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New judge holds pre-trial hearing in Hasan case


Col. Tara Abbey Osborn, newly appointed military judge in the United States vs. Maj. Nidal M. Hasan court martial, held a one-hour pre-trial hearing Tuesday, Dec. 18, to familiarize herself with the current status of the case.
The 41-year-old Hasan, an American-born Muslim, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted murder related to a 2009 armed attack at Fort Hood's Soldier Readiness Processing Center near Killeen. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. The trial was originally scheduled to begin in August. Hasan, a former Army psychiatrist, continues to receive military pay while awaiting trial.
Court watchers have speculated that the trial might go back to square one if all rulings by recently replaced former judge Col. Gregory Gross are vacated. In fact, hearings during last week's hearing, both prosecutors and defense counsel discussed matters that had previously been litigated in earlier court. An official press release from Fort Hood stated: "The court may now choose to relook or that may require future litigation (on matters that had been previously ruled on)." Upstart is, don't look for this trial to begin anytime soon.
Osborn asked both parties to submit a proposed schedule by Friday, Dec. 28, to litigate these matters beginning in January. The date of the next pre-trial hearing will be announced sometime before the end of the year.
During a brief discussion of Hasan's beard at the hearing, Osborn asked the defendant if he had worn the beard of his own free will and if he agreed to waive issues surrounding the beard and panel selection. Hasan answered in the affirmative to both questions.
In an opinion dated Monday, Dec. 3, judges on the Washington, DC-based Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) - the military's highest appellate court - ordered the nearly unprecedented removal of Gross for the "appearance" of bias.
In a series of pre-trial hearings, Gross ruled that Hasan was to appear in court clean-shaven. While sideburns and mustaches are allowed, beards violate Army regulations. Additionally, Gross had indicated he would have Hasan forcibly shaven to enable the defendant to attend his own trial in person as opposed to watching it via closed-circuit television. He also fined Hasan a total of $6,000 for contempts of court.
For his part, Hasan contends his beard is an "expression of his Islamic faith." Clean-shaven the day of the shootings, he first sported facial hair during a court appearance last June. He was also clean shaven at the time of the Fort Hood massacre.
The appellate court failed to rule on Hasan's right to wear a beard under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law passed in 1993 that overrides laws that might prevent a person from exercising his religious rights.
The appellate judges opined: "We need not and do not decide if and how Religious Freedom Restoration Act might apply to (Hasan's) beard. Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (the defendant's) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew. "
After Gross was removed from the trial, Osborn was appointed on Dec. 5 to the case. An officer in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, she has been active duty since January 1988.
Her assignments have included Germany; Southwest Asia; Fort McNair, Washington DC; Falls Church, Virginia; Fort Hood; Korea; Arlington, Virginia; Washington, DC; and Fort Stewart, Georgia. Prior to being assigned to the Hasan case, Osborn served at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.