he reportedly grew as a badge of his deep Islamic faith. The beard, judge Gross said, was a violation of Army policy. As it happens, so were Hasan’s actions in November of 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas.
As one of the early press accounts noted, Major Hassan packed a revolver and an FN Herstal pistol, and stuffed the cargo pockets of his camouflage pants full of 20-round ammunition clips. Then he opened fire on U.S. Army soldiers while shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “Allah is great.” In a matter of minutes Hassan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist trained to help soldiers deal with the horrors of war, had killed thirteen and wounded thirty.
He was methodical, aiming carefully at those seeking cover. Kimberly Munley, a police officer married to a Fort Hood soldier, saw Major Hasan chasing a wounded soldier across a courtyard and opened fire on Hasan. He returned fire and hit her twice, but one of her shots nailed Hasan in the chest and took him down. Munley survived the attack but 13 others did not.
Hasan’s victims included Aaron Nemelka, 19, Francheska Velez, 22 and pregnant with her first child, and Michael Cahill, a 62-year-old reservist. The mass shooting was the worst ever to take place on a U.S. military base. Hasan’s commander, Col. Kimberly Kesling, said it was all “a shock.” It shouldn’t have been.
Hasan’s militant brand of Islam was not exactly a secret. He had defended suicide bombings in an internet posting, and he had been giving away personal items. He prepared carefully for the killing spree – both handguns were not military issue – but despite the cries of “Allah is great” military brass gave him the benefit of the doubt on the role his religion, Islam, played in the attack.
It could have been his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, they said. It didn’t seem that way to soldiers who knew Hasan. It takes a major act of cognitive dissonance to deny that devotion to Islam was a motive. As for the means and opportunity, those are clear, and to paraphrase Rod Steiger from In the Heat of the Night, we have the bodies which are dead. All thirteen of them.
In a case of this magnitude, political correctness and petty military rules about appearance should not interfere with the judicial process. Judge Gross should let Major Hasan keep the beard, and allow him to be present in the hearings. As Hasan’s August 20 trial date approaches, the nation would do well to ponder the implications of this episode.
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