FT. HOOD, Texas -- An Army major facing the death penalty told a military court here Tuesday that he was the shooter in a 2009 rampage that killed 13 soldiers and that he acted after switching sides from U.S. goals.
In an opening statement that lasted less than two minutes, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan made his first comments at his court-martial on 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder for those killed and wounded in the Ft. Hood attack of Nov. 5, 2009.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted.
“The evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter,” said Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney in the case. “There’s death and devastation for both sides, that is for both friend and foe, but the evidence presented at this trial will only show one side.
“The evidence will also show I was on the wrong side, that I then switched sides,” said the bearded 42-year-old soldier, who is paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the back by authorities as the shooting spree ended.
Hasan went on to describe mujahedin -- the word used for fighters associated with radical Islam -- as trying to establish “a perfect religion” in an imperfect world of those who want to stop them.
“I apologize for any mistakes I made in this endeavor,” Hasan said.
Hasan spoke on the opening day of his court-martial after prosecutor Col. Steve Henricks described how the psychiatrist deliberately targeted his fellow soldiers and opened fire on them as he walked through a room with service members preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.
When Hasan entered the room, he told a civilian clerk to leave, to go another part of the building so just soldiers would be in range of his deadly onslaught, Henricks said.
“He then yelled, ‘Allahu akbar!’ and opened fire on unarmed, unsuspecting and defenseless soldiers,” the prosecutor said. The cry, meaning “God is Great” in Arabic is a frequent war cry of jihadists.
Hasan has sought to make his trial a political event, arguing that he opened fire as part of an attack designed to slow the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan and to protect members of the Taliban fighting there. The judge has resisted Hasan’s effort.
Hasan, a Muslim born in the United States, is said by the government to have sent more than a dozen emails starting in December 2008 to Anwar Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born Islamic cleric killed during a U.S. drone stroke in Yemen in 2011.
Hasan has never denied shooting the soldiers. Many of the more than 30 service members wounded in the attack and some civilians inside the base’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center are expected to testify.
”Evidence will show you Maj. Nidal Hasan was that gunman,” said Henricks, who then described the attack in graphic detail, noting that Hasan was well-armed and continued firing.
Hasan planned and prepared “to kill as many soldiers as he could,” Henricks said.
Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ft. Hood, and Muskal from Los Angeles.