Updated 09/06/2012 03:17 PM
Military judge orders Hasan be forcibly shaved
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Military Judge Col. Gregory Gross issued an order Thursday requiring the accused Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, to be clean shaven or forcibly shaved for future court appearances.
The court order follows months of Hasan's refusal to shave his beard, which is a violation of Army grooming regulations.
Since July, Gross has found Hasan in contempt of court six times, fining him $1000 each time, before removing him from the courtroom.
Hasan spoke in defense of his beard during the most recent contempt proceeding, telling the judge last week that the beard was an expression of Hasan's Muslim faith.
"When I stand before God, I am individually responsible for my actions," he said.
Thursday, the defense tried to make its case to allow Hasan to keep his beard under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The federal law ensures the government does not burden an individual's right to exercise their religion. However, the act says an exception can be made for the "furtherance of compelling government interest."
Lead defense attorney Lt. Col. Kris Poppe argued Hasan was growing his beard as a "sincere" expression of his religious belief. Poppe presented a memorandum from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Imam Maj. Hulwe, stating Hasan's desire for growing a beard is a "sincere, personal religious conviction."
Poppe said Hasan had been in court 28 times before Thursday and had never made an outburst. Poppe said his client has no intention of using his beard to disrupt the court.
"If the motivation was there, surely it would have manifested itself," Poppe said, adding that the act of shaving his beard would leave Hasan in a "perilous religious state."
The prosecution argued Hasan's beard was not a religious expression, but rather an attempt to not only disrupt proceedings, but to disguise Hasan to prevent identification by witnesses during the court martial.
Poppe countered by pointing out that Hasan agreed in January to take full responsibility for his actions.
Hasan also filed an August motion to plead guilty to all charges. Under military law, the judge is not allowed to accept a guilty plea for charges which carry the punishment of the death penalty.
Hasan faces 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted, he could indeed face capital punishment.
In addition to these arguments, prosecutor Maj. Larry Downend said Hasan's beard was a manifestation of an outward desire to affiliate himself with the Mujahideen. The prosecution submitted a recording and transcript of a conversation Hasan had with Al Jezeera in July 2011 while in jail.
Downend said Hasan apologized to the Mujahideen for being part of an "illegal organization," referring to the U.S. Army, and pledged his allegiance to Al Jezeera.
The defense argued the conversation was not reflective of the current state of Hasan's religious beliefs, since the conversation took place last year.
The judge ended the hearing with an order that Hasan be forcibly shaven. Gross found the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did apply to the case, however the defense failed to meet its burden.
Even with the judge's order, Hasan will not be forcibly shaven yet.
The defense may now file a petition of extraordinary relief with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, to have Gross' order reversed.
Hasan's court proceedings will be delayed until the appeals' court decision is made. At that time, either side may still appeal the decision to the highest military court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.