For years, the Obama administration has maintained that the victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, for which Islamist Maj. Hidal Hasan is charged, simply were in the crosshairs of a situation of "workplace violence."
The victims – 13 people were killed and nearly another three dozen were injured when, according to witnesses, Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" and started firing at people – have been denied benefits and combat honors because the government insisted there was no link to terror.
Now, however, the defendant himself is taking that off the table.
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As part of his defense, he has demanded to represent himself in his still-unscheduled trial, and this week asked for a delay of several months so that he could prepare his defense which will be built on the idea he did the shootings "in defense of others."
When asked by the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, to identify those he was "protecting," Hasan said, "The leadership of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban" and its leader, Mullah Omar.
Hasan, an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood, is accused of walking into the Soldier Readiness Center on the base Nov. 5, 2009, and opening fire on his fellow soldiers.
The attack didn't stop until Hasan himself was shot and paralyzed.
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A survivor reported Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "Allah is greatest," a phrase commonly uttered by jihadists prior to carrying out an attack. The Fort Hood attack was the worst shooting on an American military base.
Hasan had been on federal officials' radar screen for at least six months prior to the shooting over postings he made on the Internet. He likened a suicide bomber who kills women and children to a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to give his life in a "noble cause."
Intelligence officials also intercepted at least 18 emails between Hasan and the radical American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Hasan told al-Awlaki in one of the emails, "I can't wait to join you" in paradise. He also asked al-Awlaki whether it was appropriate to kill innocents in a suicide attack, when jihad was acceptable and how to transfer funds without attracting government notice.
In spite of this, Attorney General Eric Holder declined to press terrorism charges against Hasan. Instead the government has labeled the shooting as a case of "workplace violence." During a memorial service for the victims, President Obama never once used the word terrorism.
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The designation has prevented survivors and the victim's families from receiving Purple Hearts and being able to obtain combat-related special compensation.
Staff Sgt. Shawn Manning was shot six times in the attack, yet he is denied the same benefits a soldier shot in a similar action overseas would receive.
Fellow soldiers that day "were killed and wounded by ... somebody who was there that day to kill soldiers, to prevent them from deploying," Manning said. "And if that's not an act of war, an act of terrorism, I don't know what is."
Survivors and their family are forced to watch while Hasan continues to receive a paycheck and medical benefits from the military – closing in on $300,000 already.
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Neal Sher and Reed Rubinstein, who are representing the Ford Hood victims and their families, said Hasan's statements change the picture.
"Now the government's 'workplace violence' lie has been fully exposed," they told the Washington Times. "By his own admission, Hasan was a jihadist who killed innocent Americans to defend the Taliban."
The lawyers said the Army should simply admit the Fort Hood attack was terrorism and then give the victims, the survivors and their families "all available combat-related benefits, decorations and recognition."
Earlier, a judge who was going to require Hasan to shave – to comply with military regulations, was removed from the case and replaced with Osborn, who allowed Hasan to make his own decisions about grooming.
The dispute over the beard and other issues have caused some to say Hasan is making a mockery of the military legal system.
"If he were not a Muslim and murdered 13 people in cold blood he would long since have been tried and convicted by now," said Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch. "This ridiculous haggling over his beard is part of the general policy of the United States government not to offend Muslims and accommodate them in every way possible."
Spencer went on to say the Army's deference to Hasan on the beard issue is particularly appalling because it was his own piety that led him to kill his fellow soldiers.
"This accommodation is particularly unconscionable because Hassan said he has to have the beard because of his Muslim faith. But he also by his own account murdered 13 people because of his Muslim faith," Spencer noted. "Because of this why should we be giving him any accommodation because of his faith? This would be like making sure a Nazi guard at a concentration camp in prison was later supplied with a copy of Mein Kampf along with a swastika emblem."
Some have questioned why Hasan had no problems being clean shaven before the shooting and why it only became an issue later. Spencer explained the reason is Hasan wants to make himself a martyr in the eyes of the Muslim world.
"The martyr goes into paradise in the condition in which they die. A beard is a sign of a Muslim's piety, and if he doesn't have it, it is a serious mark against him," Spencer explained. "He will consider himself to be an Islamic martyr if he is executed for his crimes or even if he dies in prison for his crimes. This is why he has attempted to plead guilty on several occasions."
Under military law, an individual is not allowed to plead guilty in any case involving the death penalty.
WND Founder and CEO Joseph Farah, in a commentary, said, "Did you hear about Barack Obama's Defense Department characterizing the execution-style shooting slayings of 13 and wounding of 29 at Fort Hood in 2009 by a crazed Islamist Army officer as 'workplace violence'? … The reclassification of one of the worst terror attacks ever on domestic U.S. soil came in a strategic plan on battling 'violent extremism in the United States' focused on engaging local law enforcement and communities, and on countering 'extremist propaganda.' It pledged to put together a 'task force of senior officials' to work with local communities that could be targeted for recruitment and radicalization."
But, he wrote, the report never mentions "radical Islam."
"This is akin to reclassifying the 9/11 attacks as 'pilot error,'" wrote Farah.
Also commenting recently was William Murray, author of "My Life Without God."
"President Barack Hussein Obama refuses to designate Hasan's assault on Fort Hood as terrorism even though Hasan referred to himself as a 'soldier of Islam.' As a result of Obama's refusal, the families of the dead and the injured have been refused combat compensation.
"President Obama will not even issue Purple Hearts to the victims – not to the families of the dead, and not to those who were wounded," he wrote. "Barack Obama and his Department of Defense insist Hasan's attack was mere 'workplace violence' and was 'isolated' and therefore not terrorism or combat."
But, Murray pointed out, "Obama ordered the assassination of Hasan's jihadist partner and instructor in the attack, American-born al-Qaida collaborator Anwar al-Awlaki. A CIA drone killed al-Awlaki and several others in Yemen in September 2011. It was the first execution ever of a U.S. citizen without trial by our government.
"If Maj. Nidal Hasan acted alone and the jihad attack at Fort Hood was mere 'workplace violence,' why was retribution required on al-Awlaki? Because the killing wasn't retribution at all; it was because Obama needed to shut al-Awlaki up and stop his bragging about the attack on Fort Hood. With al-Awlaki taking credit for the shooting, Obama could not classify it as 'workplace violence.' All those involved other than Hasan had to be eliminated," he said.
In an exclusive interview with WND's Greg Corombos, former U.S. Attorney Andrew C. McCarthy, who led the successful prosecution against the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, said the military judge had no choice but to allow Hasan to represent himself at trial and probably couldn't stop Hasan from turning the courtroom into a platform for his radical Islamic views.
"I don't see how the judge could avoid it. As the Supreme Court has held, if you make a knowing and intelligent decision before the trial starts that you want to represent yourself, you have an absolute constitutional right to do that," McCarthy said. "I think that the objections that people have or the fears they have that by representing himself he's going to turn the proceedings into a circus are a little bit overblown. Let's face it, even if he weren't representing himself he could try to turn the case into a circus if that's what he was determined to do.
"Whether he'll be able to do that or not is really going to be a function of how strong the judge presiding over the trial is, not whether (Hasan's) just a defendant at the table or the defendant who represents himself."
McCarthy said Hasan's strategy is most likely to lay the grounds for an appeal of a likely death sentence.
"What a defendant is always trying to do is sow error into the record because that's the best chance you have of getting the outcome reversed on appeal. I think what he's really trying to accomplish here is get the death penalty off the table one way or the other. This is a way that makes the trial a little bit more chaotic," said McCarthy, who argued that if Hasan is convicted and sentenced to death he has a good chance of finding a sympathetic appellate court that could save his life.
Another issue in the case is what discovery evidence Hasan will have access to as he prepares his defense. McCarthy said the government's cautious charges in this case should limit the amount of sensitive information provided to Hasan.
"It would concern me more if he were being accused as an al-Qaida operative because then there would be an argument that he should be given the discovery about the overall al-Qaida conspiracy," McCarthy said. "The way the prosecution has a way of regulating how much or how little a defendant is entitled to in terms of discovery is how you plead the case.
"In this case, the prosecution has plead the case narrowly. They've gone out of their way not to accuse him of terrorism, which I think is a mistake, but I think they have made it a simple, straightforward homicide case. Therefore, I would say that he should not be entitled to any discovery about our enemies," said McCarthy, who noted the only al-Qaida-related content the prosecution will likely mention is Hasan's relationship with radical cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.
Hasan is also asking for a delay in the start of the trial because of his intent to pursue a new, "defense of others" strategy. When asked by Judge Osborn who he was defending, Hasan mentioned the leadership of the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. McCarthy said he would not delay the trial any further and hopes the judge will rule that way.
The following is WND's radio interview with McCarthy: