Major Nidal Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the Fort Hood shootings and will be tried in a military court. The Army apparently sees no reason to treat the case as one of terrorism or turn it over to federal prosecutors, and the FBI has released a statement saying it has no information that "Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot."
However, this has not stopped Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Oliver North, and any number of Fox News commentators from demanding that the shootings be regarded as an act of Muslim terrorism.
MSNBC's Rachel Maddow sees these assertions as stemming from an eagerness to charge President Obama with allowing "a terrorist attack on his watch," even if it means ignoring the legal definition of terrorism. She turned to constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley to explain the legal issues involved.
"I think that the Army is going about this in the right way," Turley began. "Criminal investigators and lawyers and judges don't have the luxury that some people have on television to just simply say this must be terrorism."
"You can't just simply say that because somebody kills a large number of people that it's terrorism," Turley explained. "There are plenty of people who act out of rage. ... Some of them are perfectly unhinged and they will latch onto religious views or political views, but what they're really acting out of is mental illness."
"Terrorism is more than just killing people," Turley emphasized. "We're becoming a nation where we want to define everything as terrorism. ... We have a shooting of an abortion doctor, it's terrorism. ... A hate crime is terrorism. Well, it's not. It's murder."
Turley has maintained this position consistently in the past, even when it was liberals insisting that a crime be described as terrorism. He wrote last summer, with reference to the killers of George Tiller and a guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington, "There is an important legal difference between people who seek to terrorize a society through coordinated acts of killing and people who act on impulse to kill people they hate. ... Calling something a terrorism case puts it in a different category for investigation and prosecution. Special laws and punishments apply."
"Terrorism is when you not just murder someone but you're murdering someone to coerce or intimidate a government or society," Turley told Maddow . "There's no indication that [Hasan] went into this location for that purpose. ... Most indications are that he's a deeply disturbed individual who released his hate on these people."
"Is it possible for an insane person to commit an act of terrorism?" Maddow asked.
"Anyone who's a terrorist is by definition somewhat insane," Turley replied. "You really do have to have a screw loose."
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Nov. 12, 2009.