US v. Hasan: To Beard, Or Not to Beard

Major Hasan has been found guilty–of contempt.

It seems that Hasan, for religious reasons, chooses to sport an impressive (by some standards) beard, and the military judge in his case is none too happy about it. To date, Colonel Gregory Gross has held Hasan in contempt of court and excluded him from a few pretrial hearings (though allowed him to view via VTC and communicate with his counsel).

So, Hasan loses $1000, the punishment for contempt, and he faces the possibility of being shaven by force prior to trial. Just so you know, he still receives full pay and benefits as he awaits his trial.

Note: There is a procedure for receiving religious accommodations in the military. It requires a bit of bureaucratic maneuvering, but it is possible, as a few Sikh soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center are allowed to wear full beards. I think another also wears a nifty camo turban. To my knowledge, Hasan has not applied for an official accommodation.

Now, I’ve appeared before Judge Gross on a couple of occasions, served as one of his part-time magistrates, and observed him in other cases when the defense counsel who worked for me represented their clients at courts-martial. My experience is that he is generally mild-mannered and fair. While he didn’t always rule as I wished, I never perceived that he was a government hack, nor favoring any particular ideology.

Considering the scrutiny that the Hasan case will receive on appeal (assuming he is found guilty and sentenced to death), it will be interesting to see how the judge proceeds as the trial nears. If you read the linked Time article, you’ll see that scholars have differing opinions as to how the judge should respond.

It will also be interesting to observe the level of client control exhibited by assigned defense counsel.

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6 thoughts on “US v. Hasan: To Beard, Or Not to Beard

  1. Since it is unlikely that Hasan will ever be a free man again, what incentive does he have for cooperating with the court?

    1. Two things:

      1. Hey may have succumbed to hopelessness. Now, he is clinging to any semblance of religious fanaticism in order to maintain hope and positive thinking for the afterlife. In this case, he won’t cooperate with the judge, counsel, or anyone else.

      2. This may be strategy. His lawyers have no chance of disproving the acts themselves. Too much evidence exists. So, they must focus on mental state. Here, they may be attempting to show the steady, lifelong descent into religion-induced mental illness, conditioning, and delusions. If they can maintain the beard at trial, then they can, in essence, tell the jury “Hey, just look at the guy and tell me if he looks like he’s right in the head.”

      It may be a stretch, but in a case as overwhelming as this one, you’ll take anything that has a chance of improving, even slightly, your tactical position. Bear in mind that, so long as the government insists upon seeking death, defense counsel cannot plead him guilty.

      It may also be calculated to foreshadow a difficult and circus-like trial. Knowing this, the government may decide to take death off the table in order to facilitate a quick guilty plea followed by sentencing by Colonel Gross.

      While we may condemn Hasan all we want, never forget that he is no dummy, and neither are his counsel. We will never be privy to the conversations and strategy sessions he has with counsel behind closed doors. Since he has nothing to lose, that also potentially makes him receptive to even the wildest of trial strategies.

  2. Will his victims have to identify him during the court martial? Does he look the same with the beard as he did when he was gunning them down?

    1. They can easily have them say “That guy over there, but he didn’t have a beard,” and then they can use a photo surrogate of him w/o the beard. The defense could try to quibble about it, but I don’t see it gaining traction.

      If the prosecutors are paying attention and careful, I don’t see it being an issue.

  3. IMHO, this is a ridiculous ruling. The accused now has a beard and is now even more unofficerly than he was as a mere alleged mass-murderer.

    I’m sure his counsel must have advised him that the OBL look will not impress the court or jury. If that’s what he wants to roll out, let him.

    Get this show on the road and have the Government present its evidence.

    As far as I’m aware, if he’s going for insanity, M’Naughten Rules apply. At the time of the shooting – did he not appreciate the nature and quality of his act and not know right from wrong. Is a beard really indicative of later unfitness to stand trial?

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