SAN ANTONIO, Texas — A US Army psychiatrist charged with the Fort Hood shooting rampage will face a military trial and a potential death sentence if he is found guilty, a top general said Wednesday.
Major Nidal Hasan is accused of opening fire at the Texas army base on November 5, 2009 in an attack killed 12 soldiers and a civilian, and left another 32 people wounded.
The shooting jolted the American military and prompted calls for stronger safeguards against possible internal security threats and “homegrown” terror attacks.
Hasan, who was set to deploy to Afghanistan weeks after the massacre, was shot by police as they tried to halt the carnage and was paralyzed from the neck down.
Some 56 witnesses at a nine-day evidentiary hearing last year sketched a picture of Hasan as a cold, calculating killer who gunned down soldiers and civilians in a methodical fashion after arming himself with two handguns and 19 extended clip magazines.
Lieutenant General Donald Campbell, the commander at Fort Hood, said the case has been approved for a court-martial that will “consider death as an authorized punishment.”
Campbell decided to convene a court-martial after considering “all matters submitted by defense counsel” and the recommendations of an investigating officer, he said in a statement.
A military judge will now be assigned to the case and then a trial date will be set, it said.
Hasan will first be asked to appear for an arraignment hearing, and he “is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law,” it added.
The announcement comes after a panel of medical experts, known as a “sanity board,” ruled in January that Hasan was sane and fit for trial.
Defense attorney John Galligan said he hopes to have the case tried “anywhere but Fort Hood,” but legal analysts say a change of venue will likely be denied.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has alleged Hasan had contacts with a firebrand Islamic cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaqi, who US officials see as posing a grave threat to the United States.
Hasan, who was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents and raised in the eastern state, had attended a mosque in 2001 where Awlaqi worked.
Prior to the rampage, Hasan also voiced doubts over the role of Muslim soldiers in the US military, according to military officers.
US lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon over how Hasan’s case was handled and charged that warning signs were ignored.
Two lawmakers in February issued a report saying the government failed to grasp the suspect’s growing Islamist extremism.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, an independent, and the panel’s top Republican, Senator Susan Collins, rebuked the Pentagon and the FBI for failing to take action after colleagues branded Hasan “a ticking time bomb.”