About 60 years have passed since the last US military execution, but things could be about to change. Nidal Hasan killed 13 of his fellow troops in 2009 while acting erratically at Fort Hood in Texas. His judicial case is now nearing its conclusion, and the Army’s top court may soon be prepared to order his execution.
On November 5, 2009, Army Medical Corps psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan entered the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center, where troops getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan were receiving their medical examinations. Nobody questioned Hasan’s presence because he was scheduled to deploy with his unit. That is, until he abruptly grabbed a 5.7mm pistol, exclaimed “Allahu akbar,” and treacherously started shooting at his teammates. Before a police sergeant fired and took the turncoat’s weapon away, 32 additional people had been hurt and 14 had died, including a pregnant woman and her unborn child.
Hasan had a difficult past as a military, and his relationships with radical Virginia cleric Anwar al-Awlaki—who was subsequently killed in a drone attack against al-Qaeda in 2010—and his religious convictions had drawn suspicion from Army colleagues. When they were written, Hasan claimed his emails to al Awlaki were for psychological study.
He also protested to being sent to Afghanistan and argued that Muslims shouldn’t serve in the US Army. The Army discussed whether Hasan was mad or had been inspired by Islamist radicalism after the murder. According to Hasan, he carried out his strike to defend the Taliban from the US forces.
Army prosecutors determined Hasan was mentally fit in 2011 and charged him with a court martial. He was put on trial in August 2013. He was found guilty on 13 charges of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder by a panel of 13 police officers, who then executed him.
The death sentence has always been available in the US military, but it hasn’t been applied since 1961, when rapist John Bennett was executed. But, according to Article 118 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, murder is a capital offense, and Hasan’s court-martial was authorized to give him a death sentence. After being found guilty, he was sent on military execution row in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is now the sixth prisoner.
Hasan’s required appeal against death row execution was first heard on March 28 by the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. If the judge upholds the death penalty, the case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court before being presented to the president for final approval.
Would President Joe Biden dare commute this execution to life in prison despite his commitment to end the federal death penalty? No criminal is more abhorrent in the military than a soldier who betrays his own allies, and many want Nidal Hasan to be held fully accountable for his crimes.