Trial over, questions remain

September 3, 2013 

For several weeks, I watched a fanatic plot his suicide as he proved that you can lead a defendant to trial but you can't make him defend himself.

Maj. Nidal Hasan -- barred by military law from pleading guilty as he preferred -- wanted, deserved and got the ultimate punishment for his rampage at Fort Hood back in November 2009. The death sentence was returned Wednesday.

I leave the post with lingering questions about the court-martial in which his fate, pending mandatory appeal, was decided by 13 soldiers of Hasan's rank or higher. Seems fair, jury of your peers and all that. But let's think about this.

The Army is an employer that teaches intense loyalty to colleagues. We who have never served can't understand the bond among warriors. Multiply that loyalty by a soldier's responsibility to a fallen comrade.

Now think about letting career soldiers sit in judgment of a traitor accused of killing 12 soldiers and one retired soldier.

Those are the rules. Here is the question, one posed without questioning the integrity of the soldier jurors in this case: Is this like letting IBM employees sit in judgment of somebody accused of a massacre of IBM employees at an IBM facility?

My next question percolated Tuesday as I sat in the courtroom about 12 feet behind Hasan, who earlier told the court that as a U.S. solider he was "on the wrong side of the war against Islam." He acted on that twisted epiphany by going to Guns Galore to arm up for a one-man jihad -- and, in his mind, a one-way ticket to paradise -- against GIs coming home from or heading to Afghanistan or Iraq.

Fight them here, he thought, so allies on his new team won't have to fight them there.

Where have I heard that strategy before? I know. It was at the White House when I covered President George W. Bush.

"It's better to fight them there than here," Bush often would say. It made sense then. It makes sense now, which leads to two troubling questions that in no way justify Hasan's actions.

If the strategy of killing enemy combatants on their home turf makes sense for us, doesn't it also make sense for the other side? (Remember, U.S. soldiers became Hasan's perceived enemy.) And don't many of us hope our CIA or military or whoever handles such missions tries to get folks on the other side to switch teams and kill folks in training over there, so we don't have to fight them here?

Or, put another way, to do what Hasan did at Fort Hood.

And if we are doing it, doesn't that mean the other side also has widows and parents and kids enduring the horrific grief we heard on the Fort Hood witness stand this week from survivors of those killed by Hasan?

Again, nothing herein is offered as any kind of justification for Hasan's unjustifiable acts. It's an attempt, meager perhaps, to figure out how a soldier psychiatrist gets crazy enough to open fire on fellow soldiers.

War, somebody once sort of said, is something other than heaven.

In the end, the soldier jurors chose death as the proper punishment for the man who killed and injured their colleagues. But what are we to make of the fact that that's what Hasan, hell-bent on martyrdom but more likely hell bound, wanted?

This crime warranted the most severe penalty. This criminal covets the most severe penalty.

Is a punishment supposed to fit the crime or the criminal?

Sometimes, as in this case, the two are not the same.

My last lingering question stems from a quote from Mark Todd, the then-Fort Hood policeman whose shots downed Hasan and ended the horror.

Todd, now disabled by a medical condition unrelated to the shootings, offered a statement that was read into the record. He said this about what he did after he shot Hasan:

"I started checking his vitals, you know, trying to save his life," he said.

My question, and perhaps yours, is this: Why?

In that answer lies the difference between us and them.

Ken Herman, Austin American-Statesman; kherman@statesman.com.

Ledger-Enquirer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service