Former Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan is charged with opening fire in a troop processing center at Fort Hood, Texas, and killing 13 people and wounding more than 30 others in 2009.
Hasan is representing himself in the death penalty case.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne that means Hasan will be questioning witnesses he is accused of shooting.
Hassan is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by a military police officer during the rampage.
On All Things Considered last night, NPR's Daniel Zwerdling told co-host Melissa Block that Hasan will be brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair.
Hasan is a Muslim and has maintained he was justified in his actions because he was protecting the Taliban from U.S. aggression.
He has tried to plead guilty. The military tribunal, however, would not allow him to do so, because under military statute, if you could be executed for a crime, you can't plead guilty.
The trial is expected to last months.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The court-martial of Army Major Nidal Hasan begins today at Fort Hood in Texas. Hasan is the former Army psychiatrist who opened fire in a troop processing center at Fort Hood, killing 13 and wounding more than 30. Hasan faces the death penalty and he has opted to defend himself through the legal process. So far there have been hearings about his beard and if he's allowed to wear one and his defense, what he'll be allowed to argue in court.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been covering all of this. Good morning, Wade.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now the prosecution would seem to have a straightforward case here. What will they be laying out?
GOODWYN: Well, I think we've heard a good bit of the prosecution's case already. In the hearings leading up to this trial, Major Hasan allegedly shot dozens of people. They were soldiers, some of whom engaged him during that spree. And, of course, Hasan himself was shot repeatedly outside the processing center where the massacre took place.
The major seems mostly uninterested in asserting his innocence. In fact, he's unhappy that the military judge in the case, Colonel Tara Osborn, won't allow him to announce his guilt to the jury at the beginning of the trial because it's a death penalty case. And in death penalty cases, the defendant is required to plead not guilty.
MONTAGNE: And the testimony you've just been talking about was given back during the military's version of a pre-trial hearing. And pretty riveting stuff, wasn't it?
GOODWYN: It was unbelievable testimony. I mean the story that sticks out in my mind came from the six-foot nine-inch Sergeant Alonzo Lunsford. Lunsford testified that he saw the whole thing, watched Major Hasan stand up from his chair, walk to the front of the room, pull out his laser-sighted pistol, call out Allahu Akbar and begin shooting.
Lunsford said he saw Michael Cahill, who was a 64-year-old physician's assistant, emerge from one of the examination rooms. He picked up a chair by their legs and advanced on Hasan but he was shot dead before he could reach him. And that's when Lunsford tried to get out, but he said Hasan saw him make his move and shot him in the face. Lunsford fell down but he was not dead. And after coming to his senses, he began to try to crawl for the door and he was shot four more times in the back and he still made it out.
These are scenes, you know, I'm never going to get out of my mind and there are others like it.
MONTAGNE: Well, as we said, Hasan is defending himself on this, which would allow him, I assume, to question the people that he allegedly shot?
GOODWYN: Perhaps; he's fired every lawyer he's had. And former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has offered to represent Hasan, and there's some chance that he might step in once the trial starts. But if not, there's the prospect that Hasan might be in a position to cross-examine the very witnesses he's alleged to have shot. And the government is not thrilled with that prospect.
But from the statements Hasan has made in court, I don't think Hasan is interested in proving his innocence. He's more interested in justifying his actions as a logical outcome of the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For example, during jury selection, Hasan could have dismissed any one of the jurors he didn't like without cause. But after asking a bunch of questions about the jurors' views of Islam and Shariah law, he showed absolutely no interest beyond that.
What he is unhappy about is that the judge has repeatedly refused to allow him to argue that what he did with so-called justifiable defense of others. He'd like to make the case that his actions that day saved the lives of leaders of the Taliban from imminent danger by the U.S. military. But he's not going to be allowed to make that case in court. But I expect he's going to try to justify his actions, not deny them.
MONTAGNE: And, Wade, is this trial expected to be a long one?
GOODWYN: I expect it's going to last several months. Remember, he's admitted several times that he's the shooter. So if he's convicted, then the death penalty phase of the proceedings begins. And, in my opinion, that's when the trial really begins.
MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Wade Goodwyn, who's reporting on the trial of Army Major Nidal Hasan. Thanks very much.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.