by Jack Minor –
An Army Appeals court is deciding whether the judge in the case of the accused Fort Hood shooter exceeded his authority by requiring that Maj. Nidal Hasan comply with the Army’s grooming standards by shaving his beard during his court martial.
In 2009, Hasan allegedly opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood Army base, killing 13 people and wounding over two dozen others. During the shooting witnesses said he was shouting, “Allahu Akbar,” which means, “Allah is greatest.”
Immediately following the shooting President Obama warned people to not assume the attack had anything to do with terrorism or Islam. A later report downplayed the shooting by simply saying it was a case of “workplace violence.” To this day the shooting is the worst mass shooting on a military installation.
Army standards require that soldiers appear neatly groomed at all times and does not permit beards, but it does allow for religious exceptions. During Hasan’s career prior to the shooting he followed the regulation and was clean shaven.
However, following the shooting, he has grown a beard and refused a judge’s order to appear clean shaven in the courtroom now claiming that his Islamic faith demands it.
Hasan was charged with six contempt of court citations by military judge, Col. Gregory Gross, for having a beard during pretrial hearings this past summer. Gross has denied Hasan’s religious exception to the beard and the trial is being put on hold until the issue of whether Hasan has the right to wear his beard is decided.
During the appeals court hearing, Hasan’s lawyers also argued for Gross to be removed from the case claiming he is biased.
During the hearing, the judges heard from attorneys from both sides. Gross has claimed that allowing Hasan to sport his beard would amount to a disruption saying that Hasan wearing a beard would be offensive to the judge and jury.
“This isn’t a situation where he’s missing a button off his uniform,” government attorney Capt. Kenneth Borgnino said. Allowing the beard, “would be to cede control of the courtroom to the whims of the accused.”
The issue is partly one of the extent American courtrooms should be required to yield to Islamic law in courtroom proceedings.
Earlier this year a military court that will be trying five al-Qaeda terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks, agreed to postpone a hearing that was scheduled for the last ten days of Ramadan which Muslims believe commemorates the period Allah revealed the Quran to Mohammed.
A similar incident happened in the case of Mark Wetsch, who is charged with robbing 13 banks in Minnesota. Wetsch objected to a hearing scheduled on the first day of Ramadan saying it meant “not engaging in conflict and argument,” but to instead work for peace. The motion asserted that defending himself against the allegations would constitute engaging in conflict and arguments.
The judge deferred to Islamic religious practices and postponed the hearing date.