FORT HOOD, Texas — American soldiers deploying overseas to "engage in an illegal war" provoked the deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood in 2009, the soldier accused in the attack said Wednesday after refusing to mount a defense during his trial.
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 Wednesday, a day after prosecutors rested their case, the judge asked Hasan how he wanted to proceed. Hasan, who is acting as his own attorney, said: "The defense rests."
But after jurors were dismissed, Hasan told the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, that the jury shouldn't have the option of convicting him on the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
"I would like to agree with the prosecution that it wasn't done under the heat of sudden passion," Hasan said. "There was adequate provocation – that these were deploying soldiers that were going to engage in an illegal war."
Prosecutors had no objection.
"There's not a shred of evidence to suggest the accused was acting under a heat of passion as he was committing the single largest mass murder on a U.S. military installation ever," Col. Steve Henricks, one of the prosecutors, told the judge.
The exchange came during a late-afternoon hearing, hours after Osborn adjourned jurors for the day. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Thursday in the court-martial, the military's equivalent of a trial, though it's unclear whether Hasan plans to say anything.
So far, he has made no attempt to prove his innocence. He has questioned just three witnesses, and the only piece of evidence he submitted was a favorable evaluation he received from a former supervisor a few days before the attack.
So his simple declaration Wednesday abdicating a defense wasn't much of a surprise.
"I think it's consistent with everything he's done. I think what he's trying to do in this court-martial is passively manifest his disdain for the Army and our system of justice," said Geoffrey Corn, a South Texas College of Law professor who has been following the case.
Corn, who taught the lead prosecutor in Hasan's case, also speculated that Hasan would wait until after he was convicted to address jurors.
"In the military system during sentencing, the defendant can make an unsworn statement, which means he can't be cross-examined," Corn said. "I think he doesn't want to be cross-examined because he doesn't want anybody to contest his distorted version of what he thinks is right."
Hasan, an American-born Muslim, began the trial with a brief opening statement acknowledging that evidence would "clearly show" he was the man who opened fire inside a medical building at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009. He also described himself as a soldier who had "switched sides."
But since then, he has mostly sat in silence. He didn't question any of the witnesses who identified him as the gunman who, dressed in Army clothing and armed with a semi-automatic pistol, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" – Arabic for "God is great!" – before firing hundreds of rounds.
Hasan also has raised few objections since the trial began 12 days ago.
Instead, he appears to be making his case through leaks to the media – to which jurors, like Hasan's statements to the judge, don't have access.
Taken together, they reveal that Hasan is trying to justify 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.
Before the trial began, the judge had barred Hasan from arguing that the killings were in defense of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Since then, the military defense attorneys ordered to help Hasan during the trial have accused him of trying to secure himself a death sentence, though Hasan denies those claims.
Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report from Fort Hood.
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