After Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan admitted during a brief opening statement at his court martial in connection with the 2009 massacre at Ft. Hood Texas that he is the gunman, called himself an Islamic holy warrior, and even identified the high powered handgun used to kill 13 and wound 32, many people are asking a simple question.
Why are American taxpayers paying as much as $5 million to conduct a trial?
That is in my opinion a very good question,” said Greg T. Rinckey, managing partner with Tully Rinckey in Washington DC and a former military prosecutor with more than 100 cases under his belt.
He says the answer has to both with the arcane workings of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the unique system of justice used in the U.S. Armed Forces, and with a desire to finally bring this often delayed case to a conclusion.
“He has the right to his day in court,” Rinckey said. “And also the prosecutors have the burden to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In cases like this one, which carry the possibility of the death penalty if Hasan is convicted, defendants are not allowed to plead guilty under UCMJ rules. In fact, Hasan attempted to plead guilty earlier this year, but it would have required that prosecutors take the death penalty off the table, something they were unwilling to do.
Rinckey says there is a second, and even more important reason to conduct a full trial. He says any conviction and death sentence would be automatically appealed, and this time it won’t be Hasan acting as the defense counsel, it will be trained military attorneys.
“Where the real battle in this case will be is on appeal,” he said. “At appeal there will be various issues raised by appellate attorneys about evidence raised by the prosecutors and pre trial decisions that were made by the judge.
Military appeals courts have not hesitated to look closely at decisions made in this high profile trial. The trial was delayed nearly a year while the U. S. court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the supreme military court, examined rulings made about Hasan’s desire to wear a beard in the courtroom, and the court eventually removed the previous trial judge from his case.
Rinckey says Judge Col. Tara Osborn will also ‘give Hasan leeway’ in making jihadist declarations in the courtroom, like the claims he made today.
He says after more than three and a half years of delays, nobody wants to see this verdict overturned and the process returned to the beginning.
“The government, the prosecutors, the judge and the stand by counsel all have to protect the record,” he said. “They know there are going to be appellate judges and competent defense attorneys looking at that record. They have to make sure they’re putting on a fair trial, even though they might not have an adversary who is very tough and has admitted to certain things, they still have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”